Homeless on the Church Campus

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Our city, San Jose, CA, has a huge unsolved problem with homeless. Our church campus has 3 buildings and quite a large surrounding yard, as well as a parking lot. In the last year or so, we have had an issue with homeless people parking there overnight, using outdoor electrical outlets, and outdoor water faucets. Our deacons and others have tried to assist a particular couple who were regularly parking there. The church helped pay for several things they needed, such as a new tire, new jacks, and some other things. Throughout, they were telling the couple that they were helping out, but the couple needed not to use our campus for their place to stay. They referred them to other institutions for assistance. The couple continues to come and our church has had neighbor complaints.

In addition, there has been at least one instance where a different homeless person came, used our water hose to drink, and urinated outside one of the buildings. In that case, two of the church members were on campus, asked him if he needed help, told him he could not sleep on our campus, and the man drove away to a neighboring parking lot.

We want to act the way Christ would like us to act, to help the poor and marginalized, but we are not equipped to be a homeless shelter, and not sure what we can do. Even as we explore whether there might be a way we could be part of a safe parking program or somehow provide more help in an organized way, the question remains, what do we do NOW?

Are any of you in this kind of situation? Do you have suggestions?

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Community Builder

There are other churches that are dealing with similar issues. I spoke at a meeting of Classis Pacific Northwest  https://www.crcna.org/churches/classis/classis-pacific-northwest  , and there were at least two churches in the Classis dealing with homeless people on their campus. Contacting Stated Clerk Rob Jansons, listed in the link, may be a good way to find out which churches these are. I don't recall the specific churches at this time.

In dealing with a response a good thing to check out is to see what other neighboring churches are doing. Joining a joint response allows for a sending a unified message and perhaps a sharing of resources. Are there any Christian organizations in the area that are addressing homelessness from a well thought through approach? If there are see if they can help with some kind of joint working relationship.

Is your church able to develop its own response by establishing a community development approach that is guided by the deacons. A staff person dedicated to connecting to resources in the community and building community led responses is a great way to have a meaningful presence in your parish.

Feel free to connect to discuss this more fully.

Andrew Ryskamp

Diaconal Consultant to CRCNA

Community Builder

Thank you, Andrew. We've heard there is a neighborhood church pastor's group so we are trying to find out about that and hope it will be a resource for us to respond jointly, as you suggest.

I will follow up on your information about Pacific Northwest Classis, too. And I'll talk with the deacons about a dedicated approach, as you suggest.

Thank you.

 

Praise the Lord Mavis.

I suggest you reach out to any NGOs and govt agencies that work for helping the homeless. You/Your church can perhaps help them in getting accommodated in any homeless shelters (as per your ability). If you are worried about any inappropriate activities done in the church premises, you can lock the gate or door of the parking or other entrances and put a board on the door giving the number and address of the NGO that can help in the accommodation of the homeless. 

Along with that i suggest you partner or team up with other churches of your locality in finding a way to either show a place for them to stay or provide them few essential stuff they need like to provided to that couple. Hope it helps. God bless

Mavis, thank you for coordinating a conversation around this. I am looking forward to see what happens next :) 

As you know I put together a little blog post afterwards and have it below. 

 

Blessings, 

Monika Grasley

LifeLine CDC 

209 201-2905

 

 

 

When dealing with these kinds of situations I'd also suggest keeping some basic principles in mind (and perhaps developing policies based on the principles). 

I've found that the following can provide a very helpful start point.  (Adapted from The Oath for Compassionate Service by Robert Lupton in his book “Toxic Charity” p. 128)

  1. LISTEN
  2. Never do for the others what they can do for themselves;
  3. Limit one-way giving to emergencies;  (this is an important principle of learning to Help Without Hurting)
  4. Strive to empower the materially poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements;
  5. Keep your self-interest secondary to the needs of those being served;
  6. Listen closely to those you seek to help;
  7. Above all, do no harm
Community Builder

Greetings, all. I am a former CRC-er, serving in the PCA since 1988. At Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, we have provided Christian hospitality to our downtown homeless neighbors for decades. While we have no parking lot (the church was established in 1847), there have been other turf battles, use of our steps as a bathroom, panhandling, prostitution, and more. Over the years, however, we have gained the trust of the homeless community by establishing relationships and offering hope. Much of our story is contained in the book, “Not Just a Soup Kitchen: How Mercy Ministry in the Local Church Transforms Us All”