Live blogging Sleep Out Saturday 2016 #HomelessNoMore

As I have the last couple years, I’m attempting to live blog this annual event to raise awareness about homelessness in DuPage County — and to raise funds to help neighbors experiencing homelessness. Bridge Communities puts on this event to aid their efforts to end homelessness. 

6:30am The view in the light of day:

3:30am I’m extremely grateful for all the dedicated adult volunteers who love God and love our youth enough to spend the night monitoring our Sleep Out area. 

12:15am everyone is finally in their boxes or tents and settling down to sleep. 

10:00pm Small group discussion post simulation:

-So many ways to become homeless

-so unfair how veteran was treated

-rage! It wasn’t fair! I was first at Section 8 but never got in when everyone else did. I think it was racist. 

-hard to know how much info to share at each spot. Should I tell them I’m 45 yo with mental illness 

-I’m under poverty line but turned away for making too much

-felt frustrating, disappointing getting the run around, felt judged, 

-pens became scarce. Some stole, some hoarded, some shared. 

9:00pm  As we attempted to enter the church building we were met at the door, told to line up, asked to sign in agreeing to some conditions, and our cell phones were collected. 


It was the beginning of a threefold simulation game. First,The church building was our shelter. 


Then, each one received an identity, complete with backstory of how we became homeless. Our task was to find a place to stay for the night. Others played the role of apartment manager or women’s shelter or public housing employee. We had to navigate the various systems trying to gain housing. 



The final portion of the simulation was food distribution. Each of us received an envelope of money with which we could purchase a snack. Turned out not everyone had the same amount. 

8:30pm Couple reflections shared during the bus ride back to church:

It would be helpful to hear more about the programs that the funds raised provide. The mom who shared tonight mentioned some life skills classes, the most interesting of which was “How not to Date a Jerk or Jerkette.” 

Learning about those classes helps our kids make better connection between sleeping out & Bridge Communities. 

We also thought it would be cool to hear from someone who finished the program, say, 5 years ago speak about where they are now. 

8:00pm Couple facts we learned during the rally:

  • In 2015 Bridge helped 131 families 
  • 750 families self supportive after Bridge
  • This is the 13th year for SOS. Almost $2 Million has been raised in that time. 

7:40pm We heard from a few sponsors and Bridge employees, including a nice tribute to one of Bridge’s founders who died two weeks ago. Next,  the emcees read through the list of communities represented by the groups sleeping out. Always an easy crowd-pleaser. 

Finally, we heard from a family who is a Bridge Community client. I think most years we heard from families already finished with the program, so that was different. The mom spoke about losing the home she was in with her three kids and the 6 months it took to get into a Bridge apartment. But what I found most compelling was when the mom shared the terrible anxiety that accompanies not knowing how she would house her children. 
7:15pm In a new twist, a group called Power Brain yoga led some body movements to help keep the blood flowing and have a couple laughs as well. 
7:00pm Next up for musical entertainment and testimony-sharing is Savannah Whitaker, who is the winner of “Rising Stars Singing Competition sponsored by PulseFM at the World Pulse Fest.” I admit I’ve never heard of that competition, but Ms. Whitaker has an amazing voice!

6:30pm Troy helped our bus driver navigate the downtown Glen Ellyn traffic and so we’ve arrived at the Rally! It has to be twice as warm as it has ever been in our 5 years with this event. It’s a little discombobulating, honestly. We’re used to just wearing ever layer ever. Tonight? People are in shorts or t-shirts. So. Weird. 

Anyway, the Rock Out for Sleep Out by School of Rock is in full swing. Or rather in full rock, I suppose. 


Not a huge crowd yet, despite the nice weather. On the plus side, that meant we are here in time to receive a t-shirt. So we’ve got that going for us…which is nice. 

6:00pm  Our final participants arrived at church and we’re on the Rally Bus headed to the, well, to the Rally. We expect to hear music from local student bands and hear testimony from families helped by Bridge Communities’ programs. 

