Homelessness: Response Requires More Than Words

Post a Comment » Written on April 27th, 2006     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (April 27, 2006) – Their Christian faith and relationships with the homeless led North Park University students to lead a recent national Sleep Out to bring awareness to the problem.

“When you develop relationships, it’s putting a face to statistics,” says Matt Enquist (lower photo), a freshman who attends the Libertyville Covenant Church in Libertyville, Illinois. “Statistics can make you angry, but faces can make you love.”

Erik Saviq addresses press conference Different sites across the country focused on varied issues during the Sleep Out on March 31. North Park students and other organizations in Chicago focused on youth homelessness.

They held a press conference in front of City Hall, distributed information, and displayed signs highlighting the crisis that includes what they said are only 24 shelter beds for 1,832 homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 22. The average age of a homeless person in Chicago is nine years old, they said, quoting statistics from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The protesters also unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Mayor Richard M. Daley. Afterward, they fanned across the city distributing information and roughly 130 spent the night sleeping with homeless individuals.

North Park sophomore Tara Allison, who previously attended Covenant Bible College-Ecuador, was one of the North Park students to speak at the press conference that brought out newspaper reporters, several television crews and more than 150 people.

Tim King, the North Park student who led the national event, had encouraged her to lead the Youth Homelessness Challenge Fund that was being started by PACT, an organization of young adults with broad interests. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 to directly impact youth homeless and challenge the city to designate funding to combat the issue.

“Money is power, and all the money is in there,” Allison said, pointing to City Hall and office buildings. “The city of Chicago is not run by the people who live in it, work in it, grew up in it, and certainly not by the people who live on the streets in it.”

Organizers were upset that repeated attempts to meet with Mayor Richard M. Daley over the previous months had been rebuffed. In response, Allison told the gathering, “The men and women who run our city won’t even look at us let alone listen to us unless we have something that gets their interest. As much as we would like to believe their interest is what is best for the people of this city, you know as well as I do that power and money are equally – if not more – important.”

Deborah Griffith, director of ministry development for the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Central Conference, donated $500 from the Conference’s Church and Society Commission. Several local politicians also contributed.

Matt Enquist Last year, King organized the first Sleep Out, which drew students to Chicago from the Midwest. This year was different in more ways than size, he says. “Last year was specifically advocacy,” Kings says. “This year it is standing with,” he explained, noting that homeless youth helped prepare the event.”

Erik Saviq, a freshman from the Evangelical Covenant Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, also addressed the press conference. Afterward, he said it was important for Christians to work for justice for those who can’t help themselves.

Eric Landin, a freshman who attended Zion Covenant Church in Jamestown, New York, was visiting the North Park campus when the first Sleep Out was held last year. He says he knew then that he wanted to participate in ministry to the homeless and was excited to be involved in the recent event.

Saviq, Enquist and Landin are part of the campus’s popular Friday night homeless ministry, in which students serve food and take time to get to know homeless individuals and families.

“I chose North Park largely because of its commitment to the community and its location in the city,” Enquist says. Enquist quickly got involved, meeting leaders of the ministry his first week at the university. “I’ve been doing the Friday night homelessness ministry ever Friday night since then.”

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