November 12, 2023
Roughly 421,400 people were unhoused in the U.S. last year, and 127,750 of them were chronically unhoused, meaning they didn’t have a place to stay for a year or more, according to National Alliance to End Homelessness data. Unhoused rates have been climbing nationally by about 6% every year since 2017, the alliance said. The increase in the number of unhoused people comes when housing costs are soaring and prices for essentials like food and transportation continue to rise.
This is why Congregation-Based Community Organizing (CBCO) groups are so essential. CBCO groups utilize a grassroots organizing approach for addressing community needs, revitalizing congregations and developing individuals into effective leaders. CBCO ministries provide a vehicle for churches, schools, unions, and nonprofit organizations to carry their concerns and values into public life, as they create policy and access funds to improve their communities. These coalitions around the country have established a track record of highly successful campaigns and have leveraged billions of dollars.
Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities (RISC) in Richmond, Virginia, is one CBCO addressing the increase in unhoused people. Healthy Homes is a new campaign for RISC that specifically has to do with unsafe, unhealthy and environmentally unjust living conditions in mobile homes in Richmond’s south side. It surfaced because of newly engaged Latinx members who make up a large portion of residents of the mobile home parks, talking about the problem in house meetings. By addressing current living conditions, RISC is intervening before families become unhoused.
RISC conducted research and determined that with $300,000, a local nonprofit called Project Homes could begin a pilot mobile home repair/replacement program, capable of serving 20 households with either significant repairs or a replacement of their home (sometimes the homes are in such terrible shape that a replacement is needed).
RISC showed the video below at their Nehemiah Action as a “testimony” to the conditions in the mobile homes. A team leader who lives in one of the mobile homes stood on stage with others whose homes are featured and introduced the video in Spanish (interpreted). When the video finished, the team leader concluded by saying they would all be returning to those homes that night. RISC’s lead organizer said this was a powerful presentation and that following the Nehemiah Action, four council members later committed to ensure that an additional $500,000 was included in the next year’s budget.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/R4rGuzJJYF8
RISC also has a team working on affordable housing and evictions. After having won an ordinance that established a dedicated stream of funding in an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, RISC discovered that the city administration did not plan to follow the ordinance. They stepped up social media efforts, press campaign and told the administration about this failure of government to follow its own laws and how the mayor’s proposed budget provided zero funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. At the Nehemiah Action, one City Council member arrived having negotiated an agreement with the Mayor — and proposed putting $10 million in bond revenue, into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, for the next five years. RISC members agreed to this compromise, but they won’t stop there. The next step is to monitor the funds from the bond revenue program to ensure the money goes into the trust fund, and to identify more funding that they can propose go into the trust fund.
Presbyterians are highly involved in the work of RISC. With four Presbyterian churches and a Presbyterian seminary as members (Bon Air Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church, Southminster Presbyterian Church, Three Chopt Presbyterian and Union Presbyterian Seminary) — they comprise about 20% of the organization’s membership. Presbyterian clergy and leaders have been foundational in RISC’s development and continue to serve in key positions within the organization.
Jennifer Evans, Associate for Communications and National Partnerships for the Presbyterian Hunger Program
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, November 12, 2023, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Today’s Focus: Hunger and Homelessness Sunday
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
God of justice, we find our home in you. Help us never be satisfied while others are unhoused or hungry. Thank you for these community organizing models that work to shape a more just world. Help us build power by listening to each other’s stories, joining with intentionally marginalized people and other people of faith, determining common themes of interests and together, exercising power by showing up to hold leaders and policy makers accountable. Help us to collectively build a better future for generations to come. Amen.
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