I’d like to invite you to dinner. Don’t worry about bringing anything because it is taken care of. We will bow our heads while someone says grace. You will be served first because you are my guest. Then we will eat together, share about our day, and laugh at each other’s jokes as friends and equals.
When I have friends over for a meal this is how I usually invite them to my home. I want them to feel comfortable and enjoy the time we have together. So, why do we ignore this etiquette when interacting with our homeless brothers and sisters? When people typically serve the homeless community it can result in an “us” versus “them” mentality. They line up and we serve them. This separation only furthers our assumptions and their feelings of isolation.
Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission has recently made huge strides to break this divide. The first step was transforming the physical space into a more inviting environment. The second step was initiating family-style meals where homeless guests, volunteers, and staff eat together. These two simple sounding steps have already made a big impact on those in and around the Mission.
Up to 240 men may be staying at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission on any given night. So, shouldn’t it be “homey” for the men who don’t have their own home to return to at night? By painting the walls white with dark gray and light green accents, the room is both engaging and soothing. Three large, new windows were installed to bring in natural light which makes the whole room feel more inviting. The dining room used to be a warehouse so we want to depart as far as possible from this drab history. We do not warehouse the men and women who come to the Mission, but shelter them from the elements and lead them to a healthier and happier life.
For those of you who may not know, family style is a way of serving a meal where dishes of food are placed on the table and then each person is served or helps themselves. Sound familiar? You probably do this at home. When we first decided to start serving “family-style” instead of “cafeteria-style” there was a lot of hesitation on behalf of the volunteers, the men in our long-term Overcomers program, and some of the staff. Many were concerned that this new style would cause fights but Men’s Ministry Director Nick Lordi said “if you give someone expectations to live up to, they may surprise you. But you have to give them a chance to take that responsibility.”
On the first day of the family-style meal service, the results were breathtaking. Guests were serving each other, talking freely, and offering to share. I have never seen such a quick shift from isolation to community. Right now, family-style is only being served at lunch but we plan on phasing in the other meals soon. Since beginning this new service style, our homeless guests have shared a meal with staff members, volunteers, and members of the community. I hope that you will also join us for a meal.
Since implementing the changes, an average of 60 more guests have been joining us for lunch each day. There has been an increase in female participants who cite the friendlier environment as the reason for coming in. Bruce, a guest, reflected on the family style meal, “This gives people their humanity. I like that I can choose what I want and eat as much or as little as I want. I feel like I’m at home eating around the table with my family. I feel good – I feel grateful.”
Nearly one year ago, Asian Arts Initiative and Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission embarked on this journey to create a different kind of art exhibition that could truly enhance the quality of life for members of Philadelphia’s homeless community. After months of idea-sourcing and creative problem solving, with guests and staff at the shelter and support from the design team at Cecil Baker + Partners, we are could not be happier with the results.
Get involved with these big changes by joining us for a meal, taking a more active role by volunteering, or making a monetary donation to sponsor meals. It only costs $1.95 to sponsor a meal, which means it only costs $15.60 to pay for a whole table to eat together as a family!
Time Out of Mind is a new film in select theaters which deals with the realities of homelessness. Try to take the time to see it (at the Ritz East in Philly) or stream it on Xfinity on Demand.
In the film, Time Out of Mind everything is “reduced.” George, played by Richard Gere, is reduced to the life of a homeless man. Producer and lead actor Richard Gere is reduced of his fame as people walk by him on the street assuming that he is not an award winning actor. Writer-director Oren Moverman is reduced of his control as he willingly let go of the reigns of the script and let the story tell itself. The film itself is stark and honest because it has been reduced of popular music, character backstory, or fast paced action.
Time Out of Mind in all of its necessary reductions captures the honest life of someone on the street. Men and women experiencing homelessness have had their humanity stripped away. We stop seeing them as people and we start seeing them as scenery. In one scene, Richard Gere begs for change on the street without a single person looking into his eyes. Instead of being mobbed by fans, Gere is ignored and dehumanized.
“There are no bad guys in this movie,” Gere explains unapologetically. The daily struggles of someone battling homelessness is enough of a challenge that the film does not need an antagonist.
Just as there are no bad guys there are also no answers. There isn’t one simple solution to homelessness. Every person is complicated and every person needs to be treated differently. This is why families, churches, businesses, service organizations and strangers need to work together to help each individual person in the way that works best for them.
Everyone knows that Pope Francis will be visiting Philadelphia on September 22nd through 26th. But do you know what will happen to the homeless men and women who live in Philadelphia? Over a hundred homeless men and women who live on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and around the city will be displaced by the security zones. So what is Sunday Breakfast planning to do about this? A lot!
Sunday Breakfast is ensuring everyone is served during the Papal Visit
Over the past few weeks, the Mission has been under construction due to flood damage and necessary upgrades. No services have been suspended but we have had to move things around. When the construction began, we just planned on revamping the entryway in order to make the Mission a more welcoming place for the men and women we serve. But then in one night, the size of this project doubled because of some major flooding which destroyed the Learning Center.
This is why suddenly and without warning the Mission was forced to “think outside the box” about where to hold classes, meetings, and computers. This unexpected change of plans is a stark reminder of how quickly one can be forced into a new (and maybe worse) situation.
