Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Open Letter To Churches in East Multnomah County

I am sure that many of you, in your congregations prayed for the homeless this last weekend. As I sit here, writing this, it is 24 degrees in Gresham and the wind cuts the chill onto one’s skin to 9 degrees. Often, as we step out of our houses or offices we consider the homeless and their plight and wonder what they do in such weather.

I can tell you what they do. Some of them sit in coffee shops or the library during the day. Some sit in their cars with the engine running. Many of them stay in tents, just barely keeping the wind out, reserving energy for when they really need it. Some of these folks will go to the local soup kitchens to sit for an hour and get a hot meal and coffee. Others would rather not eat for the day because it is too difficult to get ready to face the cold to get the meal.

So we are right to pray for the homeless. But we would be more right to do something about it.

Right now, in Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, and Troutdale there are no emergency warming shelters open for the majority of the homeless. There is no place for them to go even during the day that they might not get kicked out of. Just this last week, a few of Gresham’s homeless were kicked out of their camp, and in this weather they had to find and create a new camp.

Some folks would say that the homeless are somebody else’s problem. That they did this to themselves, and so they deserve what they get. Although the causes of homelessness are complex and can’t be determined by a simple sentence, or by a single finger pointing blame, the solution to the worst of this dilemma is easy: churches can open their doors. The homeless are our children, our brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, our fellow believers, fellow church members and most of all, they are people in need. Now. In this cold.

To house the homeless in Gresham—perhaps some 100 whose needs are not currently met by the current system—would be too much for one congregation. But if we worked together, the project would not be too difficult. If some churches opened their doors once or twice a week to allow 50 people to have a place inside during the day, then other churches could provided volunteers to staff that place, and other churches could provide coffee and blankets and socks. If a few churches would be willing to open their doors in the worst weather to allow the homeless to bring sleeping bags in and sleep overnight, then other churches could provide volunteers to watch over the facilities and to provide some blankets and a little bit of food.

If you or some of your church think you might be interested in helping in this project, then I would like to help us work together. I am Steve Kimes, pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a community church for the homeless and mentally ill in Gresham and Portland for 10 years. I have been working with the KEY Conversation on Poverty to try to provide temporary shelter for the homeless, while other groups have been working on more permanent solutions.

We’d like to ask you to be part of the answer to your own prayers.

Anawim will provide the training for volunteers and will provide some organization. Anawim has already provided a model for a day shelter in churches in Gresham for 10 years. But we are now asking all of us to participate. Let us be a model of church cooperation and networking to help a vulnerable part of our community.

If you are interested in helping, please contact me at stevekimes@aol.com or call me at 503-888-4453.

Please feel free to send this email on to anyone else who you think might be interested in helping or supporting.

Steve Kimes
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community

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