LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) — New approaches to helping the homeless population are designed not only to get people warmed and fed but also to help them find jobs and permanent housing.
Traditional ministries — which provide meals, clothes and temporary housing — are essential elements of helping the homeless, leaders agree. But the emerging comprehensive approach is the key to long-term transformation, according to leaders like Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, the nation's oldest and largest advocacy group for the homeless.
One comprehensive program is taking shape at Jefferson Street Baptist Center in Louisville, Ky., which deals primarily with the mentally ill and substance-abusing homeless.
In the next month, the Louisville ministry will open an 11-unit housing complex that will give dually diagnosed homeless individuals — those with mental illness and substance-abuse issues — a permanent place to live. Staff members will serve as secondary caseworkers for each resident and teach practical skills, such as budgeting, hygiene and apartment cleanliness.
Those workers also will be “first detectors” in cases where residents regress by not taking their medication or by abusing substances. “We will catch issues earlier. We will see them everyday,” said Rick Brenny, executive director of the center.
While ministries that provide meals, clothes and temporary housing are effective at meeting needs, a transformational element is also needed in homeless ministry, said Gerald Davis, consultant in the Missions Equipping Center of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Davis wants to create a network of homeless ministries in Texas cities that will help churches work together to rebuild the lives of homeless people. The network would include feeding, clothing, training, housing, transitioning, rehabilitation and job placement.
Providing permanent-support housing is a more cost-effective way of serving the homeless, no matter how long they stay, Brenny noted. The service is cheaper than providing food, hospital care, substance-abuse treatment and mental-health counseling to people who remain on the street, he said.
Jefferson Street Baptist Center clients, who receive a government subsidy for their mental illnesses, will be required to make a minimum contribution of $25 for rent and utilities. But they will have clean, safe housing to live in and an opportunity to improve their lives.
While residents can choose to stay in the apartment complex permanently, some will use the complex as a steppingstone to self-sufficiency, Brenny said.
Homeless individuals are showing interest in this new approach. Without advertising, there is a 15-person waiting list to get a room, Brenny said.
“We could fill as many of these units as we could provide,” he added.
– Photos for this series of articles are available from Associated Baptist Press.