Thursday, April 14, 2011

Faith In Action: Open Door Policy

Statistics suggest that in Australia there are over 105,000 people who are considered to be homeless.

Many churches are stepping up to serve people who find themselves without a place to stay, with a homeless ministry often propelled by an individual acting on a prompting from God. The overnight drop in centre at Door of Hope Christian Church in Launceston came about from one such prompting. Some of the volunteers share their story:

“It all began more than five years ago [when] one of our members, a nurse, was walking to work, passed a local park and found a person huddled under a bush. They felt challenged by God to do something to help ease the plight of homeless people in Launceston.”

With a vision to build an emergency housing facility to be called ‘Levi House’, capable of caring for people of various demographics and situations, they lobbied the government for funding for a permanent crisis care facility. Whilst waiting for a grant they decided to open up the church at night to act as a drop-in centre.

This drop-in centre is now in its 3rd year, and in March of this year, Levi House, their purpose-built facility with 20 versatile units opened. Their hope is to “accommodate individuals, couples, or families for between about six weeks to six months, providing case workers and training opportunities.” They are also planning to continue on with the drop-in centre as it currently runs.

When questioned about difficulties they have had to overcome along the way they respond that they “have had to cut back available nights in the drop in centre because of shortage of volunteers to supervise overnight. Some of our church members have expressed concern about opening our doors in this way, especially on a Sunday night when the clients mingle with the church-goers!”

However they are committed to “maintaining a safe environment (even setting up CCTV as a security measure) and want to be faithful to the rules we set. When faced with criticism we remind ourselves that this is what God has called us to do, to be His hands and feet, and He will work out the rest.”

They have been received “quite well by the majority of the community. We have volunteers helping from other churches as well as our own, partnering with two other churches to provide the service most nights of the week.”

After starting with just a handful of people there are now three teams totalling approximately 60 people, one that collects the food, serves and cleans up the dinner; another that sets up beds and supervises overnight; and another that cleans the next morning.

The team have also managed to secure the help of a number of organisations who contribute to cover the costs and demands of providing accommodation and making meals. “The local hospital staff cafeteria supplies us with their leftovers; a local cafe also donates desserts, wraps and rolls that they don’t sell; the hospital [also] donated mattresses and linen that they were replacing; a laundry service cleans our linen for a low cost; the caravan park next door allows our clients to use their showers.”

The main reasons people find themselves without somewhere to live are: domestic violence, eviction from previous accommodation, relationship or family breakdown and financial difficulty.

Over the past twelve months the drop-in centre has had over 1000 ‘bed nights’. “Most nights we serve between three and ten people. A couple of weeks ago we served a family with two young children and were able to help them to find temporary accommodation.”

The majority of people don’t have any other contact with the Christian community and drop-in centre volunteers honestly testify that not many people who come appear to have any interest in the Christian faith, but “we are faithfully serving them with no strings attached, [and] we sometimes have the opportunity for spiritual conversations. When we think we are not reaching people, someone will open up!”