Anyone who has been to a conference knows that they tend to be frenetic: idea sharing, solution swapping and networking. Last month, I went to the 2015 Association of Gospel Rescue Missions’ (AGRM) convention in Seattle and my experience was just that: frenetic, and fruitful.
For those of you not familiar, gospel rescue missions (GRMs) or missions are faith-based organizations that work primarily with those experiencing homelessness by providing shelters, transitional housing, treatment programs, and outreach services. Missions are often differentiated from non-faith-based organizations because of their faith-based approach to these services.
One thing I found helpful (and would recommend as a place to start learning more about GRMs) was reading AGRM’s position paper on “Rescue Missions and HUD-Driven Approaches to Housing.” It does a great job clarifying how missions view services and housing, relative to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded programs.
Another specific distinction is the approach to housing for homeless persons with mental health or substance use disorders. Continuum of Care (CoC) HUD funded providers use the Housing First philosophy. Missions, on the other hand, have a long tradition of providing steps towards housing where people work on substance abuse issues, job training and other housing readiness first, before housing placement. While the differing approaches may seem at odds, the goal is the same – to help people regain stable housing and provide support along the way.
The organizations that the Alliance tends to work with are of the non-faith-based perspective, so as someone at the conference representing my organization, I got a lot of questions about how missions and non-faith-based organizations could work together to serve homeless persons in their communities. Here are a few innovative examples for CoC providers to follow (gospel rescue missions might also want to consider them):
- Appoint Mission Directors to CoC Prioritization Committees: In many places the mission directors are members of the CoC prioritization committee. This committee determines who is prioritized for HUD funding. Members of this committee cannot be funded by HUD. Missions can provide a valuable service to the CoC by participating on these committees.
- Build Community Relationships: Missions are often the only shelter or outreach provider in communities. In Colorado Springs the Springs Rescue Mission hosts staff from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make it easier for the VA to engage homeless veterans in services.
- Collaborate and Share Resources: In Indiana, the Wheeler Mission contributes staff and funding to a Professional Blended Street Outreach (PBSO) team along with other non-faith-based providers. Its success is attributed to its willingness to contribute staff and funding to a blended team of faith-based and non-faith-based providers working together toward one common goal. It’s worth learning more about.
- Create Partnerships: Shared goals can go a long way when it comes to seeking out partnerships. Take the partnership between Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and John Ashmen, President of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. They made the commitment to work together to end homelessness and have honored that partnership over the past few years by speaking at one another’s conferences.
There are so many good reasons to reach out to one another, leave agendas at the door, learn from one another and discover new opportunities. I will let Masha McFadden, a conference attendee from Salt Lake City Mission have the last word: “Until there is one homeless person left for us to fight over, there is room for everyone to contribute to this effort.”