A life-sharing community by Micah Ecumenical Ministries, where neighbors can live affordably, have purpose and grow meaningful relationships.
A new response to street homelessness.
What began years ago as an effort of the downtown churches to help people survive on the street has become a holistic ministry, supporting many aspects of people’s lives. While Micah’s work has lifted hundreds of the region’s residents off the street and decreased the numbers living chronically outside, experience has taught us that addressing homelessness is about more than keys and a case manager.
People don’t become homeless when they run out of money; people become homeless when they run out of relationships.
Jeremiah Community is the vision that has evolved from these learnings. It is a solution formed in the unique context of our chronically homeless neighbors. It will be a community built on shared experience and understandings, rooted in the kind of relationships we all need for stability and purpose.
A New Response to Homelessness
The Fredericksburg region’s current approach to homelessness largely depends on placing people into scattered site apartments with short-to-long term rental subsidies and accompanying case management. The model, called Housing First, is rooted in the philosophy where basic human needs such as food, shelter and safety are met FIRST without precondition (i.e. sobriety, mental health treatment, income, etc.). In our community, it has led to a 56% decrease in chronic homelessness over the past decade. Additionally, 88% do not return to the street or a shelter within two years of housing placement.
While many of our homeless neighbors can be successfully housed through current strategies, there are a significant number whose disabilities require more than scattered-sites and time limited options. As a single-site permanent housing option with special emphasis on community and purpose, Jeremiah Community is an evolution of housing first strategies, including those implemented by Micah.
Why Now Is The Time
More than a decade of caring for the street homeless population has led us to believe that lives are most likely to improve and communities can save resources when housing is offered first and within a supportive community. Pandemic-related relief validated our experience, as its influx of funding for shelter and housing allowed Fredericksburg, for a time, to be a community where no one had to sleep outside.
The unprecedented relief funds offered due to the pandemic resulted in :
- A significant reduction in homeless-related police calls
- Better health among our homeless neighbors
- The realization that ending local street homelessness is within our community’s reach.
Supportive, permanent solutions will solidify these benefits for the region and our neighbors. It will also address a critical gap in affordable housing, which is so limited that even unprecedented resources can’t locate units in the market.
Our chronic street homeless need more than four walls, a roof and a case manager.
They need a community…. a Jeremiah Community.
Jeremiah is the name of both a man who spent 27 years living on the streets of Fredericksburg and a biblical prophet who delivered the word of God to the people of Israel during the most terrifying time in their troubled history. The juxtaposition between Jeremiah, the parable of our own city, and the prophet Jeremiah speaks an important truth into how God wants us to show up to our neighbors and the hope and future God desires for all of us, even in exile.
Jeremiah, the homeless man, is one example of many persons with disabilities who have lived chronically on the streets of Fredericksburg. In a perfect world, neighbors like Jeremiah would have had a network of family/friends to keep them from becoming homeless in the first place. Many variations of breakdown in a family unit, however, can leave people without the relationships necessary to maintain a safe place to live and the support to share their burdens. In their own way, the Jeremiah’s of our community are living in exile, separated not only from a physical place but a people and purpose, in which to root the essence of who they are.
In the throes of Israel’s downfall, the prophet Jeremiah learns that God relates to humanity as the potter works with water and wheel–infinitely shaping and reshaping the unfired clay. It is with that blessing in his heart that Jeremiah joins the exiled Isrealites in Babylon. He brings good news: in spite of the trials and tribulations that led to their homelessness, God desires a hope and a future for them. They may not be able to go back to where they came from; neither could they reclaim the people and purpose of their past. They could, however, live the best possible life and even find joy in the new place God had planted them.
“Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce..But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf. For in its welfare, you will find your welfare.”
Jeremiah 29: 5-9
It is with this hope in the heart of the Micah churches that we call the Fredericksburg community to consider not just the necessary but the extraordinary needs of the very least among us. Jeremiah the prophet and Jeremiah the man who lived on our streets without a home for 27 years have much to tell us about fullness of God’s blessing. Might we respond to street neighbors with our whole lives so that the home God imagined for all of us might be revealed.
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Let’s build a home for our neighbors.
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