The results of our contribution toward the United to End Homelessness (U2EH) “30 by August 30”* campaign are being finalized today. St. Mark has contributed well over $100,000, making us the largest contributor to this campaign. We set a goal to assist four households and in the end we received enough to assist
into homes. By the end of the day, I’m confident that the overall campaign will be a success as well, raising over $500,000 and meeting the needs of all 30 families. As a reminder, because we have met this goal, one of our partner organizations is able to apply for 300 more vouchers for the future.
Thank you for being such a responsive and compassionate congregation. I applaud our Finance Commission, our Session, and especially those of you who have been able to be so generous for our county’s most vulnerable and needy persons.
There is one thing about our fundraiser that I want to reflect on with you briefly. When I first made the announcement about the “30 by August 30” campaign, there were – both on Saturday evening and Sunday morning – some persons in the room who are currently homeless. Over the five and a half years that I’ve served here, we have had several of our members who have been homeless, often living in their cars. Sometimes you would know it at one glance; sometimes you would never guess, because homelessness has many looks.
So, a question arises whenever we are engaged in advocating for solutions to homelessness, or contributing of our resources to help people we may not know:
Why don’t we just help the people who are right here, within our own church community by providing them a place to stay?
It is a good question, but there is also a good response to it. If you are not already familiar with it, I encourage you to get to know the meaning behind the phrase, “Toxic Charity.” If you want to read about it, Robert Lupton was a featured speaker at a NEXT Church annual gathering a few years ago, and he has a lot of wisdom in his book,
Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It
“Toxic charity” describes attempts to help, which come from a good place and never intend to be harmful. But, the reason it is toxic is because the lasting effects can often be more harmful than helpful. Someone who has a mental illness, for example, may never be able to live on their own, without a very deliberate and capable network of support services. To simply give someone with a severe mental illness an apartment, or to take them into your home, might feel like “the Christian thing to do,” but it is almost never helpful in the long run. For someone who is mentally ill, homelessness can be a symptom of the illness as well as an exacerbating factor of the illness. But, providing that person with a home is only “helping”
if there is also a set of services in place that can address the mental illness itself
. What is often missing from “toxic charity” are support and accountability.
That is why I am totally on board with two things to which U2EH is committed:
First – and this is true of most of Orange County leadership – U2EH is committed to a “housing first” approach to chronic homelessness. While housing
is never an adequate approach, housing is a
very important first step
that provides a stable environment for wraparound support services to be effective.
Second, the best solution to chronic homelessness is Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). PSH can be found in intentionally-built communities that have on-site clinics, offices, and other places for support right there on the premises; or it can be scattered site housing where the support services go out to the homes wherever they are. The point is, there are supportive services and accountability built into the housing. I have seen U2EH put a project on hold until they could ensure that the support services would be up to high standards, because the last thing we want to do is to put someone in a position where their care might be compromised.
It would be an example of toxic charity for us to house someone who is chronically homeless without the supportive services they need to thrive. A more effective and compassionate response is to support approaches that assist when assistance is needed, empower when empowerment is needed, and have an accountability system in place to recognize the difference.
That’s the kind of effective compassion to which St. Mark has contributed so generously in the “30 by August 30” campaign. Bless you for your continued generosity and commitment to this work of justice and hope.
Mark of St. Mark
* It took a while for us to land on the best name for our campaign. “30 by August 30” was one way to state our goals and not to confuse what we’re doing with other projects that bear similar names.