“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25: 35)
The ELCA has long been concerned about homelessness, and adopted a Social Message “Homelessness: A Renewal of Commitment” in 1990. Like so many of the social messages adopted several decades ago, this message is still quite relevant. Some of it is prescient: “Without major changes in our society, homelessness will be more pervasive in the 1990’s than it was in the 1980’s.” And indeed it has become more pervasive.
The message affirms the long-standing efforts of Lutheran congregations, individuals and agencies to assist homeless individuals and families, acknowledging that the fastest growing segment of the homeless population is families. Since this message was written, a number of communities in our Synod have enlisted in Family Promise, a program designed for groups of churches to help homeless families find long-term housing and employment.
Another group with high rates of homelessness is veterans. Montana and Wyoming have a high proportion of veterans, and homelessness is a significant issue. A large number of veterans have returned from our ongoing wars in the middle east since the message was written.
There are many root causes of homelessness articulated by the message, including: poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, health issues, mental illness, addiction, racism, domestic violence, natural disaster. In the intervening years since the message was written, the ELCA has taken on many of these issues in social messages (Mental Illness; People Living with Disabilities; Suicide Prevention; Community Violence; Gender-based Violence), or social statements ( Economic Life; Race, Ethnicity and Culture). And ELCA congregations and individuals are responding to a number of these issues as part of their ministry.
The message note that Christians’ responsibilities for homeless and not simply responding with temporary assistance. Helping to prevent homelessness through prevention and advocacy is essential.
“Christians walk with the homeless when they join with others to voice deep concern about homelessness, ask hard questions, ad advocate policies that seek to provide job training, employment opportunities, housing, education, health care, and support for the homeless. While as Christians we may differ in our views on what policies will be most effective, we ought not overlook the need for new and sustained initiatives by government, businesses, and non-profit organizations, including church groups. Church leaders are challenged to help create the public will to eliminate homelessness.”
The message concludes:
“Let the church pray for a renewal of commitment to walk more closely with and among peole who are homeless and who are at risk of becoming homeless in their daily struggles, sufferings, and hopes.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA