By Anitra Parmele
The Good News
The following is the second in a series spotlighting Hope South Florida, a unique collaboration of city officials, social agencies and the faith community with a single purpose – to end family homelessness in Broward County.
For over twenty years, week in and week out, Christ Church United Methodist has been feeding the homeless. Through all the political maneuverings, changes in attitude and economic cycles, volunteers have reached out with hope and tangible assistance to those in their community without social, emotional, economic and financial stability. During that time, officials from Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, representatives from various social agencies and recently members of the faith community have struggled to find solutions for the estimated eight hundred people who are homeless in Broward County each night. This estimate, although it represents an almost 20% increase over 2007 estimates, fails to take into account the thousands more thought to be housed in shelters or other temporary housing.
Part of the church DNA
Five years ago, when Phil Roughton came to South Florida to serve as senior pastor of Christ Church, it was a given that he would be on the board of directors of The Shepherd’s Way. It was a position and a Life that he embraced. Fred Scarbrough, founder of The Shepherd’s Way and a member of Christ Church explains, “Pastor Roughton has been a great leader and an inspiration for breaking down the walls that have existed between the various churches and their outreaches to the homeless. His attitude has always been that Christ Church wanted to be a part of what God was doing in our community- whatever that meant and whatever role it required.”
Meatloaf and Life
Each Thursday afternoon, a dozen volunteers start to gather at Christ Church. On their minds is meatloaf and Life . In a couple hours, Love in Action will be providing meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, lemonade and iced tea to between two hundred and two hundred and fifty guests. Half the supplies are purchased as part of the Christ Church regular budget while the rest of the costs are covered by individual donors within the congregation. Once the food is prepared and packed, another dozen volunteers arrive to transport the food to Hope Central. Over the next few hours, they’ll serve food and serve souls. Dianne Bessette serves as lay leader for Love in Action. Dianne explains, “A large portion of the people on the streets have broken relationships but if there is consistently someone that they can trust, they will reach out for a helping hand. Consistency is the key. If you are reliable and trustworthy, they will accept your offer of assistance.” Over the past fifteen years of his involvement in Christ Church’s feeding Life, Fred has seen for himself the benefits of being able to establish relationships week in and week out.
Does A New Site Signal New Vision?
Recent News headlines have detailed the City Commission’s search for a central meal site that would enable area churches to coordinate their feeding outreaches into a centralized site. Each of the churches involved in Hope South Florida would be encouraged to take responsibility themselves or partner with another church to provide meals for one day a week. Fred, lay leader for Serving Ministries at Christ Church, explains, “The beauty is a church agreeing to provide meals every Monday partnering with other churches to provide a complete week of meals. The chronic homeless will come to a time when they hit bottom and will be open to help. If the faith community is there consistently, they will trust us to help them get their medication, to help them get sober and to get the help they need.” The site will represent more than just a place for a meal; it will represent a place of hope for those on the street. It will be a place where Christians will serve and love those who have no place to live.
One Stop Assistance
Plans call for this central site to offer the homeless not only food but a one-stop social services site as well. Fred explains, “It’s heartbreaking when you hear single mothers having to rely on public transportation to zig-zag across the county because one place has job assistance, another will help with diapers, another location is where you get food stamps.” The launch of Hope South Florida and the establishment of Hope Central as a one-stop center is an attempt to bring numerous services to a single location. As those in need call 2-1-1 which serves as an entry point to homeless support agencies, they can be referred to one location to begin the road to change. Their needs would be assessed and they would be provided assistance.
Food, Housing … Clothing
Early on, Christ Church’s involvement with the homeless led to the establishment of The Shepherd Way Thrift Store near Five Points in Wilton Manors. “When we moved families into the apartment units, they would spend their hard-earned money on necessities like plates, silverware, children’s clothing and outfits for job interviews. People started donating clothes but once everyone’s garage was full, we had to look for a central storage place and the thrift store was established near Old Florida Seafood,” explains Fred. Over the years, hundreds of families have been provided clothing and furniture vouchers to help them get established while the income generated from the sales to the public have been allocated to expand the Life and assist hundreds more to discover stability.
With their years of experience in ministering to the homeless, Fred is encouraged by the Christ Church volunteers’ willingness to share their hard-earned wisdom. “You can’t pay someone to do this (serve the homeless). God has gifted them with the desire to serve. As more and more churches get involved, they’ll need to be trained and then coached on how to effectively minister,” he adds. It’s a role the volunteers of Christ Church are all too happy to fill.
For more on how you or your church can be a part of Hope South Florida, log onto www.Hopesouthflorida.org