Saturday, November 1, 2008

Project Homeless Connect

I want to give a “shout-out” to Edy Thompson and Lanea Foster, chief organizers of Durham’s Project Homelessness Connect. The second annual event was staged at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Sept. 25th. (Click here for pix from cbc-online.)

Edy is Director of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and Lanea is a Resource Specialist. I’m impressed with their passion and organizational skills. They had dozens of social service providers collaborating with hundreds of volunteers from RNs to social workers to lawyers.

This was a one-day-in-one-place event designed to connect homeless people with a broad range of services to stabilize their living conditions. The organizers wanted to use the ballpark as a drawing card to avoid the stigma of a homeless shelter. Edy initially described it as giant triage center, and that’s how they put the three acre DBAP to use.

Over 250 people took advantage of the services: employment, mental health, medical testing, dental. Some folks simply needed to make a phone call or get a bus pass. Many “street people” have pets, and they even provided veterinary services.

The Durham Bulls agreed to furnish a hot meal - not our usual hot dogs and nachos - rather a Thanksgiving style feast. So, we pulled out the white table linens and chaffing dishes for a buffet of turkey, fresh acorn squash and sweet potatoes, other veggies, fruit and dessert. That was our way of saying “you are welcome here.”

…another shout-out to Jamie Jenkins and Tammy Scott with CenterPlate for preparing the meal…to House of Raeford for the fresh turkeys, Sysco for veggies and fruit, Durham Rescue Mission for the desserts and Pepsi…to the Interfaith Food Shuttle for planning the menu and donating fresh produce from their warehouse.

Obviously, this wasn’t the Bulls regular fan base. An eight dollar baseball ticket would be a luxury for these visitors. I’m glad we could provide them with a hot meal and access to needed services. At my church we call that “radical hospitality” with inspiration from Luke 14:12-14:

“Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor...and you will be blessed.”

~ ~ ~

The Interfaith Food Shuttle reminds me that many families have been in their own personal recession long before the Wall Street meltdown. In IFS jargon, “food insecurity” is a significant problem. Jason Boone, the communications director at IFS, shared these statistics:

• 1,115,000 people (13.2% of the population) experience food insecurity in North Carolina.
• From the work we do with children who receive free or reduced school lunches, we know that in the Triangle there are 91,000 children who are food insecure.
• In Durham: 34,930 (14.9%) live in poverty. 11,565 (19.7%) children live in poverty.

So, we served about 250 people at the DBAP event in Sept. It seemed like a lot of people, but the stats reveal a much larger need, and it will only get worse as the economy weakens. Maybe you can help in some way:

Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness
Interfaith Food Shuttle