Olasky’s first stop on his tour is still going strong: Shepherd Community Center, under the leadership of Jay Height. Height is always looking for ways to battle poverty with the Bible on the city’s east side, putting on his staff a city cop and a trained social worker to patrol the center’s ZIP code more creatively than waiting for the 911 calls. Shepherd also now has a kindergarten through fifth grade school, mostly for Hispanic families in the area, offering a better student-teacher ratio than the public schools.
Another stop on Olasky’s tour was Christamore House, a community center on the west side, then run by Olgen Williams. Williams came to salvation in Christ out of a background of Vietnam War military service and drug abuse. Goldsmith informally tapped him as a resource in looking for ways to fight poverty through nonprofits. When unknown Republican Greg Ballard upset incumbent Democrat Bart Peterson for mayor in 2007, Williams became Ballard’s deputy mayor for his two terms. Williams toyed with running for mayor himself in 2015 but opted not to take the plunge and is now retired.
Several inner-city pastors are active in the crime-fighting Ten Point Coalition, which is similar to what was called the Front Porch Alliance of the 1990s. The coalition encourages African-American pastors to walk the streets to combat crime and violence in the inner city.
The group has become controversial for attracting support from Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The pastors are almost all Democrats, and their critics object to them collaborating with “bad” Republican guys. Other critics wonder about the alliance’s effectiveness, though some city officials think the group has helped slow down the crime rate in some areas.
“We’re going to work with whoever’s in the seat, because for us it’s all about bringing down the homicides,” explained Ten Point Coalition member the Rev. Charles Harrison.
Olaksy also featured Tim Streett in his book, describing how he had moved into the inner city as a missionary for a suburban church, launching an urban gymnastics ministry that later became part of Shepherd Community Center. Streett is now working on a doctorate on measuring the effectiveness of some of Shepherd’s ministries. He has identified 10 measures of poverty, or assets that we all have in some measure, such as the usual indicators of income and education and skill levels. But he also has identified other measures such as relational capacity or empathy and gives seminars on poverty for churches and other groups.
What’s startling in Indianapolis is the surprising number of new attempts to tackle poverty at the roots, sometimes from business leaders pursuing significance rather than success in the second half of their lives. They are looking at a bottom line that can’t be measured on a traditional balance sheet. Maybe it’s supply and demand—we have more crime, more drug abuse, and more broken families, so the supply of spiritual efforts has multiplied. Or could it be something more? The work of the Holy Spirit?