A lot of homelessness initiatives are 90 percent talk and only 10 percent walk. That’s why I’m impressed with the street-level experience of people involved in The True Charity Initiative, which champions “a national movement of voluntarily funded, effective charity at the most local level.” I asked local leaders involved with True Charity to rank the four views of fixing homelessness that I summarized in my column last week: 1) Housing first, 2) Improve mental health/stop substance abuse first, 3) Community first, and 4) Christ first.
Bill Roberts of Love INC in Fishersville, Virginia, said ranking the four is challenging, but he’d give it a shot. He put housing first: Having a place to call home creates a sense of safety and security. Housing allows individuals the mental energy and space to devote to locating resources to support other needs … physical & mental health, employment opportunities, etc.
Second for Roberts comes Mental Health/Substance Abuse treatment: “These two areas do not always overlap but they both address the emotional and psychological aspect of people: “Access to treatment is a must. Individuals in our community who lack access to mental health or substance abuse treatment are stuck in a vicious cycle and paralyzed when a community lacks these resources.”
Third is Jesus: “the Church and ministries such as Love In the Name of Christ (a.k.a. Love INC) can build trusting relationships with individuals in our community and walk with them as they grow and develop each area of their life [by] living out the six core values of Redemptive Compassion, starting with “Everyone has value.” We should “invest relationally in others” to help them “achieve their God-given potential.” Helpers need to foster “mutual contribution and participation, respond with wisdom and discernment, [and] serve in ways that transform.”
Roberts says, “When the actions of the Church towards those who have need are built on these core values, neighbors-with-need begin to trust more and open their hearts and mind to Jesus. The words of the Bible (and Jesus) become real and relevant through these relationships.” But Roberts add that he could be convinced to list “community” as primary, “because a strong community will have systems in place to support the housing and health needs of people…. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Yes!”
Cole Erno of Providence Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says “giving a straightforward response to this question is challenging…. At Providence Road, we prioritize establishing felt-safety with our members before anything else. While the process for achieving this varies from person to person, we use similar principles and strategies as a staff to initiate and maintain this continuous process. “
Erno explains that “felt-safety allows us to develop secure relationships and gain the trust necessary to walk with our members out of poverty and toward stable housing, safer communities, Jesus, mental acuity, and responsible self-regulation…. The priority of each of these five goals differs from person to person and changes daily and weekly for each individual.” Erno tries to discern how to connect with each person. He then tailors his strategies to individuals, and then “patiently strives with them until they see the benefit of replacing certain behaviors with more beneficial ones that will allow them to achieve their goals.”
Scott Klingberg of Gateway Mission in Holland, Michigan, had community and Christ tied for first, followed by mental health/substance abuse, followed by housing. He wrote, “the people we serve have both visible poverty (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) AND invisible poverty (poverty of relationships, truth, identity and hope).
Her wrote, “People come to us while living a life of isolation. Most have no healthy relationships, if any at all. They struggle to find any truth for life. They are looking for love and acceptance in any lie that Satan throws at them. They often take on an identity of ‘failure’ or ‘unlovable,’ or even a diagnosis that they live into. This tragic combination of poverty of relationships, truth and identity leads to the poverty of hope – thus the skyrocketing suicide and overdose rates.”
Community, Klingberg concluded, builds relationships to teach truth. Homeless people can gain a new identity in Christ, and that affects mental health and substance abuse, much of which is rooted in identity. Then housing works.
I respect all three of these responders, and everyone else who works at street level. That’s a lot harder than offering suite level opinions.