Human Anything Helps

Although I work at Congregations for the Homeless, I don’t have much contact with our clients. I’m the IT Guy, so I mostly work with the office staff and case managers. I stop by the various computer labs, but it’s easier to do my work when nobody’s using the computers. So my
impressions of homeless guys tend towards the ones we all see—somebody standing on a corner with a cardboard sign that says “Homeless Anything Helps.”

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There but for grace . . .

Life is not always fair.  Many people bear more than their share of misfortune.  Life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of employment, divorce, abuse, addiction and physical or mental illness can result in loss of self-worth, depression and sometimes homelessness. Christmas can be a lonely time for those who are homeless, struggling with a self-destructive lifestyle or even transitioning to a stable living environment.

In the mid-1970s, two BelPres volunteers made Christmas just a little brighter at Seattle’s First Avenue Service Center for homeless men.  They shopped the sales, filled and wrapped 50 gift boxes with warm winter clothes and toiletries.  In the early 1980s, the need became greater than this generous and compassionate mother and daughter could provide alone.  BelPres’ Community Outreach Committee turned to the congregation and 200 boxes were packed for the Service Center. Seattle women’s shelters were added to the list of recipients and the project continued for twenty years.

In 2000, Seattle churches took over and BelPres focused on increasing needs of the homeless on the Eastside by preparing 50 gift boxes.   Chuck and Marie Olmstead have chaired this growing labor of love and generosity since 2001.  Last year, Karen Clark and Chuck Zuber began sharing the responsibility with them.

This year, the goal is to prepare 245 Christmas boxes:  180 boxes for men served by Congregations for the Homeless (CFH) in the Winter Shelter, the Rotating Shelter at churches – including BelPres and Transitional Housing for those approaching stability and independence; 25 boxes for Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST) – a residential program for women; 40 boxes for Homeless Youth (New Horizons) for males and females, ages 13-24.

Boxes and gift lists are available in the Lobby after all services on November 12, 19 and 26.  Filled and wrapped boxes should be returned to the church on December 3 or 10.

If you have questions or need more information, call:

Chuck or Marie Olmstead                 425-223-9373 (cell)       425-947-7917 (home)

Chuck Zuber or Karen Clark             425-765-4763 (cell)        425-823-9057 (home)

Winter Blessings at Congregations for the Homeless (CFH)

As the winter season comes to an end, I have reflected on the work we have done to address homelessness in our community and see that so much good has been accomplished this past year.  In 2016, we saw hundreds of individuals leave homelessness and enter a permanent stable housing.  Many men found meaningful jobs helping them connect to a new sense of purpose and meaning for their lives.  We witnessed broken relationships find healing, life, and love.  Men have reconnected to estranged family members, to children they have not had contact with for years, to old friends, and to themselves in new and healthy ways.

As I ponder all the successes of helping men move from life on the streets to independence over the last year, you come to mind.  The great success that Congregations for the Homeless has had would not be possible without all you do.  The partnership with your congregation enables profound transformation in the lives of the men we serve.  It is the acceptance, compassion, and love that your congregation’s volunteers bring by building authentic relationships with the men that is key in the life-changing work we do.

I am so thankful for all you do to make our community a place where everyone is welcome and valued.  I am deeply thankful for the passion and love you bring to those who are marginalized and hurting.  Thank you for being you and for your continued partnership with CFH in the life-giving work we do on the Eastside.  You are deeply valued by CFH and the men who you have profoundly impacted.  I hope you are deeply blessed in 2017.

BelPres Youth Make New Friends Among Seattle’s Homeless Adults

On a hot Saturday afternoon in June, BelPres high school youth and leaders piled into two vans and headed into downtown Seattle. Our plan was to park close to the Pioneer Square Park, where people experiencing homeless congregate. For the past year BelPres youth have been learning about homelessness in our area through serving at Mary’s Place, Congregations for the Homeless, and the Denver mission trip. On this outing, led by BelPres Interim Director for Youth Ministries, our focus was all about interacting with homeless persons, learning about their lives and praying with them. We began with a walking tour of the area, stopping by Bread of Life Mission and Compass House. Afterwards, we broke up into small groups; Daniel gave each group $20 to spend as we felt led in serving a person who was homeless.

My group consisted of four girls who are going on the Bolivia mission trip with me. We walked to the park and surveyed the area. How could we feed the maximum amount of people with our $20? We decided on pizza cut in smaller slices, but the pizza store was closed. Then we spied a Subway across the way and decided to get three foot-long subs cut in quarters – enough for 12 people. With the subs purchased, we walked over to the park.

