North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Religious Groups Tackle Poverty and Homelessness

DURHAM – Faith and community leaders gathered for a collective call to action Friday to address homelessness and poverty during a day-long conference at Union Baptist Church.
The first Faith Institute on Homelessness and Poverty brought together those who are helping, those who want to help, those who want to galvanize their congregations and those who have ideas on how best to do it.
Henry Kaestner, co-founder of DurhamCares, moderated a session between four faith leaders about the spiritual call to end homelessness. Kaestner said the message of DurhamCares is to “love thy neighbor.”
Rabbi Leah Berkowitz of Judea Reform Congregation said that Judaism’s imperative is to help the poor, hungry and homeless and to never oppress another people, as they were once slaves.
“Helping the poor is a commandment, not a suggestion,” Berkowitz said.
Abdul Waheed of the Islamic community talked about “neighborly needs” and to follow the teaching of never going to bed on a full stomach while knowing a neighbor is hungry.
The Rev. Mel Williams, pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church, cited scripture after scripture that show that the biblical call to help is clear.
“There are so many facets to poverty,” Williams said, ticking off housing, health care, education, jobs and family support. “Together, with the help of the holy one, we can end poverty and homelessness in our city.”
The Rev. Kenneth Hammond, senior pastor of Union Baptist, said faith leaders need to reframe homelessness so people see it as a moral issue, not a social condition.
“Justice demands we become proactive,” Hammond said.
They talked about how exactly congregations can help their neighbors. Kaestner mentioned the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Williams said that he wouldn’t be where he was without a support system, and support systems are what people need to succeed. One person suggested that each congregation in Durham adopt a family a year. That idea took off, and leaders talked about how to use existing programs to facilitate matching congregations with families.
More than just action taken by individual people and congregations, speakers urged others to contact elected government officials to support funding for programs that address poverty and homelessness.
Chris Estes, executive director of N.C. Affordable Housing Coalition, and Denise Neunaber, executive director of N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness, talked about the importance of advocacy.
Estes said that he learned that housing is the hub of the wheel that links all other things, like finding a job, stability and sending children to school.
Affordable housing will need development subsidies to operate and manage, he said.
“It is very important for you to advocate for organizations that do this in the community – especially putting homes on the ground,” Estes said. “The faith community is so important.”
Neunaber said they have started seeing results in plans to end homelessness. The answer isn’t homeless shelters, she said, but rather housing.
To prevent homelessness, she said, the real difference is in having a support system. Faith communities can step in as support systems, she said.
Neunaber said the new model is prevention; emergency shelter; rapid rehousing; and permanent supportive housing.
Other topics discussed Friday included social support for transitioning to stability; creating employment and income opportunities; outreach and engagement with those still homeless; and what to do next. Organizations sharing information included The Stewards Fund, Genesis Home, Housing for New Hope, Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, The Durham Center, TROSA, Good Work, Open Table Ministry and Durham Public Schools.
The institute was presented by the Coalition to End Homelessness in Durham, Durham Congregations In Action, DurhamCares and Union Baptist Church.
Read the article on the Herald-Sun website here.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan
Author: Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan
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