Challenge of Homelessness

The Real Challenge of Homelessness

‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick and or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." --Matthew 25:31-40

"What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to him, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead." --James 2:14-17

The poet Robert Frost once wrote that "home is the place where they have to take you in." For many in Metro Detroit, there are no friends or family ready to provide shelter in a pinch. The situation should concern anyone with a conscience, especially those of us in Christian communities who have a special religious and moral mandate to provide assistance to others in need. The current need for emergency housing is particularly great. The metro Detroit area has been hard-hit by an economic down-turn and may be facing a "jobless recovery" in the decade ahead.

The ChristNet Ministry to the Homeless

The impact of the economic downturn on families and individuals concerns members of the St. Paul United Church of Christ congregation. More than twenty years ago, our congregation, along with support from seven other Taylor churches recruited by our pastor, helped launch a faith-based emergency shelter for the Downriver area. With $2000 raised by our congregation's youth group, the new "Taylor Warming Center"--soon to be called the ChristNet Shelter--bought mattresses and began providing three meals and a place to stay for the homeless. Today, more than fifty-five Protestant and Roman Catholic churches are involved on a weekly rotating basis in providing emergency housing nine months out of every year. In addition, ChristNet now hosts a year-round daytime shelter located in the lower level of the Taylor Church of the Nazarene at 24356 Eureka Rd., Taylor, MI 48180, located 1 block of west of Telegraph on the north side of Eureka Rd.

Following the example of other suburban rotating shelters like MacRest in Macomb County and S.O.S. (South Oakland Shelter) in Royal Oak, ChristNet's goal is to offer nighttime shelter twelve months per year. Yet even as ChristNet ambitiously plans for the future, it faces a real challenge right now in keeping pace with burgeoning shelter needs in our own Downriver communities where the homeless are usually considered "invisible."

The Present Emergency Housing Crunch

Every winter, for instance, ChristNet experiences a genuine space crunch. Prepared to accommodate 28-30 guests per night, the shelter program often finds itself turning away men and women in need. Why? Because the number of people without a roof over their heads in on the upswing. Outside emergency shelters like ChristNet, there are few, if any, affordable housing options for a majority of our guests. In addition, many ChristNet guests face immense personal challenges, ranging from severe learning disabilities and socialization deficits to medical problems and mental illness. These circumstances, coupled with a lack of reliable public transportation, make it tough for them to land steady employment. More often than not, their paycheck earnings are not sufficient to cover monthly rennet for a room or apartment, let alone support a household.

Providing Emergency Services

An emergency shelter can never be a home. But it can be both a safety net and a way-station out of homelessness. The ChristNet Shelter provides up to 30 days of overnight housing to all guests. It also offers a day time program that offers further respite from the streets. Guests are offered lunch daily and access to a clothing closet, laundry facilities and computer terminals for job hunting. Within days of first enrolling with ChristNet, guests meet with a caseworker who can help them identify and address problems that have precipitated homelessness. All guests are encouraged to attend employment skills work-shops offered gratis through the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. To assist guests in their employment search, online access is available to them at the ChristNet daytime center. Other helpful services are also provided on-site.

Making Sure No One is Left Out in the Cold

As the experience of those working with the homeless makes clear, the social safety net in Michigan for the truly disadvantaged is not as sturdy or encompassing as it should be. That social safety net is likely to become even more frayed and threadbare as ongoing budget cuts reduce assistance being provided by state, country, and municipal governments. Support from Christian churches and men and women of faith are now more important than ever in sustaining emergency shelter for those in need. You can personally help insure that no one is left out in the cold by lending your time, talents, and financial support to the ChristNet Shelter. It's easy to do. Join fellow St. Paul Church members in hosting the ChristNet Shelter for a week every fall or by volunteering your time at the year-round daytime center. You can make your financial donation to ChristNet through St. Paul Church or by directly contributing on a tax-deductible basis to the non-profit ChristNet organization. For more information on the ChristNet Shelter call 734-671-1300 or daytime shelter 734-287-8990