Asking Faith Communities for Homelessness Help When You're Not a Member
August 12, 2018 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I've been homeless for the past six weeks (some details inside). Several people have suggested that I contact local churches/faith communities for help with a place to stay for a while but no one has specifics about how it's done. I'm usually fine on the phone and have contacted all kinds of local resources for help but for some reason this is hugely triggering my anxiety and I can't even bring myself to start. I would really appreciate a script or any other suggestions you have to help me do this.

On July 1 I had to move out of my shared apartment. It was a tenancy at-will and I didn't have a lease, so when my housemate/landlord decided I should leave in 30 days, I left. I'm disabled and have been unemployed since being laid off a couple of years ago and had been making rent via a combination of ebay sales and a bit of help from friends, but had no regular income to speak of (I have since applied for SSI and will be applying for state emergency assistance this week), so a friend offered to let me stay at her house for a while.

Then the week before I moved out she backed out due to health reasons that I don't know all the details of. This left me stuck, so I've been bouncing around, most recently between AirBnBs and hotels thanks to financial contributions from friends (most of whom are tapped out at this point). I'm trying to stay out of homeless shelters because I was recently diagnosed with an immunodeficiency that explains my tendency to catch everything and develop a lot of (sometimes life-threatening) infections and that I haven't received treatment for yet (still being referred to specialists). AirBnBs and hotels aren't much better in terms of avoiding infection but I have some control over my space.

I'm connected with a local agency for housing assistance, but it's a slow process and some of the staff are more on top of things than others (I have to redo an "emergency" housing application because the first person I worked with left many things out when she submitted it on my behalf). Meanwhile the constant changing locations and needing to figure out where I'm going next and getting myself there (I don't have a car and I'm schlepping around a lot of stuff because there were things I couldn't put in storage) is taking a lot out of me. And I'm a little sick right now, which is concerning but I'm keeping an eye on it

So I really need a bit of stability and people have suggested that I might be able to find it for a while if I connect with a local faith community. Which I don't know how to begin to do and no one who's suggested it seems to, either, though they all say they've heard of situations like mine where people were helped that way. I'm female and in Western MA, if that's useful.

I'm so tired, MetaFilter -- please help me figure out where to start.
posted by camyram to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most churches have a website with a list of phone numbers. I suggest doing a google maps search for churches in your area, then scanning the website of each one. If there is a community outreach minister, that is who you want to talk to. Otherwise any of the pastors /ministers/reverands will work. You can call them or contact the church office to see when they will be in, then go see them in person.

Some churches have set aside stuff that they can offer you on the spot - small amounts of money or bus cards, food, toiletry items. Some can help connect you to social services. It is unlikely that they can offer you a significant amount of money.

Some churches are more “preachy” and their charity may come connected to an expectation that you attend service, pray, or something. Others may offer to talk to you about god or religion but with no expectation that you will take them up on it.
posted by mai at 10:51 AM on August 12, 2018

I realize my advice is rather protestant-specific. Others can comment on how these things work in other contexts.
posted by mai at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2018

Look into Catholic Charities (that's the name of the org). You can go to their website and search for local assistance. They have offices you can go into and get help. We looked into it for my MIL even though she's not Catholic.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:56 AM on August 12, 2018

I have found this site to be very helpful in finding resources. You can filter by types of housing, personal characteristics (e.g. gender, disability). Most contact information is phone numbers but some have email (in my locale, at least).

Are you anxious because of the religious aspect? I have heard that Catholic Services Charities is excellent and doesn't discriminate if you are not religious. Some other programs may require you to attend services; I would ask about general requirements. And obviously explain your health restrictions.

Now that I think about it, an HIV/AIDS organization might be a place to call for leads - they probably can't help directly if you don't have HIV, but they're obviously sensitive to immunodeficiency issues specifically. If you don't know of an AIDS organization, call the LGBT center. (And if you are LGBT, they can refer you to other resources...)
posted by AFABulous at 10:57 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

St. Vincent de Paul is the name of the Catholic network that helps people in your situation (w/o regard to whether you are Catholic)--often these are small, very local organizations run by members of the individual church in question to help the needy. Some communities have a central SVdP clearinghouse line but doesn't look like yours is one of them. Unfortunately the national site is down so I'm not having a lot of luck finding a list of the ones that operate in Western Mass but if you search "St Vincent de Paul" + name of city you SHOULD be able to find at least a close one.

At that point you call the SVdP number (if available) or the church number in general and ask to speak to the SVdP society member there. They may say anything from "oh, it's a voice mailbox, let me send you over" to "that's Hilda, she's in every third Sunday, uhhh I can give you her cellphone," so be prepared for that.

