As the director of a homeless shelter, I attend a lot of meetings. This is not among my favorite things to do. However, a lot of good ideas come from meetings.
The thing about meetings is that our agendas sometimes get top heavy in the area of “needs.” In this ministry, needs are endless. We need more food, more space, more beds, newer equipment, fresher programs, more staff and of course, everyone’s favorite, more money. It’s good to keep these needs out front so we can be responsive when resources become available. Knowing what we need can, in some ways, help us plan more strategically.
In recent days our vision, “To Eliminate Homelessness” has been ringing in my mind and tugging at my heart. I can’t stop thinking about it. When I have time to just let my thoughts wander, I get excited and overwhelmed at the same time. Excited about the possibilities of truly ending homelessness and overwhelmed by where to start. During one of these times it struck me, “Take a look at the needs. Do they match our vision? If we had at our fingertips everything on that list, would we be any closer to realizing our vision of eliminating homelessness?”
As a director, I am compelled to keep my eye on the needs of the organization. But as an employee of a homeless shelter that strives to minister to people and offer them hope and a better future, I am challenged by the needs of those we serve. Do we know what they need? Instead of a list of things we need to accomplish our vision, maybe we should make a list of what the homeless need to eliminate homelessness in their future.
I’ll admit. The lists may be similar in some ways. But just asking the question from their perspective may lead to different answers.
For instance, when we ask the question, “What does a homeless individual or family need?” the first obvious answer might be “a house.” Four walls. A safe place to live. So is that the answer? Will we eliminate homelessness by providing more houses?
What about more shelters with more beds? Are we realizing our vision by getting the homeless off the streets and into shelters? Our city has three shelters with approximately 250 beds total. There are countless food and clothing pantries at local churches. There are even good hearted people on the streets handing out coats, blankets and other items to the homeless. Are these efforts getting them any closer to being “un-homeless?”
I’m really not trying to be difficult or argumentative. These are honest questions I’m struggling with. In this blog, my goal will be to address the questions related to the problem of homelessness from the perspective of one who sees daily the toll it is taking on our society. I will also be writing through the eyes of some of those I serve every day.
One last thing. My ultimate goal as a shelter director is to work myself out of a job. I would love to go out of business. Until then, I will not lose hope because my hope is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the redemptive work it provides for “whosoever.”