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Sometimes it works

Here’s a little something that got sucked into my black hole of non-blogging during the last [gulp] half of 2015:

OL 2015 collection

That is a picture of the results of the Offering of Letters we collected in October. Apparently, it wasn’t as memorable as I would have liked. When I asked our church’s Administrative Council what the subject of the letters was, no one had an answer.

Here’s a look:

I urge you to make sure children at risk of hunger receive the healthy meals they need to thrive. One in five children in our nation live at risk of hunger. For every six low-income children who receive a school lunch, only about half also get a school breakfast, and only one also gets a meal during the summer months. In other words, many children are probably missing some meals daily.

Specifically, I urge you to pass a child nutrition bill that protects child nutrition programs and connects more children with healthy meals while not cutting other safety-net programs.

When we write such letters, it is easy to wonder about their efficacy. Do our 80-some letters do any good? Well, when combined with the 220,000 other letters written around the country as part of Bread for the World’s 2015 Offering of Letters, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”.

Late January came good news about a child nutrition bill: The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016. This bill would reauthorize expired child nutrition programs. Additionally, the bill would “streamline summer and after-school meal programs to make it easier to serve meals to kids year-round. The bill allows some states to provide summer EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to families in hard-to-reach areas to purchase groceries. It also allows some states to use alternative methods of reaching kids when they are unable to make it to meal sites.”

See that last request in our letters: “while not cutting other safety-net programs.”? Well, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act does not make cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) or other anti-poverty programs to pay for these changes! Our law-makers listened to us! Hallelujah!

While this Act has yet to pass the full Senate and is not yet law, the bipartisan cooperation is a very good sign. Neither Illinois Senator is on the Agriculture Committee, but when the bill goes before the full Senate, Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin will need to hear from us again.

Stay tuned…and stay alert to the continual movement of God’s Holy Spirit among us — especially in surprising places like the U.S. Senate!

Advocacy at work

Well, that happened fast. I guess sometimes it all comes together.

Lately I’ve used this space, as I often do, to write about the Christian duty to engage in justice advocacy to alleviate hunger, poverty and oppression.

Then Bread for the World picked up a little of what I wrote and asked if they could interview me for their blog. I’ll admit it is pretty fun to see my congregation lifted into a national spotlight! (Ok, and me too. Does that make me a bad guy??)

From the Bread Blog: “Rev. Dave Buerstetta of Woodridge United Methodist Church in Chicago, Ill., recently added his name to a letter asking his senator to protect food aid. We asked him why he thought it was important for the faith community to be part of the conversation on food aid with Congress. Here is what he said:

Loving God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves requires seeking justice. Seeking justice requires trying to change the cultural systems that make, and keep, people poor or hungry or oppressed. So seeking justice – transforming systems to better emulate the Reign of God on earth, for which we pray every single week – requires advocacy.

We have some neighbors who are hungry. We have other neighbors who are members of Congress with the power to keep 2 million more neighbors from becoming hungry. Of course we should talk with members of Congress about this! We cannot let ourselves be scared off from the vital work of justice advocacy simply because doing so means engaging in the political process. That’s how systems are changed.

In other words, in addition to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, we must also seek to be the voice of Jesus in the world, speaking with and for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed. That is why I added my name to the letter; that is why I hope you will too.

(Read the rest.)

Next, on Wednesday of this week, Bread announced an immediate need for calls to Representatives to support the Royce amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations bill. Why? The Royce amendment “provides funding for the USDA Local and Regional Purchase (LRP) program. This would help more people receive U.S. food aid at no additional cost. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.-39), who has been a champion in the House for food-aid reform, led the bipartisan amendment.”

While it is easy – and too often right – to decry politicians and our political process, they and it aren’t all bad. As Bread reminds us, “This vote is the latest in a series showing bipartisan support for food-aid reforms. Late last month, Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), offered an amendment to the Senate version of agricultural appropriations that passed out of committee with an additional $35 million for food-aid reform efforts.” (Read the rest.)