If you're Muslim, you might reach out to the Islamic Society of Western Mass for zakat. Doesn't look like they distribute primarily to nonMuslims.

You should absolutely consider applying to Catholic Charities, but Catholic Charities is actually *different* from local faith-based help-- they are a large institutional nonprofit like all large institutional nonprofits, they aren't very agile. At least out here.
posted by peppercorn at 11:04 AM on August 12, 2018

Here's a link dump for some western MA options. We're rooting for you!
posted by lalochezia at 11:04 AM on August 12, 2018

Oh sorry! In terms of a script, here's what I suggest that clients use-- it's similar to the one I use when calling for clients.

> Hi, my name is camyram. I'm looking to reach the [name of specific program] people to apply for assistance. Is this the right number to call?
> I'm so glad I reached you. I'm in need of emergency housing assistance but I have medical issues that make it hard for me to use shelters. Does your organization help people with first month's rent and deposit? [If they say yes, say "great!" and get into your story-- stress how close you are to getting your local state general assistance benefit so they know you will have a regular-ish income soon, even if it's low. If they say no:]
> Oh, I'm so sorry. Maybe you have an idea of where to go. I've been reaching out to folks but I just can't seem to find the right resource. Would it be ok if I gave you some background on what's going on to see if there's any way your organization can help me?

If they don't provide monetary assistance, sounds like some things they might offer that could be useful to you are food assistance, homestay, help with storage fees, housing navigation, counseling, and accompaniment, so if I were counseling someone in your situation that's what I would keep an ear out for.
posted by peppercorn at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

maybe the UJA for WMA? The one in NY is included in the NYTimes neediest cases fund.
posted by brujita at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm also wondering what it is about this particular phone call that triggers your anxiety.

To help with the anxiety of it, know that, like the other organizations you are contacting, most faith-based organizations are looking for people to help and somewhat practiced in it.

Also (and this is only helpful after you've gotten some of the most important needs met), maybe you would find some added stability in joining a social group at a faith-based organization (or volunteering some place). At a church I attended in the past, a man who lived in a shelter would join the crew of volunteers every Sunday to set up the church and greet people as they came in. Most people didn't know he lived in a shelter -- he just appreciated supporting and being a part of a community.
posted by jander03 at 6:32 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

My friend worked at a couple churches and used to take calls from people asking for help. He said people would call and say something like “I’m having a hard time financially and am looking for help with my electric bill and was wondering if the church could help.” He said at neither church was there much money (they could offer food or forty bucks) and that he’d have to get the person’s name and phone number and run it past some other administrator. Different churches mileages may vary but I hope this helps a little.

I’m rooting for you, I hope one of these organizations is able to seriously help soon.
posted by hungrytiger at 9:56 PM on August 12, 2018

So for instance if I were you I’d call the Northampton Unitarian Church at the number on their website 413 584 1390 and say “hi my name is Camyram and I am a disabled woman living in western Massachusetts who just this month became homeless. I am searching for helpful resources and was wondering if the Northampton Unitarians have any assistance or services they can offer to people in my situation?”
posted by hungrytiger at 10:03 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might also look into whether there is a Catholic Worker affiliate in your area. This is distinct from Catholic Charities (though I agree with others' suggestions above re: that organization). They tend to be very grassroots organizations and are often nimble in a pinch for someone who needs immediate assistance. (They tend to be uninterested in converting people. They'll be unlikely to proselytize to you in general. Views on abortion are often within the general Catholic viewpoint, but this may not be an issue in your specific circumstance.)

Most CW communities near-ish to you that I know of are in or near Boston or Connecticut, but it's worth contacting them to see what they might tell you about options in Western MA.

I don't have very useful thoughts on a script, my apologies.
posted by kensington314 at 11:52 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing you might look into is Interfaith Hospitality Network, which is sort of a coalition of churches teaming up to offer housing for homeless people. I used to work for a church that was part of a Hospitality Network with 23 other churches, who each would house homeless families in their facilities for one month every two years. It wasn't always the best housing (cots in Sunday School classrooms, usually), but they made meals and offered use of the church's kitchen and gym. Doing it full-time would have been too much for small churches, but they could manage taking their turn when it came around, and the people they housed only had to move once a month.

So you might try Googling Interfaith Hospitality Network for your area. I've found at least two in Massachusetts, though maybe not near you. They might be able to help you find one, though.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:42 AM on August 13, 2018

This might help, too. Enter your zip code in the Family Promise web site and see if they have any resources nearby.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2018

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