Like many congregations in Fresno, responding to people experiencing homelessness put North Fresno Church-Mennonite Brethren on a high wire.
“We have struggled to balance the two bookends of being compassionate and resourceful with those that find themselves homeless along with being good stewards of our property and the people that use our facilities like the preschool that rents from us,” said Loren Dubberke, North Fresno associate pastor for discipleship and outreach.
Unsure what else to do, the church had asked a group of people to stop camping in its outdoor hallway. The group moved across from the church, but often came back because they found the campus a safe place.
Then Dubberke met Ed, a member of the group. “I was surprised to hear that he was a former officer in the Fresno Police Department who doesn’t do drugs or alcohol but just fell on hard times,” Dubberke said. Ed, who is 65, told him he had tried to get into a shelter without success.
Promising to help, Dubberke took Ed’s phone number. Still unsure how to proceed, Dubberke attended the Sacred Streets training put on September 18 by the Center for Community Transformation, part of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.
Dubberke was one of 95 people at the largest Sacred Streets to date. Representatives from more than 30 diverse congregations and faith-based organizations gathered at Fresno’s aptly named Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. “Imagine 95 people in a room buzzing with questions, some of them full of passion, some overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, but all wanting to hear the best approaches and to see what could be done,” said Randy White, D.Min., executive director of CCT and associate professor of community transformation at the seminary. “We could feel the hope in the room rising as each expert shared practicalities and approaches—equipping people of faith with perspectives, skills and access to resources that will help them as each work to create effective strategies for their part of the city.”
Those speakers included representatives of Poverello House outreach center, the Fresno Police Department, the Fresno Housing Authority and Fresno Rescue Mission. CCT coordinated the creation of Sacred Streets with the Fresno Mayor’s Faith Based Partnership Cabinet. Sacred Streets is a unique, four-step process any faith institution can use to prepare a strategy to reach out to the homeless on the streets near their institutions. Another session is scheduled for early 2020. For more information contact Jeanette Jaurena at 559-453-2367.
After attending Sacred Streets, Dubberke took Ed to local agencies, where he did not qualify for services. Armed with a provider’s list from Sacred Streets, however, Dubberke connected Ed with Kings View Behavioral Health Systems and Turning Point of Central California, Inc. “Looks like Ed will be off the streets and hopefully be in a good place until he moves to Texas to stay with his family,” Dubberke said.
While success in this case was measured one life at a time, it is the compassionate progress Sacred Streets was designed to provide. “We have now trained more than 60 faith institutions in this tool to address homelessness,” White said. “The mayor’s office and all the homelessness service providers have conveyed their respect and appreciation for our efforts.”