How to Become an Advocate
by Jess Luoma
In the sunny small town of Redding, California, hidden under creek bridges and oaky hillsides are nearly 1,000 homeless citizens camping within self-governed encampments or camping alone and in their cars. Considering the percentage growth in the last few years, this is a shocking number. In 2018 the number of unsheltered individuals was counted at 431 in all of Shasta County. The rise has cast Redding into an official city emergency crisis for unsheltered people. The leading root cause of homelessness is a catastrophic loss of family and support.
Luckily, the response from the City of Redding has been promising. There is a common consensus: we must act now. In this call to action, we have made great strides. As a non-profit, we have formed empowering relationships with not only dozens of homeless individuals, but also with key players in the city and key advocates adding to our team, pushing us onward with great hope. We have worked tirelessly to change existing paradigms around homelessness and to introduce the successful model of Microshelter Communities (MSCs). Read more on that here.
Now, the missing link has become abundantly clear: we need to equip the church with volunteers, or what we dub "advocates." As churches take ownership of this call and identify potential advocates, we recommend forming home groups or empowering existing home groups. We will then train and equip churches to befriend, mentor and disciple the homeless toward stable and purposeful living. They will "adopt" friends like Daisy* who entered into recovery but landed back in an encampment because there was no one there to see her through and welcome her into a healthy community.
These friendships typically follow a four-step model that leads from homelessness to a home:
One: Befriending and gaining the trust of a homeless individual at an encampment or rough sleeping and beginning to offer recovery options if needed. This may include taking them out for a meal, bringing them to social services or simply spending time listening to their story.
Two: Walking alongside this person when they choose to enter into recovery. We will provide training on how this process is done. This could include weekly trauma-informed discipleship while in recovery or planning for future goals together.
Three: Helping this person enter into transitional housing. Options include church -hosted Micro-Shelter Communities (MSCs), Promise Homes, Motels, etc. While in transitional housing, this person will continue to be discipled and work towards their purpose and goals.
Four: A permanent home with new friends and a new community. Options include affordable housing through HUD, group homes, Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs), etc.
When you read the words above does your heart burn within you? Does it pound? Or maybe you feel a quiet tug at your gut. Maybe your mind is already forming a list of questions and is telling you to find out more.
Should you find yourself desiring to play your specific role with us, email us and you will be invited to fill out a volunteer application & background check. We find this step to be crucial for the safety of you, our homeless friends and our team. We understand that in that becoming an advocate, it is a two-way learning and growth opportunity and that in serving you will be deeply challenged and transformed. We are here to support that process as a community marked by love.
Should this be a right fit in this season, you will then get the opportunity to further your understanding and compassion of the homeless community in Redding by attending community dinners at local encampments and attending training sessions led by some incredible speakers and educators in our community.
As you hear the stories of our friends currently homeless or in recovery, you'll be invited to walk alongside one or two, helping them to move the needle in their lives, mentor them and enjoy life together.
In the process of walking alongside my friends out of homeless addicted lifestyle and into one of wholeness and recovery, I have dug deeper into my own story and healing journey-- a beautiful and unexpected exchange.
In order to transform this city and the current homeless crisis, we need to break out of the individualistic norm and find that the old omen is true, "it is far better to give, than to receive." In the giving of our time, our talents, our friendship we find ourselves in the middle of our purpose, which I will opine is the greatest treasure to be discovered in life.
Contact us here: Shastathrive@gmail.com
*Names changed for privacy