Tag Archives: Ministering to the Homeless

Ministering to the Homeless 6

Church opens its doors, heart for homeless to keep warm 

By Chris Green
(originally posted Feb 11, 2007, no longer in print – see below for an update and another link)  You can find a copy of the original here
ROCKFORD — The thermostat in the sanctuary at First Christian Church is set at a toasty 75 degrees. The only thing warmer Tuesday in the tiny house of worship was homemade chicken soup and the hearts of those who served it, the Revs. Alphonzo and Barbara Heath. 

The husband and wife pastors have opened up the doors of their southwest side church at 325 Heath St. to serve as an impromptu warming center and 24-hour, seven-days-a-week shelter for the homeless. 

 Barbara Heath said local weather reports last week on the evening news predicting the current spell of sub-zero temperatures prompted the church to start the fledgling ministry.

“When I was looking at the news, they said the temperatures were going to be life threatening. I said, ‘We don’t have enough places for people to go to in the city.’ I told my husband, ‘We’re opening the church.’ I just felt it’s our responsibility.” 

Coinciding with the arrival of the arctic blast Sunday, the Heaths not only have welcomed the homeless, they are feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, fruit, coffee and tea is available.  All is provided with funds from the 25-member congregation, outside donations and the Heaths’ own pockets.

In the basement of the church, a small kitchen is where the smell of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and other nightly meals have originated and lofted throughout the 1,100-square-foot building. The basement also is where large squares of cardboard have been taped together, spread on the floor and topped with blankets on which the guests may sleep.  In another corner of the basement, those same guests congregate during the day to watch TV, play cards and read magazines.

“A local business owner/Christian brought two checks, one for $100 and one for $150,” she said. “Somebody gave my husband $60 and another person gave $40.” More moving than the monetary donations were the offerings from a woman who learned of the church’s shelter and brought blankets. “And you know what? She took her coat off and left it, too,” Heath said.

Word about the church opening its doors spread through Rockford, a city of around 150,000. The announcement was an answered prayer for one man in the congregation. After worship ended, he told Barbara he had no place to live, as of that day.  “He stayed, and he’s been there ever since,” she said.  
The local newspaper ran an article on Feb. 7. Two television stations featured the church in local news segments.   First Christian is now sheltering up to 20 people each night and feeding 60-70 during the day. Some families who have homes but no water due to frozen pipes come to the church for dinner. Others arrive during the day to get warm, and then go back to other shelters at night.
Oldtimer’s comment:  While sleeping on cardboard is hardly luxury living, it is warm and safe.  These people would have been sleeping behind buildings in the snow without these accommodations.   Since this story is a year old already, I’ve looked for an update to see what is happening.   Here are some related Good News!

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ROCKFORD ILL.   Ivy Mims wasn’t sure what she was going to do for Thanksgiving dinner.Mims, who works two jobs and is working toward becoming a registered nurse, said her busy schedule and tight budget usually mean a baloney sandwich or TV dinner for eats.

Things weren’t going to be too different this Thanksgiving.    While traveling down State Street in downtown Rockford with Joseph Diaz, she on foot and he in his wheelchair, they got a pleasant surprise – a sleek black limousine pulled up next to them offering a ride and a good meal. 

Quincy Heath, owner of Heath Limousine, picked up nearly 40 people on Thursday to give them a luxury ride to First Christian Church, 325 Heath St., for a free meal.   (Oldtimer’s note: Quincy is Alphonzo’s brother)

Mims, who is Diaz’s personal assistant, said she didn’t know anything about the free meal but quickly found out Heath was for real.

Heath picked up passengers from the Rockford Rescue Mission, bus stops and other locations in town. Many were homeless or poor, others just might not be able to scrape up enough cash or time to cook a quality meal. Heath and First Christian Church gave them a chance to get a little first-class treatment.

“A lot of people don’t have and they don’t know what it is like to have,” Heath said.

For years, pastors Barbara and Alphonzo Heath had quiet family dinners on Thanksgiving, but for the last two years, they wanted to branch out.

“Melannie Boston, who moved gingerly on a swollen ankle, had fallen on hard times. She and fiance Richard Bockewitz are living paycheck to paycheck and constantly on the move, finding different places to stay.

“They let us have luxury for just one day; it was nice,” Boston said. “They care enough to take time from their family to help us here.”

This is What Ministering to the Homeless and Needy Means!

Ministering to the Homeless 4

Christian duty, county law at odds

in Westgate trial

This is the fourth in a series of articles on how to minister to the homeless.    It concerns a church that is intent on helping the homeless despite the efforts of the county where it resides.   The county wants to limit the number served or close them down.  They refuse.  This has been an 8 year battle so far and the church will not back down.  They are intent in their efforts to minister to the homeless where the county does not.

Find this story here
By Sonja Isger
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH – Westgate Tabernacle Church may be a place where the heartbreak of homeless men, women and children seems endless.

But what jurors should see first, said county attorney Amy Petrick, is a property owner who has engaged in a lengthy attempt to dodge county zoning and building regulations.

Church leaders built outdoor showers and toilets without permits and allowed people to sleep under a roof riddled by termite and water damage. They continue to pack as many as 100 people where county fire regulations say only 25 should bed.

Though they now claim they have a constitutional right to house as many homeless people in their sanctuary as they see fit, they once offered to seek a permit to shelter the homeless – up to 14 of them. “That’s what this is really about – the number of folks you can have in this facility,” Petrick said in her opening statements Tuesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

While the church occupies only a sandy, weed-filled patch in a run-down neighborhood, the sentiment it has stirred about how this community cares for its homeless has filled newspapers, church petitions and dinner conversations.

One excused juror said she had resolved just this weekend to send the church a check. Another potential juror went home after the first day of questioning and asked her husband to pull Bible verses specifically on the homeless. After being excused, Michelle Damone, a married mother of two, said that years back she got caught in a tropical storm and was taken in by strangers. She remembers praying over dinner with them.

The church’s attorney, Barry Silver, is not only arguing that the church must fulfill its mission, but that the county government is failing its homeless by not providing adequate shelter. On the contrary, Petrick said, the county gets millions from state and federal government to aid the homeless and spends even more of its own.

The county and the church, which was built in 1929 just north of Palm Beach International Airport, have been at odds since 1999, when code enforcement officials determined the church was violating zoning laws by operating a homeless shelter in a residential neighborhood.

This is what ministering to the homeless means

Oldtimer’s Comment: You may think that “packing” people in a “termite riddled” and “water damaged” structure is not the proper place for housing the homeless, but when the alternative is a card board box or abandoned car or a high place on the ground in the weeds, you are wrong.   If the county would provide the services, there would be no need for 10o men and women to show up nightly at the church.   Besides, the description used in court papers do not always shine the light that illustrates the true conditions.   See the YouTube video above and see for yourself.

These homeless people would not show up at the church night after night if there were safer or better accommodations.  It is this church’s determination to serve the homeless in the face of fines and or closure that I applaud, not the conditions, which as I see from the video are not the same as those mentioned in the news article.