A group of people posing for the camera

God’s Beloved (Homeless & Housed) People

A person posing for the cameraPeople of Hope:

In the next few weeks, the Esperanza community will be serving dinner and making sack lunches for I-HELP participants at Desert Cross Lutheran Church in Tempe, preparing sack lunches for the heat respite program, and serving the pancake breakfast, the latter two at Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix. Each of these programs — I-HELP, heat respite, and pancake breakfast — reaches out to folks experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness, as defined by the office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), includes a variety of particular situations, but most simply, homelessness occurs when an individual or family lacks fixed, regular, or adequate nighttime residence. This includes people who are currently residing overnight in a shelter, a car, an abandoned building, or outdoors. To see the full HUD definition of homelessness, go here.

You probably already know that homelessness has risen significantly in Maricopa County in the last few years. Each year, the county performs a “Point In Time” count of people who are staying in shelters or literally residing on the street on one particular day, and on Jan. 23, 2023, there were 9,642 people counted. Although the count is notoriously, inaccurately low due to the inherent difficulties of counting people who have no permanent residence, the information is still vital in addressing homelessness. To see the 2023 Point In Time count report, go here.

For the majority of people who experience it, homelessness is temporary. People may end a relationship or get injured and lose their job or get evicted simply because they can no longer afford their ballooning rent. Many people experience homelessness for a month — or two or three. They are incredibly motivated to end their homelessness and have both the capacity and the desire to patiently work through the many difficulties involved in being homeless and then exiting homelessness. Programs like I-HELP often work well for folks in this situation, where there is a high degree of accountability.

A small percentage of people are chronically homeless, meaning people who have experienced homelessness for over a year and live with a disability of some type, per HUD’s definition. Folks who are chronically homeless may no longer want to end their homelessness or may simply feel overwhelmed by how difficult it is to do so. Usually, these folks face many barriers that seem to compound over time as homelessness itself takes a toll on physical and mental health. Many of the members of the Grace community who are experiencing homelessness are chronically homeless.

Whether temporarily homeless or chronically so, people who experience homelessness are not defined solely by their housing or socio-economic status. Just as we are not defined solely by our housing or socio-economic status, those who experience homelessness are people in the fullest sense, of course. Many of us are a parent or child to someone, a sister or brother, a friend, a citizen. All of us are children of God. Each of us has interests and skills, a birthday and childhood experiences. All of us have worked somewhere or volunteered somewhere, grown up somewhere and gone to school somewhere. For people experiencing it, homelessness is just a fraction of who they are and is often just a fraction of their total life experience.

For that reason, I do not use the phrase “the homeless” because no one need be defined by this one aspect of their life, especially because homelessness is so stigmatized. Instead, I use language like “people experiencing homelessness.”

As we go to share love and light — and indeed, to receive it right back — I pray for us that we will see people, people loved by God, people who are our neighbors, people who have gifts and skills and laughter and joy to share.

With love for each of you,

Pastor Sarah

P.S. Here are the details for volunteering if you would like to help:

  • I-HELP / Tuesday, July 25, 4 to 7 p.m. / Sign up in the narthex or online / Desert Cross Lutheran Church, 8600 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe
  • Heat Respite Lunch Packing & Delivery / Wednesday, July 26, 8:30 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall
  • Heat Respite Lunch Packing & Delivery / Wednesday, Aug. 2, 8:30 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall
  • Pancake Breakfast / Sunday, Aug. 13, 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. / Sign up in the narthex / Grace Lutheran Church, 1124 N. Third St., Phoenix

Online Registration is available for those who would like to volunteer by Clicking Here.