Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ministry on Homeless

University Meeting has had several generations of interest in homelessness. In the early 2000s our member Larry Gaffin, asked to be released and supported in his call to work with homeless people and issues. Part of his work was with the University District Hygiene center which was housed at UFM for several years.

At about the same time, a few homeless men began to sleep nightly under the eaves of our building. UFM rented and had installed a portable toilet in the Peace Park; the city of Seattle insured it. We maintained it for years. In the spring of 2006, it became clear to UFM that the now large group of homeless people sleeping outside our building each night did not have the necessary oversight from UFM.

In an effort to address that lack, an ad hoc committee on homelessness at UFM was formed. In July, after careful consideration, the ad hoc committee suggested that a Subcommittee on Homeless People at UFM be formed for oversight of the current homeless people on our property, to look for future uses for our building and resources to meet the needs of the homeless and to consider appropriate responses to problems that might arise. The subcommittee is under the care of the Peace and Social concerns Committee.

After unsuccessfully trying to organize the existing group of homeless people who were sleeping under the eaves, we were faced with what we considered emergency conditions and closed down the encampment. Then came a search by the subcommittee for what would be an appropriate service to the homeless community in our city.

After much study, reflection, prayer, fact finding, and planning it was the subcommittee's recommendation that UFM invite SHARE (a Seattle based umbrella group that supports homeless men in a variety of ways) to facilitate a 20-man shelter every night in the worship room of UFM. That was accepted by UFM and Bethel Shelter started at UFM on January 8, 2007. It is the tradition of these Shelters to name themselves after their first home; this particular group was named the Bethel Shelter after the Bethel Church.

The Bethel Shelter/UFM was a successful venture, with normal, usually small, ups and downs. The subcommittee was attentive to the needs of the shelter and tried to keep the general UFM community aware of the shelter's progress. Over the summer of 2008, the Shelter fell into disrepair due to a lack of internal leadership and Bethel Shelter closed itself down and went into a serious reorganization. After much work internally with the support of SHARE, they reopened a nightly shelter at UFM at the end of November 2008, with strong internal leadership, a few organizational tweakings and one significant change--it became a coed shelter. We now have a SHARE/ WHEEL shelter at UFM. (WHEEL is the umbrella group in Seattle that supports homeless women.)

At our February Business Meeting, the Subcommittee on Homelessness announced that the Bethel Shelter had renamed itself the University Meeting Shelter in acknowledgement of our two communities' on-going relationship. The University Meeting Shelter is a self-governing body but our two communities interact cordially at Worship on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and an annual potluck supper. Recently, three members of the shelter community worked with UFM community members at our work party and shared lunch before a UFM retreat. The subcommittee also tries to keep the issues of homelessness in general before the UFM community.

-- Barbara P