“We try to meet people wherever they are, without any preconditions,” says Peter Zubler, executive director. “We want to reduce barriers and do everything we can to assist and empower our homeless neighbors. There’s no judgement, just unconditional love.”
While the desire is for each person to become self-sufficient, we know each human’s journey is unique. So, SVdP simply strives to meet them along the path of their individual journey. To do that, we offer a continuum of services that no matter where a homeless neighbor is on the path, we can surround them with love and support.
Pathway Marker #1: Beggars for the Poor
One of the first ways we meet our homeless neighbors is through our outreach ministry: Beggars for the Poor. Every Saturday morning, volunteers from a rotating group of parishes go to Roberts Park in downtown Indy to meet our homeless brothers and sisters. Volunteers hand out a warm meal, clothing and hygiene supplies, and pray with and encourage the homeless friends they encounter. And it’s the latter that’s the most impactful.
“I looked forward to coming to the park each Saturday,” says Ennis Adams. “I kept coming because the people were so comforting. They talked to me and it changed me. This ministry pulled me out of that life.” Today, Ennis is one of the volunteers that ministers to the homeless.
Beggars for the Poor began as a grassroots ministry in the mid-1980s, with a husband and wife going to homeless campsites to offer clothing and food. Through the decades, the ministry grew in numbers and need. Initially, SVdP supported the ministry with storage space and a truck. As needs continued to grow, Beggars for the Poor became part of SVdP. Today, it operates in conjunction with SVdP’s other homeless programs.
Part of the success of Beggars for the Poor is that it’s built on relationships.
“We go out to where the homeless are and try to get to know them,” says Leo Stenz, long-time ministry leader. “We talk to them, see their needs and pray with them. I tell new volunteers not to be afraid. These are people who have been socially outcast, but simply need us to reach out and help with willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”
Pathway Marker #2: The Vincentian Room
Many people that we meet on the streets or in Roberts Park find their way to the Distribution Center on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Known as “The Vincentian Room,” this homeless ministry is led by volunteer Linda Clodfelter. While homeless neighbors arrive between 9-11 a.m., Linda is there about 6:30 a.m. cooking and preparing a warm meal for her homeless friends. She is supported by an army of volunteers as well as Second Helping’s Redirect program.
In addition to a warm meal and a small lunch sack of food to go, visitors receive supplies they need: shoes, coats, blankets, etc. More help is offered if they want—things like getting an ID or food stamps, finding shelter or help finding a job. That help, though, usually isn’t the first thing a visitor requests. First, Linda says, they need to develop trust and that starts with relationships.
“Typically, it takes a couple visits,” Linda explains. “They start to trust us with their story and our ability to help them. Often the conversation starts with a question like, ‘Where are you sleeping?’ Then I can probe a little more and see how we might be able to help them.”
Linda—who was once homeless herself—says that SVdP does everything possible to connect them with resources they need.
Freedom Through a Bike
SVdP’s Bike Ministry is a key part of what happens at the Distribution Center every week. The ministry provides bikes to the homeless. But the gift is much more than a bike—it’s freedom, transportation, mobility.
“I’ve had grown men and women cry when I give them a bike,” says Maureen Mclean, who has led the Bike Ministry for more than 12 years. “It’s life-changing for our homeless neighbors because they now have the ability to go to the doctor, find a job, get medicine and do things we all take for granted.”
The needs of the Bike Ministry are ongoing. In addition to bikes, Maureen likes to pass out locks, lights, helmets and safety vests. Donations can be dropped off at the Distribution Center.
Pathway Marker #3: Changing Lives Forever
Making sustainable changes can feel overwhelming at first. SVdP is helping through Changing Lives Forever. This 18-week program guides participants through an investigative process to better understand their individual strengths and weaknesses, available community resources and how to make a plan for a better future. (Read our recent blogs on Changing Lives Forever.)
This month, a CLF group focused on helping our homeless neighbors is kicking off. Led by Linda, it includes both homeless men as well as individuals who were previously homeless.
“I’ve seen such miracles in this program, so I’m excited to share it with some of our homeless friends,” Linda says.
The path to lasting self-sufficiency often starts with personal relationships. CLF provides connections between facilitators and participants to create a solid, reliable foundation of support and encouragement.
The Key: Loving People
At the core of all these programs is a belief that every person, regardless of their circumstances, should be seen and treated with respect.
“People ask me how many chances they should give the homeless,” says Linda, “and I always respond the same, ‘All of them. All the chances.’”
Volunteers involved in any of SVdP’s homeless ministries have learned that something special happens when we just focus on loving people.
“I have felt more love volunteering and being involved here than anywhere,” says Maureen. “I am surrounded by so many good people, some homeless, some not, and it’s a blessing.”