There was never a morning when I woke up and decided to try to have our church host a homeless shelter. From the outset, it was a community endeavor. People who care about homeless people asked us to serve as a host site because there was a shortage of cot space.
Throughout most of the winter, another organization ran the hospitality program, hosting upwards of sixty people each night. When the organization stopped operating the shelter on March 15, we decided to try to keep it going under the church's auspices through the end of the month. We saw the shelter not as an amenity, like a pub or restaurant, but rather, as vital necessity for some of Cleveland’s most precarious neighbors, and are grateful that Governor Dewine agrees.
I now boast the vast experience base of a week as the Director of the Beloved Community hospitality program at Denison Ave. UCC. In these few days, many miracles have already unfolded. They began on Sunday morning, just after the other program closed, when three guests stayed over to take showers, have an informal prayer meeting, and work together to make breakfast. We all felt a little bit of heaven come down and hover over those pancakes. That breakfast kicked off a week of wonderful staff stepping forward to befriend, host, and feed the guests, and guests helping with chores, unclogging a stuck shower drain, and negotiating their own rules. For example, after some new guests arrived during the wee hours, the group asked that the midnight curfew be enforced, that coming and going be prohibited, and that lights out be pushed from 11:00 to 10:00. In all these cases, the group members made wise, healthy decisions in their best collective self-interest.
As it stands, we only have funding secured until the end of the month. Although the weather is gradually improving, the coronavirus makes it imperative to make continued shelter available. These few days have taught me so much, and reaffirmed something that I already believed but is not always so clearly manifest: That for even very poor people, who are physically hungry, wet, and cold, their greatest yearning is not just for shelter, food, and warmth, but for dignity, affirmation of their personhood, an authentic voice in the decisions that affect them, and a community to support them in their journey towards healing, hope, and freedom.
Thanks so much to all of you for accompanying us on this amazing adventure.
In the Big Love,
Iman Alexander • Janet Cintron • Tanya Gonzalez • Dolores Gomez • Andre Harris • Nozomi Ikuta • Christopher LeSure • Michael Mishaga • Hilda Ramirez • Amir Samhan • Hazel Williams