Monday, April 20, 2009

How to respond to panhandling?

When someone asks you for a dollar on the sidewalk, do you ever wonder what would be the most effective way to help?

Born out of a series of meetings between faith groups, businesses and local residents of the Polk Gulch District, the Welcome Ministry listens deeply to the needs of those living in poverty, the community and city government. Our programs not only fill in the gaps between what the city and other organizations provide, but focus on the crucial barriers that prevent people from improving their quality of life.

For example, when the Welcome Ministry learned that lack of identification was preventing hundreds of homeless individuals from gaining access to city and organizational resources, we developed the Homeless Identification Project. As a result organizations with ten times the budget of the Welcome Ministry began referring their clients to us. While helping 224 people obtain their birth certificate and 121 obtain state issued identification may not seem like much, the program enabled more than 155 individuals obtain housing in 2008.

This year, the Welcome Ministry is creating two crucial new programs. As we began to help our formerly homeless guests move indoors, we learned that their new homes do not have proper cooking facilities. Instead of giving out food like a typical food pantry, with an assumption that individuals have a way to cook groceries, the Urban Food Share Program will provide pre-cooked take home meals, opportunities for communal cooking and gardening and health and
nutrition classes.

But the needs of those living in poverty go beyond food and shelter, many of our guests have trauma from military service, domestic or childhood abuse, violence or as a result of years living on the streets. Stress and anxiety from trauma can be debilitating. Classes and direct one-on-one care will enable many of the most vulnerable in our community to cope with or heal from the trauma that prevents them from improving their quality of life.

If you are like the Welcome Ministry, and you want to invest in small changes that can make a big difference in addressing the root causes of homelessness, please join our unique community of San Franciscans responding to homelessness, one person, one sidewalk, one city at a time.

Support the Welcome Ministry

Monday, April 13, 2009

Begging Letter

April 13, 2009

Friend of the Welcome Ministry

I woke up to yelling and a women gesturing with a knife. It was my first night in the women's shelter, and the cook wanted to let us know how grateful we should be that she was making our breakfast. The next morning she woke us up at five to let us know she would not be waking us up for another hour. When I told her I was allergic to dairy, she told me she had to put cheese in the eggs, or they would turn green.

After spending this last week on the streets and in the shelter, I experienced the abuse that is inflicted on others through lack of voice and choice. My nights in the women's shelter reminded me of life living with an abusive parent who praises or punishes in volatile way that kept me wondering at all times what the rules were. It turns out that the rules were whatever those with power said they were. I found myself growing passive and unable to advocate for my own needs (those who know me will tell you how unlike me this is). I also found myself jumping in front of a swinging cane to prevent a man from hitting a woman. After he left she remarked: "He thinks I'm his girlfriend, but really I'm his punching bag." Then I remembered that human nature sometimes makes it easier for us to care for others.

The Welcome Ministry is designed to be an antidote to the experience that many hungry and homeless individuals live with day to day. After living on the streets for a week, I am convinced that the Welcome Ministry offers our friends is unmatched by other service agencies in the city. We listen more than we speak, we center our programs around community and work with our guests to increase the number of choices they have. When their voices are not being heard, we advocate for them whilealso teaching them to advocate for themselves. And at the same time we are able to help our guests acheive their goals. Last year 155 of our guests were able to move indoors.

You can read about my reflections on the streets at:

Now that I am back in the comforts and privilege of my work at the Welcome Ministry, I am excited to work on creating ways that we can help our friends take care of their bodies and in encouraging them to exercise choice and strength in their voice.

Our work includes helping our friends heal from post traumatic stress disorder and learn more about life skills and health. Later this year we will begin to provide worship that is designed for their particular mental health and addiction needs and a media story telling project that will connect guests to their family.

Please support this work with your time, talents and treasures. The more financial support you offer the Welcome Ministry, the more time I will have to share my learnings from the street with faith groups, organizations and politicians. And more importantly, the more time I will have to give one on one support to help our guests improve their quality of life.

I beg you to send a gift of $77, $770 or $7000 to the Welcome Ministry in honor of my 7th street retreat.

Humbly yours,

Rev. Megan Rohrer

P.S. Your gift to the Welcome Ministry allows the homeless to improve their quality of life without losing their dignity!