Austin church makes room for homeless

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AUSTIN—One week each quarter, volunteers at First Baptist Church in Austin transform Sunday school classrooms on the fourth floor of the downtown church’s building into temporary housing for homeless families.

First Baptist works with the Interfaith Hospitality Network to provide housing for working poor families as they transition into permanent housing. In Austin, the network serves as one component of the local Foundation for the Homeless, helping provide safe and secure short-term housing for families while parents learn life skills and gain job experience that enable them to achieve self-sufficiency.

“This is a lay-driven ministry that grows out of the passion of some of our members and the connections they have in our community,” said Joe Bumbulis, minister of missions and students.

Congregations in the Interfaith Hospitality Network—such as First Baptist—make space available to homeless families. Foundation for the Homeless volunteers provide transportation, case management, referrals and other services to help families achieve self-sufficiency and attain permanent housing. Last year, 93 percent of the families in the foundation’s Family Promise program entered safe and stable housing.

After Sunday morning worship at First Baptist, volunteers move tables and chairs out of the way, set out mattresses for guests, make towels and linens available and help families move in their belongings before serving lunch.

Other volunteers stay overnight in the host room to provide on-site security, meet needs as they arise and have coffee ready when families wake up in the morning.

On weekday evenings, volunteers join their guests for a meal and make themselves available as hosts—playing games or reading to children, visiting with parents and providing a ministering presence.

“Many of the volunteers who are involved say the single best part of being involved is that it’s such a relational ministry,” Bumbulis said. “They have the opportunity to learn their names, hear their stories and get to know the families.”

The church’s weeklong guests typically include working-class families who lost their homes when one parent lost a job and the family fell behind in its bills, or when a catastrophic illness depleted resources and left the family unable to pay for housing, he explained.

Some sought short-term relief from payday lenders and ended up trapped in a cycle of debt they could not escape, due to exorbitant interest and fees, he added.

“On a daily basis, we see and meet the needs of the chronically homeless. This is a preventive ministry, to keep people who are temporarily homeless from getting into that kind of situation,” Bumbulis said.

“For our church, it’s a natural expression of our faith.”

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