FYI, here at NLEC St. Louis we are participating in the homeless census this year. We’ve seen changes in city management of the homeless count and are willing to throw in our support this time in seeing that there is an accurate count. We don’t receive federal, state, or city money for funding. We simply want to do our part to help. I tell our program participants, “You may not qualify for this money, but don’t you want to help someone else who might?” I’ll be at work all evening until 10:30pm most likely, making sure everyone gets counted.
Also, I want to say a word about our emergency shelter services. Sheltering the homeless is important. But we’ve believed for decades that shelter is not enough.
We don’t want to keep people dependent on us for shelter. We’re not trying to just provide a bed and a meal and a safe place to be off the street. Part of the problem is that this is all some people come to expect. My job as I see it is to try to get people to want more for themselves and to not get distracted from the plan they’ve chosen toward reaching their goals.
Let me give you an example from events today. A man comes in and asks to meet with me about extending his nights with us.
[We set a limit on the number of nights allowed in a thirty day period. Annually we only allow 10 nights to 14 days of emergency shelter for single individuals. In the spring we allow 10 nights, in the winter, 14. Now some might say that is just too little time. The average shelter allows up to 90 days of shelter.
In our experience, to allow anyone up to three months of shelter---no questions asked, is to create an untenable situation. The shelter gets full and stays full and all you end up doing is securing the same people, ensuring they've always got a bed to come to. There's no incentive to change there. By limiting the number of nights we have more opportunity to create incentive.]
I talk with “Joe” about the extension. Is he getting into housing shortly? Is that why he needs the extension? No. After about ten minutes its very apparent that Joe has a severe mental disorder. (He’s referring to voices in his head and his sentences are not working together very well.) He volunteers that he does have a monthly income which he spends on hotel rooms until it is gone. I learn that he is a veteran. After a while I learn enough about Joe to know that there are services available to him if he’s willing. So what do I do?
Well, I don’t force anything on Joe. I speak to him calmly and let him know that I care about him and want him to not have to come and stay for shelter anymore. I plant the thought in his mind that there is so much more available. I ask if he knows about another program a few blocks away that offers a vet program, case management for his mental disorder, and access to federal grants that can place him in housing. It just happens that he’s heading there for lunch. I ask him if I can call a friend of mine there who will speak to him about their services. He thinks that’s a good idea.
I let him know about extended transitional housing that our ministry offers for vets. He sounds interested. Now the choice is up to him. I haven’t given him what he asked for, I’ve tried to give him so much more! Five more nights of shelter or an apartment of your own?
Truthfully, all that I may have accomplished with this man is to let him know that I care to listen to him for a while. He may never actually head to the agency I mentioned for lunch, I don’t know. I’m past the point of worrying about it.
My faith in Christ allows me the freedom to let people make their own choices. The gospel is never good news when it serves to imprison people into doing what I want. People choose things all the time that are not best for them. But that doesn’t mean God is not in control.
This is something I have to remind myself of daily.