It is estimated that more than a half a million Americans are homeless on any given night.* How can the Church respond to such a large need? Desert Mission Anglican Church in Phoenix started by considering how to love well the 5,600 homeless in Maricopa County, Arizona. The church learned that through partnership with I-HELP Sunnyslope they could begin to make a difference. The organization is a collaborative effort facilitated by IMPACT Phoenix and seeks to reduce the number of people in the community living with the challenges of homelessness. We talked to Nathan+ Hale, rector of Desert Mission, about how his congregation has seen God at work through their efforts.
How did you first become involved with I-HELP Sunnyslope?
We became involved in I-HELP when I was introduced to Jim Welter, CEO of IMPACT Phoenix, through a mutual friend in the community. We loved the idea of not just providing food and shelter, but partnering with IMPACT to also provide a comprehensive program to help individuals find stable housing and become as healthy as possible.
What is your church’s role in the I-HELP Sunnyslope partnership?
Our role is to provide a safe, comfortable, place to sleep two nights per week, along with a meal, fellowship and support for our guests. IMPACT Phoenix provides mentoring and ongoing support for participants in the program every day. The other five nights of the week, other area churches host our guests.
What does a typical evening of ministry look like?
Members of Desert Mission Anglican Church arrive on our campus around 5:15 p.m. to get the food ready, set out mattresses and linens and set the table. Our members usually prepare the meals and we are rarely short on delicious food, especially desert. At 5:45 our guests arrive. We pray and then enjoy a meal together around the table, where conversation ranges from the happenings of the day, to pop culture, to more serious issues surrounding homelessness or spiritual topics. We laugh a lot together and just enjoy the company. After dinner we help clean up, and our guests settle in for the night in our fellowship hall. The next morning, our guests always do an amazing job of cleaning the hall, and then they are off to their days—usually spent job hunting or working and getting connected with various state and city services.
How have you seen people at your church catch a vision for this ministry and get involved?
Our church members have been amazing. As soon as we were presented with the vision for helping the homeless in a holistic way, our leadership team jumped in wholeheartedly. Just about everyone in the congregation is involved some way—either making food, coming to hang out in the evenings, praying in the sanctuary during our meals, doing laundry or donating supplies.
How has this ministry touched the lives of the homeless in your community?
One man came to the program with chronic health problems and past trauma that prevented him from working and presented an immense personal challenge in getting connected with services in the city that could help. Because Jim? and others took a personal, holistic approach, this resident has been able to achieve a level of stability he hasn’t experienced in years. Simply having a safe place to sleep each night did wonders for this man (who is a blessing to all who meet him), and as of the beginning of 2018, he has been living independently in an apartment for about three weeks. It was true moment of celebration when he got his keys!
Another woman came to the program out of a situation of chronic domestic abuse. We were able to provide short-term emergency shelter, food and stability while we connected her with a more permanent women’s shelter and program.
One participant had sustained an injury that prevented him from working, and he lost his home in the financial fallout. After a couple of months with I-HELP, he is working and back in housing!
How have you seen people at your church be encouraged by their involvement in this ministry?
We have all learned that when churches partner together, there is immense power to make a huge impact for the Kingdom. We have also begun to understand the depth and extent of the problem of homelessness in our neighborhood. We have experienced an increase in compassion, solidarity and, more than all that, we have seen Jesus at work in each other and in our guests.
What are you hopes for this ministry in the future? What are you asking God to do through it?
Our hope is that we will be able to reach more individuals. We have the capacity to work with up to 15 individuals at a time, but each person must be ready to take some significant and serious steps to end their homelessness. Many of the individuals experiencing homelessness in our area simply aren’t there yet, and others perhaps haven’t heard of what we do. We are praying that God will connect us with more men and women that we can help. We would love to see more churches get involved so we can provide an even more comprehensive level of support as well. We are asking God to use us to help individuals experiencing homelessness find wholeness in Jesus.
Photo is representative.