[Hpn] Church leaders form network for the homeless;North Hampton, NH;6/17/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Tue, 26 Jun 2001 10:24:57 -0400


-------Forwarded article-------

Sunday, June 17, 2001
Portsmouth Herald <http://www.seacoastonline.com>
[New Hampshire]
Church leaders form network for the homeless

By Steve Haberman,  shaberman@seacoastonline.com

NORTH HAMPTON  The overwhelming problem of homelessness in today's society 
is obvious in the nation's largest cities. At virtually any hour of the day 
or night, homeless individuals can be seen sleeping on park benches, in 
building lobbies or on heated subway grates.

Seen on almost any street pushing carts or carrying plastic garbage bags 
filled with every possession they own, the need for services embodied by 
these people could not be more visible.

However, here in New Hampshire, particularly on the Seacoast, the problem of 
homelessness is not that obvious. In fact, without knowing where to look, 
one could almost imagine this region was immune from the scourge of 
homelessness that has attacked every other area of the country.

But homelessness exists as much here as anywhere. Just visit the barely 
livable, bitter cold tourist cabins on Hampton Beach during the winter or 
the tent cities at local campgrounds in the summer and the problem takes on 
a whole new dimension. And perhaps the most distressing dimension of the 
problem is the number of families with young children living in those 
substandard conditions. Nationally, families with young children now account 
for 40 percent of those without homes.

The extent of the problem prompted two local religious leaders to seek a 
faith-based response. Rev. Michael Mulberry of the North Hampton Church of 
Christ and Rev. Peter Lane of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Hampton formed 
a branch of the nationally recognized Interfaith Hospitality Network here on 
the Seacoast.

"This is an idea whose time has come," Mulberry said.

One woman made difference

The idea of developing a faith-based approach to dealing with homelessness 
came from a Union City, N.J., woman, Karen Olson. In 1981, Olson was working 
in New York City. Each day on her way to work, Olson passed a homeless woman 
living on the street. One day she decided to give the woman a sandwich.

"I just wanted to drop that sandwich and move on, but she grabbed my hand 
and we talked for several minutes," Olson wrote in an introduction to the 
program on the IHN Web site. "I realized she was hungry, not only for food, 
but even more for human warmth and compassion."

Olson came into contact with many more members of New York's homeless 
population after she and her son decided to deliver food every Sunday to 
those living in the city's Port Authority bus station. She turned to her 
local church for help, but efforts to build a family shelter in the area 
failed because of a lack of finances, municipal red tape and the fear many 
feel toward the homeless.

So Olson came up with another idea: She would prevail upon local churches 
and synagogues to provide hospitality space within their buildings for 
homeless families. She was extremely successful, and on Oct. 27, 1986, nine 
churches and one synagogue opened the first chapter of the Interfaith 
Hospitality Network.

As of this year, there are 78 chapters of the IHN operating in 49 states and 
the District of Columbia, with 43 new locations under development. Three of 
those new locations are in the New Hampshire communities of Derry, 
Manchester and Nashua. Mulberry and Lane hope the Seacoast chapter will be 
the fourth.

"Now we want to get the six other faith communities (in the southern 
Seacoast) together," Mulberry said. "No one group can do this and by making 
the national (IHN) model our own, those communities need not fear what it 
will mean to their churches."

Under the national model, when two churches decide to come together to form 
a network chapter, the organization can then begin pursuing a 501(C)3, 
nonprofit status designation.

"That allows people to contribute and starts the bandwagon rolling," 
Mulberry said.

A call to action

The Church of Christ pastor said the idea for a Seacoast IHN chapter came 
from Kim Brown, executive director of Cross Roads House, a Portsmouth 
shelter for homeless families.

"This came out of a dream that Kim Brown had," Mulberry said. "She was 
concerned that when families come to Cross Roads House, they have to leave 
the communities that had supported them behind."

The goals of the Seacoast IHN program are to keep those people in their 
communities; bring together the resources of faith-based groups that don't 
often work together to address the problem of homelessness; and to learn 
something about the factors that lead to homelessness.

"Is it the high cost of rent? Is it lack of adequate employment 
opportunities?" Mulberry said. "We really won't know until we have the 
opportunity to sit across the table from those people who are without homes 
and find out."

The issue of constantly rising rents and an overall lack of affordable 
housing is seen as one of the major causes of the rise in the number of 
homeless, not just here, but all across the nation.

"I believe homelessness is actually not the problem, but it is a symptom of 
an affordable housing crisis," said Burlington, Colo., Mayor Peter Clavelle, 
chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Task Force on Hunger and 
Homelessness. "Despite being in a period of unprecedented economic 
expansion, low-income wage workers and their families are finding it 
increasingly difficult to locate decent, affordable housing; increasingly, 
they find themselves among a growing population of homeless."

And the tentative nature of today's economic situation could exacerbate the 
situation, even here on the mostly affluent Seacoast, Mulberry fears.

"People are very aware of the rent situation," he said, "but what they may 
not be as aware of is the huge amount of personal debt many people have 
amassed during the good economic times.

"If the economy takes a downturn, it could create real problems. The 
question is, as faith communities, how will we respond to this?"

Aside from supplying short-term housing for families in crisis, a future 
goal of the network would be to supply what those families need to secure 
permanent housing and viable employment, Lane said.

Despite the lofty goals, Mulberry understands the limited nature of the help 
the local network can give. The program deals exclusively with homeless 
families. Single individuals need to get help elsewhere, he said.

"We recognize that single folks need somewhere to be served, but we can only 
do so much," Mulberry said. "To do just (family housing) will take a 
Herculean effort."

However, both Mulberry and Lane are extremely pleased with the response from 
faith communities here on the Seacoast so far.

"We were told that we could expect 24 people to attend our first meeting and 
about half that number at the second meeting," Mulberry said. "We had 45 
people come to our first meeting and 40 returned for the second."

As a result, both Mulberry and Lane said they hoped to begin housing the 
area's homeless this winter. Just how many people will be served is 
dependent on how many other faith-based organizations become involved.

"The main thing now is recruiting other faith communities that even span 
beyond Christian churches," the Church of Christ pastor said. "We need 
people to take leadership in those faith communities. All we really need is 
the desire."

On the Web: www.nihn.org.


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Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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