Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Faith in action during the Super Bowl

Compassion | Minneapolis churches band together to reach out to the vulnerable in the Super Bowl’s host city
by Rob Holmes
Posted 2/07/18, 03:57 pm

In downtown Minneapolis, a tall, snow-covered sign hints at what happened to the homeless during the Super Bowl on Sunday: They went to church.

As football fans thronged Super Bowl Live events around U.S. Bank Stadium, Westminster Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation, became a refuge for the homeless and vulnerable. The church stands adjacent to the Nicollet Mall shopping district, only blocks away from the stadium.

Its sign beckoned: “Need to warm up? Come on in. Hungry? We have food. Experiencing homelessness? Leave your bag here for the day.” 

Matt Johnson, Westminster’s interim associate pastor for faith in action, told me the invitation was intended to get more than a typical community center experience. “We put out a call to the congregation and people responded generously,” he said. “Volunteers were there the whole 10 days to make lunches and sit down and talk, taking the opportunity to engage with people.”

The church is no newcomer to homeless outreach. It received a certificate of occupancy for a mammoth addition on Jan. 19, just in time for the Super Bowl. But long-term plans include offering its ministry space for all-week support of the vulnerable.

Despite his position at Westminster, Johnson is an ordained Lutheran pastor. His cross-denomination job at this church of 3,100 members highlights the collaborative nature of what happened during Super Bowl LII, and is ongoing in downtown Minneapolis. Westminster Presbyterian, Central Lutheran Church (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and First Covenant Church (Evangelical Covenant Church)—which faces the stadium—are three of the members of Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness (DCEH), founded 11 years ago. 

The leadership of DCEH is Christian and Jewish, and its member congregations, including two mosques, tout a common ministry goal of helping provide “safe, decent and affordable housing in Minneapolis.” The congregations coordinate the delivery of many services, even at each other’s campuses, as well as work with St. Stephen’s Human Services, a Catholic nonprofit organization actively working to end homelessness in Minneapolis since the 1960s.

Using Westminster’s facilities, Central Lutheran hosts Street Voices for Change, a group of formerly and currently homeless people who meet regularly to inform local government and shape the ministries that bless the needy.

“We have the opportunity to listen and then consider how we or another congregation in our network could meet that need,” Johnson said, sharing Scripture that anchor his church and personal ministry: “Micah 6:8 is important, and various commands throughout Scripture to love God and our neighbor. But I use the lens of John 10:10 in my actions and decisions by asking, ‘How does this bring about abundant life—or not?’”

Westminster Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen told me ministry to the vulnerable has “always been a core part of the church”—for 161 years. With its new ministry space, Westminster wants to help homeless people with daytime needs like a place to store belongings, to drink coffee, or receive counseling.

As he came in and got warm at Westminster during Super Bowl week, one homeless man told volunteers it was not just physical warmth but the kindness of Christians sitting down with him, listening, that most touched him.

“We strive to be present with people, to offer presence,” Johnson said.

Facebook/Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation Facebook/Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation The Hub of Hope ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 31

Not just ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi was on hand last week to open a center for services to Philadelphia’s homeless. People might have expected him to provide song and dance, but his involvement was much more than a speech and cutting a ribbon: His philanthropic organization, The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, helped to sponsor the 11,000 square foot “Hub of Hope” facility.

A previous Hub of Hope began offering services to needy people in 2012, but the new facility is 75 times larger than its original 150-square-foot storefront space. The new building was also backed by the city and Project HOME, a nonprofit organization headed by Sister Mary Scullion, a Roman Catholic nun. Thousands of people come to the Hub of Hope as a springboard to treatment, shelters, and permanent housing. Many shelters and support centers for the homeless open only at night, but the Hub is a year-round daytime center where people can shower, wash clothes, and “begin the process of finding a permanent home,” Scullion said in a statement.

Since 2006, Bon Jovi’s Philadelphia-based organization has played a significant role in the metropolitan area through grants for job training, food programs, and Superstorm Sandy relief. In 2014, the foundation opened an affordable housing facility with 55 apartments for low-income and previously homeless tenants called JBJ Soul Homes.

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Bon Jovi to the White House Council for Community Solutions.

Facebook/House of Disciples Facebook/House of Disciples House of Disciples 2016 graduates

Texas town dignifies the homeless through trash pickup

An East Texas mayor brainstormed a novel first step out of poverty and homelessness: picking up trash.

“Everybody deserves dignity, and a chance to be proud of themselves,” said Andy Mack, mayor of Longview, Texas.

His plan to inject dignity into the lives of the homeless began as he considered how people want to feel useful and be working. Mack found a partner in House of Disciples, a 12-month residential addiction recovery ministry founded in 2008. Homeless participants who pick up trash earn $8 per hour, but they also gain dignity, said director Tim Wiseman: “They have picked up over 300 bags of trash … 50 bags a week.”

Wiseman’s ministry includes i58 Farms, the biggest blackberry farm in Texas, providing another work opportunity for those struggling with addiction.

The mayor told KLTV in Tyler, Texas, the most gratifying thing about his idea is how the community has embraced it. Longview businesses fund the workers through the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness.

New York mayor wants to turn fancy hotel into digs for homeless

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to put a homeless shelter in a former hotel in the same swanky neighborhood as Carnegie Hall and the Ritz-Carlton. The plan would turn the now-closed Park Savoy Hotel just south of Central Park into a 150-bed shelter for homeless single men.

Many local residents decried the plan. The area surrounding the Park Savoy “is a neighborhood that has done very well. They also have to participate in this effort to ensure we have enough shelter,” de Blasio said in a news conference Jan. 16. The mayor hopes to open 90 shelters throughout the city.

The Coalition for the Homeless said homelessness in New York City “has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” with as many as 63,000 people sleeping in city shelters in December 2017.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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