By Father Andrew Harrison
This issue of the Evangelist has been dedicated to PADS. (Public Action to Deliver Shelter). We are now halfway through our fifth year of providing shelter for the homeless. Five years ago I received a phone call from Rosemary Brown who is the homeless site manager for Sacred Heart Catholic Church. St. Luke has had a special relationship with Sacred Heart because our facilities were purchased from Sacred Heart. Mrs. Brown asked if we would consider opening up our facility to house homeless woman and children one night a week from October until April. My immediate response was to put her off in the nicest way I could. I told her that St. Luke was too small of a church to take on such an involved commitment. She persisted until I agreed to at least present the request to our Parish Council. The Parish Council was divided. Our shiny new fellowship hall had been recently completed and there was a concern that it would be damaged and soiled.
After a heated discussion, the council decided to pass the request on to the congregation at a special meeting. At the meeting there was another heated discussion. From my observation the parish was as divided as the Parish Council. One group continued to talk about the damage to our new building and they were concerned about our children interacting with the homeless. A remark was made that we would attract them (homeless) and they would hang around the church, maybe sleeping in the parking lot. The other group believed that we could not say no to this request. This was God calling us to a ministry to the poor. The fellowship hall was a gift from God and He wanted us to use it to help the poor.
Pearl Homiak, now sister Pearl of Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga, California, volunteered to be the site manager. She was particularly adamant that we must follow this call from God. A call came to put the measure to a vote. When I saw the controversy generated and the strong feelings on both sides of the issue, I then realized if a vote was taken it would divide the parish. Instead of taking the vote I purposed that we just try it out. “If it does not work out we could always cancel.” To placate those concerned about the hall, I suggested we use only the basement under the church for sleeping and the single toilet in the room behind the Altar. We were assured by the PADS director we would be housing no more than 25 guests.
So we began. St Luke would house and feed the homeless once a week assisting a Methodist church who would house the men and we would take the women and children. Pearl, as site manager, instructed and coordinated volunteers, set schedules and ordered inventory. We had a volunteer family to take care of the delivery of laundry. Four other local churches would provide food teams which would bring prepared food, serve and clean up. There would be two volunteers for three hour shifts from 7 PM to 7AM. Our first year ran rather smoothly. We did not have any major incidents. I can remember one morning seeing an ambulance in front when I arrive at the church. A woman was being rushed to the hospital to have her baby which turned out to be false labor pains.
Pearl tried to run very tight ship. She would make sure no one had drug or alcohol issues for this was against the rules. She provided frequent breathalyzer checks and discharged anyone who did not follow the rules. Pearls experience can be read about in the winter 2008 issue of the Evangelist http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/evangelist/2008/pads.cfm.
From that first year we did learn that I was correct when I said we were too small of a parish to make the commitment. We had difficulty getting enough volunteers. Each week I would have to announce from the Ambo that we had openings for shifts, especially the 3AM to 7 AM. Some nights when it snowed we had to double up shifts or find someone else to fill in. It seemed that the parish accepted the ministry with mixed emotion and trepidation. Yes, the fellowship hall was being used to serve food, the bathroom behind the altar was not adequate and we had to use the new bathroom in the fellowship hall, the women with children had to be separated so they slept together in the fellowship hall, the fellowship committee was upset about the storage problem of mixing PADS supplies with fellowship supplies. With all of these problems the general consensus was that we should continue.
Over the next 5 years all of the problems listed above have continued and they remain so today. We still have storage problems even though we added new cabinet space, the fellowship committee complains about the use of the hall to sleep the women with children instead of the church basement. The hall does show signs of heavy use, the one bathroom keeps getting stopped up and we call Dennis. If he can’t fix it he calls a plumber.
Pearl left us to become Sister Pearl after our first year. Without a site manager, the ministry was almost canceled. I announced all summer for someone to take over without a single response. Finally just as I was about to tell the PADS central office we could no longer continue and I remembered Trista who had been one of our most loyal PADS volunteers. She and her father had volunteered many nights. This was my last hope, I phoned her to ask if she would consider the job. She said she would get back to me. On the next day her father Tom, a Korean war Veteran suffering from diabetes on dialysis with a leg prostheses called to volunteered to be site manager. He made a stipulation if he was called for a kidney transplant he would have to turn over the job to someone else.
Tom has been our site manager ever since. After five years of waiting he was called this year to receive his transplant. He is recovering now but is very much involved in the administration of the PADS program. He still coordinates and is the liaison for the site manager. Jill has stepped in to administer the ministry while Tom recuperates. Jill became more involved last year when St. Luke PADS began housing a Greek immigrant who had been evicted from her home when her husband died. Jill, with help from Billy from St. Constantine & Helen parish, guided Maria all last summer long so she could be taken care of by relatives in Atlanta, Georgia. Financial support for her move was given by concerned parishioners through the St. Luke discretionary fund. This story by Billy is in this issue of the Evangelist.
In this article I want to acknowledge the churches who are supplying food teams and volunteers. The first one at the top of the list are the Lemont churches who under the leadership of Doreen, a Catholic lay leader and member of the Lemont Clergy Association, took over one full shelter day supplying a food team and all the necessary volunteers. We have volunteers for shifts from the local Orthodox churches, St. Constantine and Helen, St. Mary, St. Spiridon, and St. Peter & Paul. Saint Constantine & Helen supply a food team as well as volunteers. We have food teams and volunteers from Our Lay of the Woods Catholic Church and The Family Harvest Evangelical Church. St Luke provides a food team on the 5th Monday of the month.
As I write this article I am resting along with Jill from a very exhausting day. Yesterday was the second coldest day recorded this year. St. Luke fellowship hall was opened as a warming site. On both days the doors were opened early and closed late for both men and women. Jill was there to open, did a 3 to 7 shift and stayed until closing at twelve. She was assisted by Billy. Jill and several volunteers drove the men to the Methodist church to sleep and in the morning made trips taking the homeless to warm malls, libraries, and police stations for protection from the cold. The toilet stopped up again and Dennis had to be called. Several homeless could not get their cars started and needed jump starts. I stayed with Jill until noon while she remained to finish the cleaning.
I don’t have to quote from the Bible about Jesus’ command to help the poor. The PADS program is fulfilling His command. I believe with all the problems we have faced, St. Luke parishioners have come to the realization that this is what God wants us to do. It is now considered a privilege to be called upon to give hospitality to our guests. Giving money is necessary for charity but it is a higher work of mercy to give your time. We have come to understand that by helping the homeless we are receiving so much more. We are learning how to be humble, compassionate and tolerant. Our guests may be homeless but they are God’s children and are under His care. They are teaching us the meaning of Christian love. We have volunteer openings this year on the 3AM to 7AM shift as usual. Just email Jill and she will certainly offer you a chance to receive God blessings. firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 630-296-7520.