Church Shelters Homeless Men

Homeless men can now spend the night at Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York. The church opened a respite center this summer, offering meals and a place to sleep on weeknights throughout the summer.

The project is a collaboration between Old First, the newly-formed Park Slope interfaith social justice network, and CAMBA, a Brooklyn-based social service organization.

Old First began working on issues of homelessness several years ago, when a handful of homeless men started sleeping on the steps of the church. Mission Team Pastor Daniel Meeter offered help but was frustrated at a seeming lack of permanent solutions.

"We wanted to do more, but didn't know how," he says. "City policies were in flux, assistance programs were intermittent, and the need remained.

"One Sunday morning in February we were convicted by our reading from the prophet Isaiah: 'Will you not take the homeless poor into your house?' We heard the call, but how to go about it?"

A city council member, Brad Lander, connected Old First with CAMBA. CAMBA works with the Department of Homeless Services to operate a network of respite shelters in which religious congregations offer overnight shelter and meals staffed by volunteers.

Old First's congregation was enthusiastic about opening a respite shelter but concerned about having enough volunteers. Lander spoke with other area congregations, which formed the Park Slope interfaith justice network. Each congregation contributes volunteers for the respite center a week at a time.

In its first summer, the respite center served an average of 10 to 12 guests a night. All prospective guests are screened by CAMBA, which also works to connect them with a range of services.

"We can offer security, hospitality, and respect," says volunteer Elisabeth Gaikema. "The men deserve what we expect for ourselves."

Posted 08/16/11

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