The Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness and the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., have announced a partnership focused on the PC(USA)'s mission effort to end homelessness in America. The project will focus on a survey analysis of the depth and breadth of homeless ministry being engaged by Presbyterian congregations and presbyteries throughout the United States, with the intent of gathering recommendations on how to combat the growing tide of homelessness facing the country.
The Presbyterian Network and the Office of Public Witness hope to inspire a renewed sense of "urgent discipleship" for a Christian witness among congregations in providing both a compassionate response of aid and assistance for homeless neighbors and an advocacy for systemic change in the reality of homelessness. This project is part of the effort to implement the 2008 Presbyterian General Assembly policy, "From Homelessness to Hope: Constructing Just, Sustainable Communities for All God's People," on ending homelessness, and it will involve expanding the current homelessness network, holding regional strategic planning seminars to develop a denominational plan to combat homelessness, and engaging ecumenical partners and allies to join the Presbyterian effort.
In its most recent annual survey of 27 American cities on hunger and homelessness, the United States Conference of Mayors reported that within the last year, U.S. cities saw the sharpest increase in the demand for hunger assistance since 1991 and a dramatic increase in family homelessness. The Coalition for the Homeless has reported current record numbers of homeless and hungry persons not seen since The Great Depression.
"At this time of historic economic crisis, the issues of hunger and homelessness in America are more prevalent than ever," said Sacramento (Calif.) Mayor Kevin Johnson at The Mayors press conference announcing the most recent homelessness report. The mayors' report shows that on average, the need for emergency food assistance increased by 26 percent since 2008. Cities also reported an increase in food requests from middle class households that used to give to food pantries, as well as an increase in the frequency of repeat requests from those needing help. When asked to report on the three main causes of hunger, respondents cited unemployment, housing costs and low wages respectively.
The 218th General Assembly resolution From Homelessness to Hope called for intentional Presbyterian initiatives at the national and local levels to end homelessness. Within the GA policy resolution, it was reported that Presbyterians and other persons of faith have responded valiantly to the crisis of homelessness over recent decades. Of the 6,834 congregations that responded to questions about their involvement in homelessness and housing ministry in 2006, over 53 percent indicated that they had provided either volunteers or financial support or both to a ministry with persons who are homeless or in need of housing assistance. The Presbyterian Network wishes to get a better sense of congregational and presbytery homeless ministry and encourages congregations and individual Presbyterians to join in a collaborative denominational effort to address the current American homeless crisis.
"We believe that the From Homelessness to Hope GA resolution was a spark needed to ignite renewed awareness in the PC(USA) of the growing hunger and homeless crisis in the United States, and the needed response to this crisis on the part of the government, the church and the private citizen to end homelessness," said Douglas Grace, executive consultant to the board of directors of the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness and the person coordinating the current survey. "Within the current economic and political climate, the church must act and speak in offering a new vision of hope for the most vulnerable of our neighbors; a public witness of faith and a discipleship to the grace we experience in Jesus Christ."
In addition, the Obama Administration unveiled in June 2010 a national strategy plan to prevent and end homelessness. The plan, entitled "Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness," was developed by cabinet members and Administration officials from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. The plan calls to "finish the job of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015 and among families, youth, and children by 2020." The Administration’s plan calls specifically on leaders in the private sector, philanthropy and of faithbased organizations to renew their commitment to end homelessness, and to research and educate their community on those things needed to be effective and efficient in truly ending homelessness as we know it. The Presbyterian Network and the Office of Public Witness jointly believe that "the time is imperative" for a robust Presbyterian network to be active in implementing the goals of the 218th GA resolution From Homelessness to Hope.
Douglas Grace will be based in the Presbyterian Washington Office to facilitate this project which consists of an electronic survey that presbyteries will be requested to complete, phone interviews of individual congregations engaged in homeless ministry and the securing of regional strategic seminars that will develop into a denominational action plan to implement the From Homelessness to Hope resolution. A report of the presbytery survey findings and recommendations for action will be released in October 2010.
Grace is a veteran of the religious community’s work in public policy advocacy, having previously served as Director of the Washington Office of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, as Domestic Policy Associate of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office, and as an Associate at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Most recently, he received a Master of Divinity (2008) and Master of Sacred Theology in Systematic Theology (2009) at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While studying at Union, he served as Interim Director of Outreach Ministry at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYC) where he coordinated the congregation’s homeless ministry and public policy advocacy concerning the homeless crisis in New York.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director for the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in announcing the partnership, said, "We are very excited about this opportunity to partner with the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness. This collaboration represents our direction to partner with organizations throughout the denomination for the purpose of marshalling forces in this time of great need in areas of justice. Doug will enhance the work of our office and provide expertise on the topic to assist us in our work of advocacy with the poor and disenfranchised."