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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Church programs help the homeless

By Carol Alevizos and George HarrisRecent articles in The Advertiser have raised questions about the efficacy of faith-based homeless outreach programs. One reported that the city administration may revoke the permits that allow these ministries to use our city parks. Another suggested that the meals served by faith-based programs may be encouraging homeless people to continue their life on the streets.

Homeless ministries shouldn't be cast in opposition to the necessary professional social services available in our community. Faith-based outreach programs fill a unique and important role in the lives of homeless people and in the life of our community.

Central Union Church has led an outreach ministry for homeless people living in Ala Moana Park for the past three years.

Like many others, homeless people yearn for acceptance, the knowledge that hardships they have suffered and mistakes they have made in life have not excluded them from being members in good standing of the human family. Our faith communicates acceptance through its teachings and through its churches that gather for fellowship and worship as one family.

Homeless ministries provide an ongoing network of love and support to folks who often have only professional service pro-viders to turn to. In churches, people find lasting supportive relationships with others who have come there seeking the same thing. Finding welcome and acceptance in a church can be the first step on the road back from life on the streets.

Homeless ministries respect and accept people for who they are while lighting a path toward a fuller, more rewarding life. Not all homeless people are ready or able to enter or complete programs designed to help them. For them, churches provide a word of hope and assurance.

Finally, churches respond and are responsible to God's call. They are not beholden to government funds or election-year politics. Instead, churches can simply respond where there is need.

Some suggest that people on the streets should not be fed until they enter a particular program or system. Jesus fed the hungry where he found them while expecting and calling forth the very best that lies within everyone. This is what faith-based outreach programs for the homeless do, and it works.

Carol Alevizos is chairwoman of the Community Ministries Committee at Central Union Church; George Harris is a city missionary at Central Union.