As a leader and a mom, I was a little bit cautious about our first engagement. Closest to us were a few men on some park benches smoking weed, but I didn’t feel that was the best place for the girls to start. We noticed a couple sitting on a different bench and asked if we could sit with them. “Jenny” was hearing impaired, and her boyfriend, “Dave,” helped us all to have a conversation. Dave shared that it was Jenny’s birthday, and her eyes lit up when we offered her a sandwich. We asked about their life and what they liked about the area. Dave shared that he lived in one shelter, and she lived in another. After chatting a bit, we asked if we could pray with them. Dave’s eyes brightened and he said, “Yes! And I would like to pray for you.” We held hands and he prayed for us, thanking God for the food and for our small group’s willingness to spend time with them. We prayed for them, Jenny’s birthday celebration and thanking God for their faith and trust in Him.

As we got up to leave, we noticed a violin case next to them. Dave said he played the violin, and wanted to play a birthday song for Jenny, but a piece had broken off and he didn’t have money for glue. The girls looked at each other and said, “We can get some glue!” Two girls walked across the street to a convenience store for the glue while the rest of us stayed and continued to chat. Soon the girls returned and gave Dave the glue. He was thrilled to be able to repair his violin and play Jenny her song.

As we walked around for the next hour, passing out sandwiches and talking with men and women experiencing homelessness, our hearts were filled. We heard stories of brokenness, stories of hope, stories of lives that, from the outside, seemed lost and worthless, but on the inside were filled with faith and trust in God. We offered prayer and were prayed for. We asked for advice and were told: stay in school, trust in God, and keep on going. On a hot June day, we were refreshed by the Holy Spirit’s presence in the park.

After an hour in the park, our larger group of youth and leaders gathered at Subway for a cool drink, and debriefed our experiences. Over and over again, our young people talked about how joyful their time had been. Each small group had fed people, learned about their lives, and came away with a deeper understanding of God. Most shared that they would love to come down to the park again, to bring food, talk and pray. We had found God in the park in the lives of our homeless brothers and sisters. Tired and sweaty, we loaded into the vans with full hearts and a deeper understanding of what it means to serve the Lord in ways that are simple and impactful.

Serving our homeless brothers and sisters is not complicated. It doesn’t take a lot of money or time; it doesn’t require us to change our lives or move to an apartment downtown. Any day of the week, any of us can take a couple of hours to head downtown, grab a few sandwiches and hang out at the park. We can invite someone living on the streets to have lunch with us, and we can hear their story and pray for them. And in the end, our lives will be changed – for the better!

How have you interacted with people who are different than you? Can you imagine having lunch with a homeless person and learning about their life? What is God saying to you in this article?

BelPres Congregations for the Homeless Hosting: A Gift Received

Mary McCracken, Community Outreach Director 

 

This past December, BelPres hosted the men from Congregations for the Homeless. This is an annual event for BelPres, one we look forward to and find great joy in doing. Our BelPres congregation went above and beyond in providing meals, gifts, and relationally connecting with the men. Last week, BelPres Missions department received the following email from one mom whose family had participated in providing dinner one wintry evening.

“My family just had a wonderful time doing this. My 16 year old daughter sat and talked to one of the men for the longest time. Then William and I joined them. The gentleman was very outgoing and just plain fun to talk to. He gave my daughter advice about boys and life and from what I heard, it was very good advice!

I volunteer for Open Door Legal Services and I had met a couple of the men there as clients, so it was fun to recognize them and be able to chat with them in a more informal setting. All of the men are so truly grateful and appreciative. One gentleman told me about how the dinner we made reminded him so much of what his grandmother, who raised him and is now deceased, used to make. You could tell what fond memories it brought back. There were tears in his eyes.

This last week I met with one of the men who had been staying at our Church in December. He went on and on about how wonderful the meals were and how well they were treated. He felt appreciated. I am so glad our Church does this!”

We are deeply thankful for our BelPres community and your heart for service. Thank you to all who provided meals and supplies, shopped for gifts or made them yourselves, and spent time in a busy season to sit and visit with the men. Even though other churches are now hosting the men, there continue to be opportunities to provide meals and grow relationships. For more information on how you can stay involved year-round with the Congregations for the Homeless, please contact Elizabeth Hayford at ehayford@belpres.org or GetConnected. You can also find out more about CFH HERE.

Congregations for the Homeless

By Mary McCracken, Director of Community Outreach

Two home-schooled girls took it upon themselves to knit 40 hats for the Congregations for the Homeless men who were housed at BelPres all December! Once the hats were finished, the girls put them into white gift boxes with clear plastic tops. The men were able to choose a hat that fit their style (!) and were incredibly blessed by the gift of these sweet young girls. The girls were able to pull in a few of their friends to assist in the knitting, and thoroughly enjoyed their project. Praise the Lord for these wonderful young people who so sweetly gave of their time, talent and treasure to bring the warmth of Christ’s love through such a practical gift.