In the Wilamette Valley, which includes both Portland and Salem, there are approximately 2000 churches. Some have only twenty members, some have thousands. Given the reputation of Oregon to be an “unchurched” area, there are a huge number of self-sustaining churches.
In the Wilamette Valley, according to the best estimates, there are 2000 homeless people every night. This number fluxuates and there are a lot of varieties of homeless people, but the number is a fair estimate.
Is this coincidence?
If this is correct, then if each church, on average, just ministered to and assisted just one– ONE– homeless person, then the whole outlook of poverty and homelessness would change for the whole Wilamette Valley– for all of Portland and Salem.
I wonder if this statistic could be replicated throughout the United States? If every church in the U.S. would take poverty seriously and just take one one– just one– homeless person per congregation, then the whole landscape of poverty in the nation would change.
And the nation might actually recognize that the church is here to create a positive impact, and not just to suck resources into the personal egos of religious ideologies.
Take them and do what with them? I’m not trying to be a smart alec or anything, but a homeless person is a human being – not a stray puppy or kitten. Human beings are incredibly complex, and there’s more to homelessness than a lack of fixed residence.
Are you proposing that – assuming the homeless person is willing – each church pay to send a homeless person to rehab? Provide for that person financially while they go back to school and get their GED or earn a trade? Pay off their court costs? Provide them with a working vehicle that will pass inspection? Pay off the debts that led to the garnishment that caused them to not be able to pay their rent, and hence caused their homelessness?
Because if that is what you’re proposing then I offer a sincere/heart felt AMEN! But, I think you have a more optimistic view of churches than I do.
I’ve worked for two different Salvation Army shelters. At the first one – they (the church/staff) LOVED those people, and I saw lives changed in a very real and tangible way. I was so impressed that I almost joined the Salvation Army. But, then, I moved and started working for another Salvation Army – and it was completely different. The attitude was, “We help the scum because we’re the Salvation Army and we’re supposed to,” and everything about the place reflected that attitude.
If you get that big a variation in a denomination that is KNOWN for helping the disenfranchised – how much more so would it be with a wide variety of denominations? I honestly would be concerned some of those churches would end up doing more harm than good.
“I honestly would be concerned some of those churches would end up doing more harm than good.”
Perhaps better to do some bad and some good than do little to nothing…….?
I have to take the middle road here. On the one hand SteveK has a point. There’s a lot of churches that can meet a lot of needs. The problem isn’t resources. I think that’s the gist of his post.
On the other hand Melissa voices her concerns with helping these folks. They have a wide range of emotional, physical, and drug problems; some choose homelessness, some are nearly unreachable, the list is long. Churches might not be prepared to help some of these folks. Some will mess up.
I think SteveK has an important message. Perhaps I can whittle it down a bit: “Resources are not an issue. Let’s try to meet the needs of these people.”
I like some of the suggestions M made, but honestly, I was thinking that the real problem the church might be able to solve is to be a friend. So many programs want to throw money at people or to establish a “mentor” for them (as if the middle class counterparts know how to live so much better than homeless people do).
The things that I have found to be the major needs of the homeless are not the traditional issues–
The homeless need a means to obtain income that will work around their particular issues.
The homeless need to connect to a community that gives them respect and recognizes the effort they put into living.
The homeless need a support community that will provide small finances and possibly transportation and other issues that will help them reach their own goals.
Churches can provide this, if they have some guidance and an open heart.
M, I understand that this seems unlikely for many churches. So many churches have such a biased viewpoint of the homeless.
But if they could be trained to see people as human, dealing with issues just like they do. And if they can be helped to see that to “help the homeless” they don’t have to reach out to the entire community (which is a very different proposal), but just one or two people. And if they can realize that ministry is really a matter of friendship instead of “taking on a project”. Perhaps there will be hope. Perhaps change can happen.
If you want to see more about what I’m talking about above, you can check out one of my blogs and I’ve got an article there called “What is the church to do about the homeless?” It’s at:
I’ve also written a manual for churches who want to get involved in homeless ministry or just want to know more about homelessness. If anyone would like a free digital copy of this manual, email me at:
For someone to be trained to see the homeless as real humans wouldn’t they first want to be? My biggest disappointment with the church is that so many of them don’t seem to want to be. Even when I was working at the Sally Army – so many churches would come and prepare a meal or something for the residents, but their attitude was like they were coming and feeding the animals at the zoo.
I won’t even start on the utter crap that gets donated, and the donor acts like they’re being magnanimus in giving it to us. One church had a *food drive* brought what looked like an impressive amount of food. But, then as we were going through it to put it away, we realized that almost all of it was expired – and not by a little bit either. Some of it had expired in the 1980’s.
Though, I will say that the times they are a changin’ – I hope. Some of the area churches have opened up their buildings to allow the homeless to sleep there on cold nights. I’ve heard rumors that some of the churches are really getting involved with the people who are sleeping on their floors. But, again, this is maybe a dozen out of hundreds of churches.
For those interested, my church made up of the homeless and the mentally ill have a new website:
There’s a lot of info about homelessness in general, and a section called “dehumanization” which talks about how the homeless are treated similarly to prisoners, African Americans forty years ago and other oppressed groups.