Father Paul Schroeder of The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is the Founder of The New City Initiative in Portland, a project of JOIN. Father Paul asks congregations this question. What do you do well? The query stands at the core of an initiative that pairs formerly homeless individuals with the faith community. In a conversation with HRC writer Wendy Grace Evans, Paul talks about this new venture into reciprocity, friendship and housing retention. In 2009, the HRC featured an article about another one of Father Paul’s project’s, The Third Place.
Currently New City Initiative is linked with JOIN, our umbrella organization. JOIN exists to support the efforts of homeless individuals and families to transition out of homelessness into permanent housing. It has been a key to our success. JOIN houses 500 people a year. We find the essential component to retention is engaging people in the community, getting them out and getting them engaged in the arts and music. People from JOIN who are engaged in these activities have an 85 percent housing retention rate. We are also expanding to other non-profit partners who don’t have as robust a retention model.
The Collins Foundation has recently awarded the New City Initiative a three-year grant to help support what appears to be our next step. Our next step is to move forward as our own non-profit with a mission to engage faith communities in ending homelessness.
There are probably five thousand people who sleep outside every night in Portland, Oregon. The count is three thousand, but we all know the real number is higher. There are over five hundred congregations. We are asking congregations to develop a relationship and make friends with ten people who are already engaged in the process of moving towards stability.
The congregations can make a big difference. It’s a lot to ask, ‘can you house ten people?’ But people say, “sure we can make friends with ten people.” It becomes transformative for everyone. In the course of this we have discovered congregations are good at many things.
We have developed a curriculum to help congregations identify their own skills and gifts. It is a six-week study group. Fifteen have gone through it, and most have gone on in their own ways to make friends with people who have been formerly homeless.
Currently we have engaged with thirty-four congregations. Twelve have developed community-building projects, one of which is knitting with formerly homeless women. One has a yoga program for people who are formerly homeless, and there is another that is doing glass artwork with people. There are such a variety of ways to welcome people who have experienced homelessness and to help people be socially connected in meaningful ways.
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