An open letter from a faith-based volunteer to the professionals that help the homeless in the community…

This is a guest blog provided by John Horn. John is a friend and reader of the blog who works in the field of homelessness and is also a man of devout faith. He has penned this response to the Open Letter to Faith Based Organizations blog I wrote a few weeks back. I respect his opinion, input and response, and with his permission, I am posting it as the blog for this week. 

Dear (insert name of said professional)…

You do not approve of the homeless feeding program that my fellow church members and I provide on a weekly basis. I know this because you voiced concerns about the feeding in a news story on the program. I am sorry that my actions made you upset and that you feel that I am part of the problem – not part of the solution – to ending homelessness. Rather than complain about what we are doing, work with us to be part of the solution that you spoke about. Here are some suggestions to help us…

  1. Understand that we care. We saw people in need and wanted to help. Food is easy to provide and can help people feel better – even if only for a little while. We did our best.

 

  1. Talk to us. Our church has been around for years but have you ever come to meet with us? We have been feeding in the park for a long time and not once did you stop to talk to us about our approach and how it was a misguided approach. We obviously care about people and would not be upset if you came to speak with us about what we could do that is more effective than a feeding program in the park.

 

  1. Speak so we can understand. Helping the homeless is not my full-time job so please stop using acronyms and terms that I do not understand. What is CES? PSH? SPDAT? How am I supposed to help if I do not understand what it is you are talking about? You want me to come along? Then be prepared to teach me what I need to know in plain language.

 

  1. Know that our church is not made of money. We are providing food in part because it is an inexpensive response to homelessness. Our church is not a mega-church. We do not have a lot of discretionary money for programs. Understand that our food program is 100% volunteer and donation driven. We hold a lot of soup suppers to get donations but this does not amount to a lot of money. We want to help but funding is limited – suggest solutions that are practical.

 

  1. Be consistent. We are volunteers and are out here providing food every week – rain or shine. You came to speak with us but we have hardly seen you since then. You said we should incorporate assessments of people to get them into the system and you said that you would be by to complete them. We advertised that these assessments would be provided but – on the day of our feeding – you failed to show. We also hand out the cards you gave us with your hotline number but the folks we serve say that you never return calls. Why commit to something if you cannot do it?

 

  1. We still see people on the street. You asked us to stop feeding in the park. You asked us to be advocates. You asked us to provide move-in baskets. We did all that was asked but we still see homelessness on the streets. How do we reconcile what you are asking with the suffering we see on the streets? People are still hungry so do we just look the other way and be confident in that we are helping the “right” way?

 

Thank you for listening. I hope that we can work together to end homelessness.

Sincerely,

A volunteer who cares

 

Multifaith

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

3 Responses to “An open letter from a faith-based volunteer to the professionals that help the homeless in the community…”

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  1. Ben Cattell Noll says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Iain, and thanks to John for writing. In a week in which it became abundantly clear to me how little I often listen across differences in perspective and opinion, this provides a path forward for me to think about how I talk with people. We need a big tent of people who have a passion for justice work; we cannot afford to alienate people!

    • Walter says:

      Thank you, “A Volunteer Who Cares,” thank you Ben for hearing this volunteer, and thank you both for advancing a path forward that has a better chance of bringing along potentially helpful skeptics.

  2. Dustin Perkins says:

    Thank you John for a passionate and respectful response. I am a service provider in homeless services in my city and am very aware of the shortcomings of our agencies. Every single invective leveled our way above I have seen repeatedly.

    What this tells me is that no one of us has THE solution to homelessness. Ending homelessness will require the engagement of entire communities linking arms, providing evidence-based solutions, holding one another accountable, dropping the judgmental “anything you can do I can do better” attitude which plagues each human being, and press forward with teamwork, transparency, and never-ending tenacity it will take to conquer so complex, expensive, and muti-faceted problem as homelessness. We will only ever win together…atheists with theists, every race, creed, political persuasion, jumping into the deep end together.

    My suggestion? Get your faith community connected with the local Continuum of Care agency and invite them to speak to your leaders and congregation. Come to their assemblies, committees, etc. and invite them to yours. When a service provider fails to deliver, talk to them about it…they control our funding! There is a way for us to work together respectfully and make homelessness history. As long as we can keep being brutally honest with each other and then work together again the next day.