By Gary G. Yerkey
Several Episcopal churches in Charlotte, North Carolina, have joined forces with dozens of other Christian congregations this week to house and feed 40 homeless families displaced during the Democratic National Convention.
The families have been forced to move from the motels where they normally reside that have more than doubled their rates — from $20-$40 to hundreds of dollars a night — during the convention Sept. 4-6.
“Let’s make Christ Church their spiritual home,” said the Rev. Henry H. “Chip” Edens III, rector of the church. “Everyone needs and deserves a home.”
Other Episcopal churches in the city that have signed on to the initiative include St. Martin’s and the Church of the Holy Comforter. They have joined about 30 other local Christian congregations that have committed to providing nearly 800 beds for the homeless through a program administered by the Urban Ministry Center’s Room in the Inn.
The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, said that Christ Church has a long tradition of helping the less fortunate and “witnessing to the social Gospel of Jesus.”
“It’s in their DNA,” he said.
Curry said in a telephone interview with TLC that the homelessness initiative being supported by the diocese this week is consistent with the Gospel, which, he said, is about spiritual and physical salvation. He cited Matthew 5, saying that helping the homeless, an “act of hospitality,” enables churches to “follow in the footsteps of Jesus.”
The Rev. Dr. L. Murdock Smith, rector of St. Martin’s, said his parishioners were quick to support the initiative. “It took about 15 minutes to get folks lined up to help,” he said. “One thing about St. Martin’s is that they understand that they must be the hands and feet of the Gospel and not just the voice.”
Homelessness in Charlotte has grown rapidly in recent years. According to the United States Conference of Mayors, the number of homeless families in North Carolina’s largest city rose by 21 percent between 2010 and 2011, and the number of homeless individuals increased by 10 percent during the same period.
City officials said the problem has hit children particularly hard, noting that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district reported in June of this year that 4,922 students enrolled in schools in Mecklenburg County were without a home.
The Homeless Services Network, a coalition of governmental and non-governmental agencies devoted to assisting the homeless with emergency shelter, medical attention and other services, has estimated that about 100 families have been displaced by the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week. In response, it said, the coalition developed a multitier approach that includes — in addition to reviving the Room in the Inn program, which normally operates only in the winter — providing nearly $20,000 to enable some homeless families to remain in motels by negotiating cheaper rates or by supplementing the money they regularly pay.
The Rev. John Porter-Acee, associate rector at Christ Church, told TLC that the church also participates in other programs in Charlotte aimed at helping the homeless and other poor members of the community, including Family Promise, an interfaith hospitality network operating in 41 states and the District of Columbia that helps families regain their housing, independence and dignity.
Under the program, 12 churches in Charlotte, including Christ Church, have agreed to house up to 14 homeless people (men, women and children) for one week in each quarter. Teams of parishioners serve together, according to the Christ Church website, “to provide meals, fellowship and hope to homeless families” during their stay. Two other Episcopal churches in Charlotte, St. Peter’s and St. John’s, also participate.
Other programs dedicated to helping the homeless and supported by Christ Church include the Emergency Winter Shelter, which houses homeless men from December to March when other community shelters are full, as well as Uptown Shelter, the only permanent year-round shelter for homeless men in Charlotte.
Several Episcopal churches in Charlotte also participate in a program aimed at offering a long-term solution to the city’s homelessness crisis: the Workforce Initiative for Supportive Housing (WISH).
That program — developed by a coalition of concerned citizens, faith groups, businesses and governmental and non-governmental agencies — seeks to empower homeless or near-homeless families to achieve self-sufficiency. Through the program, the families receive life-skills support from social workers, a monthly rent subsidy, transportation assistance and a connection to local faith groups.
Volunteer opportunities supported by Christ Church, for instance, include joining a WISH “Hope Team” comprising five to eight trained parishioners who agree to work with previously homeless families for at least a year.
Commenting on the political conventions that were held in Tampa, Florida, and Charlotte last month and this month, Bishop Curry wrote in a recent blog that the social commentator and comedian Dick Gregory once joked that it may be true, as envisioned in Isaiah 11:6-9, that the wolf will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb probably won’t get much sleep that night.
“One could also wonder if the vision of enemies in the animal kingdom applies to elephants and donkeys,” Curry wrote. “In either case, Isaiah has given us an extraordinary vision of God’s dream for the entire human family and the fullness of creation. It is a sublime vision of the hope and healing that results from God’s blessing. … So yes, God bless the Democrats who gather in Charlotte. God bless the Republicans who gather in Tampa. God bless the United States of America. God bless the entire human family. May God bless us all.”