Many people responded and the amendment passed! My Representative, Bill Foster, voted for it, so I tweeted him a thank you. Check and see how your Rep. voted, then offer them a thank you or tell them you’re disappointed.

Advocacy matters because advocacy works. Advocacy helps transform systems; helps make our systems more just, makes them more closely resemble the world God intends for us.

Let’s keep raising our voices!

 

Wanna feed 2 million people – or even 9 million – in less than 10 minutes?

If so, all you have to do is read a little and add your name to a letter. Sometimes advocacy is just that simple.

Illinois residents (along with those of Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) have an opportunity – I would even say a duty – to influence legislation currently being considered in the Senate Commerce Committee that, if passed as is, takes away food from 2 million hungry people. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is on that committee. Senator Durbin needs to hear that we, his constituents, want Section 318 out of the final version of The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. Why? From Bread for the World:

Section 318 increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, and makes our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision.

Additionally, a bipartisan bill, The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014, was introduced this week. If passed it could feed up to nine million hungry people by making U.S. food aid more efficient. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society joined several other organizations supporting this bill, asking for it to be passed quickly.

With help from our friends at Bread for the World, each of us can raise our voice with and for hungry neighbors just by adding our name to a single letter which will be delivered to our Senators and Representatives on June 10. (Full text of the letter is also below.)

Will you join me in signing this letter and thereby work to change food aid systems so they feed more people?

Check out the video below for a great song to accompany some justice advocacy. (H/T to Patti Cash for bringing this song to my attention.)

 


June 2014

Dear Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk, and our respective U.S. representatives:

As religious leaders across Illinois, we answer the call to help our neighbors in need. Our faith communities are globally engaged, and we know U.S. policy plays a critical role in addressing human needs and fostering global development. Our faith compels us to support policy reforms to our nation’s international food aid that would enable us to:

* feed millions more hungry people,
* deliver life-saving food more quickly,
* support vulnerable communities in becoming self-sufficient, and
* better utilize taxpayer dollars.

Reforming U.S. food aid is the right thing to do from both a moral and a fiscal standpoint. It is also in America’s self-interest, as it would do more to foster peace, stability and goodwill toward our nation and would support the development of new trade partners and consumers for U.S. products.

As you debate legislation and cast votes in Congress, we ask you to keep poor and hungry people at the forefront of your heart and mind, and we ask you to support the following reforms to our international food aid:

1. Improve flexibility and efficiency, so we can more effectively respond to hunger.
2. Enhance nutritional quality, so vulnerable populations (such as very young children) receive what they need to thrive.
3. Protect food aid funding, so policy improvements lead to more lives saved.

We specifically ask you to cosponsor the “Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014,” from Sens. Bob Corker and Chris Coons. This bill will make our food aid more efficient, freeing up as much as $440 million annually and thereby allowing us to reach seven to nine million more people, in a substantially shorter amount of time. At a time when our budget is strained and 842 million people in the world are hungry, we must maximize taxpayer dollars by making our food aid as efficient as possible. Supporting the “Food for Peace Reform Act” is the prudent decision—both morally and fiscally—and we ask you to cosponsor this important legislation.

We also ask you to ensure “Section 318” of H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, is not included in the final bill. Section 318, which increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. This provision would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision, and it must be removed.

We look forward to staying in communication as you consider U.S. food aid, and we are praying for you as you make these and other critical decisions in the months ahead.

With hope,

 

2000 and 6%

At the end of last year I wrote about why my wife, Joann, and I support Bread for the World.

Today, I think I can sum up our advocacy with and for Bread in two numbers:

  1. 2000
  2. 6%

2000 isn’t much of a revelation. Along with others, I’ve been sharing that number for years. 2000 represents the number of verses in the bible that mention poverty. (I say “represents” because it isn’t an exact number. I’ve also heard 2100 and 2200. Obviously it depends on which verses “count.” I could add a qualifier by saying: “at least 2000” or “2000 or more”…but I find that cumbersome. Regardless, I’m with Bono: “That’s a lot of airtime.”)

