By Peter Householter, CMF and PJOS Committee Member
Found House IHN (Interfaith Housing Network) is a Cincinnati-based organization focused on meeting people’s needs today (food, clothing, shelter, and acceptance) while continuously working on their long-term needs (permanent housing, job training, children’s education). They began in 1991 as the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati with a single day center and 8 local congregations that offered temporary housing. Today, Found House IHN comprises over 100 congregations from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian faiths to provide overnight shelter, meals, activities for families, and much more. CMF serves as a support church for Found House’s Emergency Shelter Program. A host congregation offer their facilities to up to four families for a week at a time (often with young children), and various congregations act as a support church.
Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
On a typical volunteer day, CMF members cook and serve a delicious dinner. After cleaning up, I often stay and spend time with the families by playing with the children outside or coloring with them and sometimes just sitting with the parents to make small talk and help them relax. Near bedtime, another CMF member shows up to stay at the host church overnight in case of emergencies and to help the families make it onto a bus in the morning that delivers the children to school or other activities during the summer or on weekends and the parents to work. The bus then brings them all back to the host church that evening to repeat the cycle.
Luke 14:12: Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your 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, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
For our volunteers, each of these individual tasks may not seem like much but it all adds up to a week with less worry for these families. Many of us will never truly understand the hardships that our homeless neighbors have experienced and the struggles of carrying and moving all of their possessions each week from church to church, but the biggest thing we can offer really is an eye to see them and a mind to listen and understand their story.
Along with the Emergency Shelter Program, families are offered a case manager to address family needs and map a path out of homelessness with promising results from the last year.
* Number of Families Served: 69; Number of Individuals Served: 199
*Percentage Attained or Retained Stable Housing: 84%
*Percentage That Did Not Return to Homelessness Two Years After Exiting the Program: 68%
Homelessness and poverty are just as hard on children as the adults in their lives. According to Found House: Children experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness are four times more likely to experience delays in development, twice the rate of learning disabilities, and are at increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems.
It may be tougher for them to maintain stable friendships or commit time to their education while their family is struggling to find a safe place to sleep, trustworthy and affordable medical care, and good food to eat. Found House has a program focused on child enrichment to offer additional educational support, structured activities, and integrated assessment services to the families they work with, and they have found both positive short- and long-term effects on the kids, bridging the gap between their childhood and adulthood. Found House is also a partner of the KEYS program, which is “a collaboration of agencies committed to specialized support for 18-24 year olds experiencing homelessness an expecting, or parenting children.”
Hebrews 13:1-2: “Let brotherly love continue, do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Radical hospitality isn’t called “trivial” or “accidental” hospitality. It’s called radical because it causes us to rethink our world mentality and get us out of our comfort zone. Showing generosity and kindness to strangers, especially those in need embodies Jesus’ teachings to show radical hospitality to all around us. Those who may look lazy, like sinners, lepers, or strangers, may be angels if we all give them a chance.
How Can I Help?
Hospitality in practice is far from easy and it might look different for everyone. For some, it might mean offering a ride to the doctor for an elderly neighbor, cooking a meal for someone sick, or babysitting for a busy family, or even offering an extra bedroom to someone temporarily displaced by a storm or by the loss of a job. There are also many organizations within the Cincinnati area dedicated to combatting poverty, homelessness, and hunger. If you’d like to learn more about how to make an impact, here are links to a few of the organizations that we partner with (along with Community Meal).
Found House IHN (see above)
La Soupe gathers discarded (but still delicious) food to produce meals and deliver them to other nonprofit agencies for distribution to people experiencing food insecurity
Poor People’s Campaign – National organization started in the 1960s during the Civil Right’s Movement. Today, they work in many ways including local, state, and national policy campaigns to fight homelessness and poverty.
GC Homeless Coalition provides opportunities to learn about the experience of homelessness and the steps it will take us all to eradicate it. Advocates for policies to support affordable housing and connects people with social services.