Friday, October 28, 2011

St. John’s Baptist Forms Partnership to House Transitioning Homeless Families

Left to right: Dennis Foust,  Darren Ash, and Larry Hewitt in
the new offices for Charlotte Family Housing.
by Rev. Laura Barclay

In October 2010, St. John’s Baptist Church formed a Space Utilization Committee to assess how to use the second floor of their building, leading to an amazing partnership with Charlotte Family Housing that shelters families above their worship space.

Larry Hewitt, chair of the space committee, related that the church has previously housed a hospitality house for families of patients in the neighboring hospital. The hospital proceeded to build stand-alone facilities, and St. John’s wanted to figure out how to utilize the space in an ongoing partnership with the community and ensure that the building would be serving God beyond Sundays and Wednesdays.

Bert Green, Executive Director of Charlotte’s Habitat for Humanity, put the committee in touch with Darren Ash of Charlotte Family Housing, and they began talks to form only the second shelter in town that houses families. Moving in above the Fellowship Hall with the name “Hawthorne Place,” dorms will house six families at a time, with common areas for a computer lab, laundry room, kitchens and closets.

Ash relates that this move has been a blessing at a time when Charlotte seemed to be pushing homeless populations to the north side of town, making them feel unwelcome downtown. Many of Ash’s clients work at the neighboring hospital and will no longer face a long commute.

Ash shared that the goal is to transition these families out of the dorms and into the comfort of their own apartments, and then offer counseling services to help them cope with past traumas. Charlotte Family Housing has rental vouchers for about 120 apartment units for transitioning families, and the organization shelters and houses around 200 families a year.

Left to right: Ash, Hewitt and Foust in the living area of the
new apartments for homeless families.
In addition to living space, families receive asset-based social work to overcome obstacles to housing, as well as vocational counseling, housing advocacy and subsidies, financial incentives like microloans, ongoing clinical social work, and volunteer engagement with clients.

New pastor Dennis Foust is excited about the investment the church has made in their partnership, and is looking forward to building relationships between his congregants and the new residents through Wednesday night suppers, worship, and volunteer opportunities. Ash noted that the level of faith these families had was astounding and uplifting to the employees, who note their reliance on God during difficult times.

St. John’s partnership is prophetic for our times. Charlotte is ranked #2 in the nation for family homelessness. Charlotte Family Housing formed this year as a merger between three organizations to more efficiently and effectively care for homeless populations.

This partnership exhibits a church actively aware and engaged in their community and committed to what Jesus identified as the greatest commandment—loving God and neighbor.

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