Today’s guest post is by Emily Padula, a member of our Vestry.
Ben and I moved into beautiful East Austin almost a year ago, around the same time Christ Church was making that same move. While we had served at Church Under the Bridge and in kitchens a few times, we had not known any homeless people personally. Moving into the neighborhood – both as a church community and as a family – has brought us face-to-face with people experiencing the crisis of homelessness in a new way. When we take our dog for a walk at our local park, we often meet neighbors who spend their nights sleeping under nearby bridges. As we have gotten to know these neighbors, Ben and I have questioned what it means to love these Austinites well – personally, as part of Christ Church, and as citizens of Austin.
If you have ever had the same questions, have I got a resource for you! We recently attended an “Imagine Austin Speaker Series” talk on “Real Solutions that are Ending Homelessness in Austin”. I’ve linked the recording and strongly encourage you to watch/listen in. It is packed full of wisdom, perspective, ideas, information about AMAZING programs, and encouraging stories from the City of Austin, Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and the City of Houston. A sneak peak of what you will hear…
- Homelessness is a symptom of the brokenness of other systems: families, justice, child welfare, health and mental health care. It is not something people choose as an ideal lifestyle.
- Older strategies tended to be solely focused on managing homelessness (food, clothing, etc.). Newer strategies are effectively using the touchpoint of daily needs as a way to help people exit homelessness. There are incredible things happening in this space!
- Significantly less than 1% of Austin is currently homeless. This is not an overwhelming problem. Ending homelessness is an achievable ambition!
- Community First! Village is a national beacon of a solution. It is a 51-acre master planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. While not a solution for all homelessness, hundreds of people have been lifted out of years of homelessness and into long-term community through the work of this beautiful Christian organization in east Austin (part of Mobile Loaves and Fishes).
- Our city has an impressive master plan to end homelessness in Austin and has put in place some innovative programs like the Homelessness Outreach Street Team, Pop-Up Resource Clinic, Digital Inclusion, and Homelessness Advisory Committee. Watch the video to learn more!
Ben and I were so excited to see all the incredible strategy and work that is in place to serve our neighbors. We asked what we at Christ Church could do to love our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Here are a few of the ideas that were shared…
- Watch the Imagine Austin video as a family and talk about it. (tip: watching it on 1.5 speed gets the content section down to 45 min!) If you’ve ever been curious or felt overwhelmed by these challenges, you will be so encouraged and inspired!
- Volunteer with Mobile Loaves and Fishes food trucks to get to interact with homeless neighbors – or go volunteer at Community First! Village
- Instead of joining the voices saying “not in my backyard!” to affordable housing policy, be a Kingdom advocate for including those on the margins and welcoming them into your community. “Yes! <affordable housing> in my backyard!”
- Ask for eyes to see “the homeless” as individual neighbors with stories, and start to interact from that place. Policy and money are important in ending homelessness, but humanity and God’s love are even more important.
Ben and I have been so blessed in relationship with our neighbors who are in the midst of the crisis of homelessness. They have cooked for us, prayed for us, and shared their hearts with us. We look forward to what God has for us and for Christ Church as we grow in learning to love and be loved by our neighbors who are currently experiencing homelessness – as part of our shared value of “The City” (copied below).
[Excerpt from our Core Values]:
As cities were central to the early church’s mission, Christ Church is called to the heart of Austin to love, learn, and serve in the city, and to proclaim the love of God in Christ. We encourage members to love our neighborhoods and to get involved locally. We want to understand and influence our urban context, which includes the vulnerable and marginalized, the arts, government, higher education, cultural diversity, entrepreneurship, and business.