Chicago Ministry to People on the Street Revived

In one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago, Roseland Christian Ministries has revived a key ministry to people living on the streets.

This nonprofit with strong ties to the Christian Reformed Church had operated a drop-in meals program since 1982. But after the recession of 2008, Roseland lost its grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services and ended the program soon after.

“We were so broad-sided when we lost state funding that we didn’t have the imagination for how to do this on our own on a shoestring budget,” said Rev. Joe Huizenga, pastor of Roseland CRC.

Over the past year, the ministry is coming back to life. It began with an old record store that the ministry had purchased to house volunteers. Sprucing up the 3,500-square-foot space included adding flooring, drywall, trim, electrical wiring, ceiling fans, air conditioning, and updated bathrooms. Volunteer groups from as far away as Atlanta, Ga., helped with the renovation. Using volunteer help kept costs to a minimum. The end goal: a weekly drop-in meals program for people living on the street.

“Serving [people who are] homeless is a vital part of Roseland’s DNA, and I’m excited to be part of bringing this part of that back,” said Jei Wilson, a long-time Roseland CRC member who recently became director of the ministry. “I know the neighborhood will appreciate it, and the city leans on us for this type of service.”

The new drop-in area will fit about 60 people. Mostly men typically use such a program, said Huizenga, and the place will provide a church home for “wanderers” and people with mental illnesses. Visitors will have access to showers and maybe even free haircuts. The building will be used for other purposes as well.

What is most exciting to Huizenga are the large front windows of the newly renovated building. All the neighboring buildings look like dark fortresses, their steel bars and metal grates designed to keep people out. This building will be the only one inviting people off the streets, with an invitation to fellowship and food, while sunshine streams through the windows.

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer.

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