Here’s just a few examples. A taste of these scriptures, if you will:

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

“I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless.” Isaiah 58:6-7

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Psalm 72:1-4

“When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink… Whenever you did that for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” Matthew 25:35ff

There is no doubt that God cares passionately about issues of poverty and justice. So it seems to me it is just as clear that we who strive to follow God in the Way of Jesus must also care passionately about issues of poverty and justice.

Nothing new there. Nor is it all that insightful. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who thought providing a meal for a hungry or poor person was a bad thing.

As long as we’re only talking about charity.

Providing one meal or a place to stay for the night.

Start talking about advocacy, though – as in, “pleading the cause of another, siding with, vindicating, recommending publicly” – and church people get…shall we say…uneasy.

And that is where 6% comes in.

Last night, Joann and I were at a gathering with other Bread activists to hear Bread’s President, Rev. David Beckmann, speak. He was, as expected, informative and inspiring. He told us something I didn’t know. Something I hadn’t heard before. Something that puts the lie to the tired idea that the federal government needs to get out of the way and just let our nation’s churches do the work of helping poor and hungry people.

You see, he told us about 6%:

Many churches across the country collect food for hungry people, but all the food churches and food banks provide is equivalent to just 6 percent of the food federal nutrition programs provide–mainly through SNAP, WIC, and school meals.*

6%. Think about that. How would churches come up with the other 94%?

As David added:

We’re not gonna food bank our way to ending hunger!

-14.5 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—live in these households. Source: Household Food Security in the United States, 2010 . U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2011. (Table 1A, Table 1B) 

-About half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20. Among African-American children, 90 percent will enroll in SNAP before age 20. Source: Household Food Security in the United States, 2010 . U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2011 (Table 1B, Table 3)

-SNAP participation nearly doubled pre-recession levels, an increase of 18 million people.  Source: Monthly Program Data comparing July 2011 and November 2007. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.

More hunger and poverty facts here.

2000 and 6%. That’s why we advocate for laws that reflect God’s desire for justice for poor and hungry people. That’s why at Woodridge UMC we’ll offer two sessions leading up to our Offering of Letters, so we can delve into the issues of poverty and hunger and ask all kinds of questions.

What questions do you have about Bread, about poverty, about hunger, or about advocacy?

I’m no expert, but I’ve got smart friends.

*Update: I just saw this post by David on the Bread Blog. It contains a good portion of what we heard from him last night, including the piece about 6%. Check it out to learn more!

Be an advocate. Please.

Summer is winding down, school begins soon for many and the weather is (finally!) outstanding, beautiful and inspiring. If you’re like me, that means your tolerance for reading some long missive from me is basically nil.

Yet, the call to incarnate the love of God as experienced in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is always upon us. Our scripture, tradition, experience and reason tell us we are to be advocates for justice; that we are to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world, especially with and for the most vulnerable among us.

Fortunately (and obviously), the unending reach of the internet has flattened the globe and enabled us to raise our voices even in the midst of vacations, school preparations and doing anything and everything we can outdoors.

Poverty.

Hunger.

Modern-day slavery/human trafficking.

Water.

Peace.

The needs of the world are tremendous.

But so are the resources of the people of God! So, as always, I encourage implore you to prayerfully discover the intersection of your passions and the world’s needs.

And then respond.

Need to be more informed on issues?

Try this tool from the advocacy arm of the United Methodist Church, the Board of Church and Society.

Need to be inspired?

Read this amazing, poignant story from Nicholas Kristof about a child’s incredible generosity and the Charity: water campaign she inspired.

Want to make sure your members of Congress do the right thing by supporting the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011?

Consider this and follow the steps.

Haven’t forgotten about the devastation in Japan earlier this year?

Use this to send a word of hope.

Or, for something completely different, log off and go buy some school supplies for families in need right here in DuPage County. Bring the supplies to church and we’ll get them to our wonderful partners, West Suburban Community Pantry.

Pray, read, click, give…act. Sometimes being Jesus-followers is as simple as that.

[Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post originally written for my church eNewsletter, which drops Friday, Aug. 12]