The Last, The Lost, The Least
Imagine being a parent, raising a child, and facing the devastation of losing a place to live. It has been said that many of us are just a couple of paychecks away from financial crisis. Such crisis can be due to a loss of employment, a catastrophic medical need or some other unplanned event in our lives where we simply need help.
In today’s society, the term “homeless” usually carries a stigma to it. Being labeled homeless often reflects a vision of someone far different than ourselves. But if we peel back those layers of discrimination, those who find themselves homeless are people, just like you and me. One man I spoke with who had recently been homeless said “homelessness is a circumstance, it’s not who I am.” What I understood him to say is that he was not a homeless man, but a man who was homeless. What a powerful difference it makes, how we use our words.
Those who find themselves homeless need the very basics - food, shelter, a safe place for their family. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua, NY is no stranger at offering help to those with such needs. The Rev. David Hefling is The Rector of St. John’s, and is committed to serving not just his congregation, but those in need from all walks of life in his community. One example of his parish ministries is the Gleaners Community Kitchen, where they are serving on average 70 meals a day.
Free of charge to those in need.
No questions asked.
No one denied.
But Fr. David knows that a meal a day isn’t enough. Through Christ, he is looking to expand resources and support for those families in crisis. Fr. David hopes to assist Ontario County with a new parish ministry that is nationally known as Family Promise, that would operate out of the rectory of St. John’s. The mission of Family Promise is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response. The fundamental belief of Family Promise is that families should stay together, and not be separated during the most difficult times in their lives.
Family Promise needs a viable space to serve as a day center that allows up to four families a place to live during the day and to connect with the social service providers on location. Fr. David believes the vacant rectory at St. John’s is a great fit, and he’s offering the viable space for the program - free of charge.
Here’s how the program works…
There are 22 sponsoring churches in Ontario County currently supporting families that are homeless. Of those, 16 churches are offering a place to sleep at their perspective parish. With Family Promise, four selected families would be transported to St. John’s in Canandaigua each morning. Their school-age children will attend school in their respective districts while the parents spend their day working on-site with social service professionals, getting their lives back on track with housing and employment. After a full day of resources, the families return to their sponsoring church for the evening for meals and overnight accommodations. Target time-frame for a family to get back on their feet is nine weeks or less.
It’s estimated that there are up to 60 families that are homeless in Ontario County.
That is a crisis.
We need to challenge ourselves, in every neighborhood, to help solve this crisis. Fr. David said: “You know, in heaven ‘what we ought to do’ and ‘what we feel like doing’ will coincide. That’s practically the definition of heaven. Meanwhile, here below, there is such a thing as duty. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves and that’s the essence of this initiative.”
Loving our neighbors as ourselves. Words to live by. This includes the last, the lost, the least. I'm sure Christ would be proud.