Churches Asked To Help With Spike In Homeless Population
Local pastors have been tasked with asking their congregations to consider ways to alleviate the homelessness crisis in Jamestown.
Mayor Eddie Sundquist met with over 60 pastors and faith-based leaders from all across the city last week to discuss how the city can partner with churches and faith-based groups to address the needs of the homeless population in the city.
Based on his conversations with the mayor, the Rev. Luke Fodor from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said the city is taking a “two-pronged approach” by working with nonprofit organizations, such as the Mental Health Association, Southern Tier Environments for Living and local housing agencies in Jamestown — and by coordinating with local churches.
“This is a big problem that needs all of our collective management to address,” Fodor said. “The homework the mayor gave to various faith leaders was to go back to the congregations and just inquire, ‘Can we do something? Can we engage in this? Are we called to act?'”
Sundquist is expected to reconvene with both the church leaders and the housing coalition in the coming weeks to consider various solutions for the city’s issue of homelessness.
One possible solution Fodor discussed with the mayor is based on a model he witnessed during his time on Long Island. He said churches could open its doors to people overnight and provide a form of emergency shelter, with meals provided by the congregation or by other churches in the area.
Fodor said the emergency shelter model would involve churches throughout the community working together and hosting people on a rotating schedule; however, he acknowledged that neither the city nor the faith-based community had yet decided on a particular program for helping the homeless population in Jamestown.
“I think it’s a work of community to discern that,” he said. “That’s one that I’ve seen work in another community, and we’ll see as we reconvene with both the implementing partners that are the nonprofits in our town as well as the faith leaders, if we discern that’s the right course or not.”
Fodor explained the issue will quickly become a more pressing emergency as the weather changes and winter approaches. He believes it is important for the city and the faith-based community to work together to find a solution that does not revolve around temporary housing in unsafe locations, such as hotels.
As a church leader in the community, Fodor believes churches have a unique calling to help those in need. He explained that Scripture encourages people to serve and care for their neighbors, which would encompass the homeless population.
“I think it’s important to note that homelessness is not a choice,” he said. “It’s something we’re forced into. I think as we see the situation the individual lives of people down there, they’re complex stories.
It’s important to realize the solution has to be varied and unique to the course of each individual story. There isn’t one cause to homelessness. There isn’t one way to solve homelessness. I think we need to take our time to really understand what the problem is and then to adjust a strategy to make sense.”
Fodor said the mayor has acknowledged that churches can have a significant impact on the community by serving the homeless population and alleviating the current crisis in the city. After speaking with the mayor, he said the mayor has already witnessed churches helping the homeless population by providing food and other services in the community. As a result, he believes the mayor’s meeting with the faith-based community was mostly to determine how the city can help coordinate the continued efforts of local churches.
“I think that’s often a good model for us to remember,” Fodor said. “While it’d be easier to just assume we can pay someone to do the work for us, the truth is, all of us have a role to play. You build the community that you want to live in. All of us have a role to play in solving the problem in our community.”
The Rev. Mel McGinnis from Kiantone Congregational Church expressed his appreciation for the mayor alerting the faith-based community to the situation of increased homelessness in Jamestown.
“The normal range of homeless people has significantly increased,” McGinnis said. “This homelessness is manifesting itself, and so has the urgency to do something about it through a coordinated effort with community service organizations and the faith community.”
McGinnis said the situation has increased to a level where the community is now forced to address the issue of homelessness in new ways.
One of the solutions McGinnis said was discussed at the meeting was the concept of people being willing to welcome the homeless into their own homes. McGinnis said a local pastor and his wife already demonstrated their willingness to do this and was able to greatly help a couple homeless individuals by welcoming them and helping them.
“You can see the church in action,” McGinnis said. “Given that we’re the church, there’s a higher calling that we have, there’s a greater end that we have beyond providing places to stay, because we’re called to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
While McGinnis said the faith-based community’s priority remains on spiritual matters, he believes the situation with the homeless population offers churches the chance to put faith in action by caring for those in need.
McGinnis also believes churches should address both the spiritual and physical needs of the community since he views the physical needs of the community as correlated with the spiritual needs of the community.
“It correlates,” he said, “because the decline spiritually I feel can manifest itself in ways that we have not seen before, such as the ever-increasing addiction issues, the problems with drugs being so widespread, crime that is getting a stronger foothold, and homelessness is bound up in that as well.”
To solve the issue of homelessness in the community, McGinnis believes each member of the community should use the resources, services and skills they possess to help those in need.
Like other community leaders, he believes the situation will require a variety of solutions working in conjunction with one another; however, he believes the matter should be addressed through prayer to gain “wisdom and counsel.”
McGinnis views the homelessness crisis as a parallel to what he described as “spiritual homelessness.”
“Maybe the homelessness that we’re observing in Jamestown cues people into the spiritual homelessness people have throughout the community with respect to the church,” he said. “People are disconnected from God and God’s seeks to connect with them in the body of believers who faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. I kind of see that visual.”