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Homeless outreach creates ‘a lot of renewed passion’ in Southern California church


St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Lomita is tackling ‘humongous’ homeless issue as part of its Matthew 25 commitment

November 4, 2019

About a dozen of the nearly 100 members of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Lomita, Calif., are involved in a pair of outreach programs to people nearby who are experiencing homelessness. (Contributed photo)

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Lomita, California, is located near a substantial encampment of people experiencing homelessness. In and around the community in southern Los Angeles County, “the homeless issue out here is humongous,” says Marney Wilde, an 82-year-old St. Mark’s member who is part of one of two St. mark’s teams providing services to the church’s neighbors. “It’s not just the typical homeless. The rents here are incredibly expensive. Most people are two or three paychecks away from being on the streets. That helps explain the heavy homeless population we are seeing.”

The Los Angeles Almanac reports that about 44,000 people are on the streets during any given night in Los Angeles County. That’s as many people who live in Brea, California, about an hour east of Lomita. Sixteen percent of the county’s homeless population live in the southern portion of the county. Twenty-five percent of the county’s homeless have a serious mental illness, and 15% have a substance abuse disorder. About one-third of the county’s homeless are African Americans, much higher than African Americans’ 8% share of the county’s population.

The session of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, which has nearly 100 members, voted recently to accept the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation. While eradicating systemic poverty is the church’s main focus, members are finding “renewed congregational vitality” by “taking on a role in this challenging citywide issue of increasing numbers of homeless individuals,” the church wrote on its Matthew 25 invitation acceptance form.

A few St. Mark’s members working to reduce homelessness have found their niche working alongside case managers who are trying to qualify people for public housing.

Church volunteers also help families avoid falling back into homelessness once they’ve obtained housing, Wilde explained.

A half-dozen or so St. Mark’s members work with ImagineLA, which works to end homelessness by guiding teams of volunteer mentors who are paired with vulnerable families.

“Once they have housing, (families) get a mentor for everyone over the age of 5,” Wilde explained. St. Mark’s members are currently mentoring two families, both headed by single mothers. Mentor relationships last for about 18 months.

“The goal is to help them find the resources they can use on their own,” she said. Parents typically need help with budgeting, meal-planning and stretching their money. Children need help with their schoolwork — and often with making new friends, since they frequently transfer from school to school.

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church pairs a mentor with family members over 5 who are experiencing homelessness. (Contributed photo)

Another St. Mark’s outreach is in partnership with case managers, who work for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the joint powers authority of the City and County of Los Angeles. Church members help case managers gather documents and provide bus tickets so clients can make the appointments they’ve scheduled.

“We haven’t been at it for long,” Wilde said, “but already we’ve seen six people get into housing. We’re continuing our mentoring, which makes them more acceptable to a landlord. It’s the little things, but individuals understand where the help is coming from. It raises their self-esteem to know people care.”

St. Mark’s is in it for the long haul. Members helped organize a job skills education program at the encampment with a focus on welding. With the Port of Long Beach just 20 minutes from Lomita, “they can get hired immediately,” Wilde said.

The outreach “has renewed our congregation’s sense of mission,” said St. Mark’s pastor, the Rev. Billy Song. “In prior years, what might have been limited to acts of compassion and charity, in the forms of food, clothing and basic necessities, has also now taken on a role of advocacy and empowerment.”

All that work has not gone unnoticed by other worshipers at St. Mark’s, Song said.

“We’ve moved beyond just trying to get them to their next meal, but helping them find homes, as well as assisting with job skills,” he said. “That has generated a lot of renewed passion in our church — not to mention a deep sense of purpose and joy too!”

“The church’s prayers and support have been hugely important,” Wilde said. “We truly see these individuals as God’s family. At this time, they are in need of our help.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  Homeless Outreach – Matthew 25 commitment

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Kevin Keaton, Board of Pensions
Andy Keeney, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray:

Merciful God, thank you for providing for us in your grace and comfort and the place you have for each of us in your house. We pray that you would use us, in advocacy and in ministry, to provide for those seeking in our communities and around the world. Amen.

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