With one flood, the Overcomers are robbed of their Learning Center. The carpets, doors, and some of the walls were irreparably damaged by the water. But the flood took more than the room; it took the books, the shelves, the computers, the desks, and one very nice conference table. This unforeseen loss forces us to appreciate what we have (or had) and how easy it is to lose something important. This transition demonstrated that with one flood, one hurricane, or one fire we can lose everything and find ourselves on the street.
Many of us think that homelessness could never effect us but the fact is that one natural disaster could lead us down that road. As I write this, there are wildfires sweeping California and forcing hundreds of families to evacuate their homes. Hopefully, the fire will stay well away from their houses and they will not be thrust into homelessness but it is impossible to be certain when it comes to nature. Homelessness can hit anyone with just one natural disaster which is why it is so important to stop thinking “that could never happen to me” and start thinking about ways we can work together to help those who have been effected.
But even though the Mission is under construction, we continue to work hard to help as many people as possible. Regardless of the construction, the Mission is serving three meals a day, housing hundreds of people a night, and hosting clinics like normal. This difficult but rewarding time parallels the transformations that happens every day for the men in the Mission. We may be dealing with the growing pains of construction but these men are changing everything. Changing your life is hard, uncomfortable, and generally unpleasant but it is sometimes necessary and always rewarding.
Transformation and new beginnings are concepts that we think about regularly at the Mission. We are working hand in hand with people who are striving to change or beginning to befriend people who have yet to make that choice. Your continued partnership in this time of growth is greatly appreciated because, like the men here, we couldn’t do it alone.
Want to help end homelessness? I hope so. The following books are recommended by the people at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission who have dedicated their lives to helping homeless men and women. Look through the list and pick one to read on your own.
“Invisible Neighbors opens up conversations with communities about the realities of interacting with homelessness. John Ashman discusses practical ways of engaging with homeless individuals on a day to day basis. This book is a great resource for growing understanding about the people that we pass by everyday.”
“In the normal course of events, Ron Hall never should have crossed paths with Denver Moore. Ron’s world was one of international travel, fine art, and all the glitzy social activities. Denver’s life arc included a childhood of poverty and dysfunction which led to homelessness and an eventual admission to the local rescue mission. The compelling story of how their lives intertwined touched my heart because it reflected so many relationships that I see every day at the Mission. Read about how their friendship developed in their own words in Same Kind of Different as Me.”
“When Helping Hurts focuses on assets that everyone has to bring to a community rather than deficits. We need to collaborate with individuals and support one another instead of waiting for someone else to solve the problem for us. This book deals with relationships rather than quick fixes. Remember the old expression “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? This book reminds us to “teach people to fish” so that they can work towards an independent life.”
“Before I got into homeless ministry, I read the book Under the Overpass. In this book the author chooses to be homeless for a year. The author told a story about a time when he and his friend went to a church BBQ but they were asked to leave because they were homeless and didn’t belong at this gathering. They were told to come back a few days later for the church’s monthly homeless outreach dinner. This story in particular spoke to me concerning how easy it is to compartmentalize and forget what the Church is really all about. The pastor who told them to leave wasn’t thinking about being a servant to those in need, he was thinking pragmatically, and it’s a trap that we all can easily able to fall into.”
“It is very easy to get comfortable with where we are instead of working towards improving the lives of those around us. In the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Sider talks about how we have to choose to make a difference. Once we have chosen to change our environment, he gives us practical advice on how to move from affluence to generosity. It is a compelling, difficult, and important topic.”
One hundred years ago, an educated woman named Harriet Monroe wrote an article about her time at Sunday Breakfast Association, now Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Despite struggling with understanding how to best help, she works hard to bring a son back to his mother. Read this historical account and see how much things have changed!
A Rescue Mission gives a great opportunity to study mental and moral changes and my observations and conclusions made from years of study are herein embodied. For twelve years, I was among the workers of the Sunday Breakfast Association in Philadelphia, Pa. The Sunday Breakfast is one of the largest Rescue Missions of this country.
When I moved from Washington to Philadelphia, I found myself very lonely. At Washington where I lived from 1886 to 1888, I soon came in contact with literary people and belonged to both literary and scientific clubs some of whose members are to this day strong personal friends. But in the twelve years in Philadelphia, I never became much acquainted with university people or authors clubs. I broke loose from too great devotion to those pursuits in order to be used for more spiritual work.
One evening in the summer of 1888, I came along Arch Street where in a basement room at Broad and Arch some women were holding a prayer service. When the meeting was dismissed a gentleman came to me and said, “We need you at the Sunday Breakfast Association to speak next Sunday night. We shall have over one thousand men present all needing to find God.”
I replied, “You asked me to talk on Dickens, Shakespeare, or any literary character then I could easily do it but to win souls to Christ I am not at all sure I could do it.”
He did not argue he simply said, “I give you your opportunity.”
That startled me and I said, “I will try.”
So the next Sunday evening at the Breakfast Association, I made my first talk before an audience largely of those in poverty. The galleries and the platform were filled with well-dressed people and instead of trying to inspire someone in need, I tried to make a fine speech for the well-dressed people. My rhetoric was perfect, my periods nicely rounded, my illustrations pertinent and I sat down pretty well satisfied with myself. Mr. Benn saw what I had done so he shook a few grains out of all the chaff I had given them, made the application, and let me down as easily as he could. But while I sat there, I thought to myself, “What if a mother of one of these lost men had had your opportunity? Would she have talked platitudes to the galleries and the platform? Would she? Would she?” I saw my wrongdoing. As I fled from the house I nearly cried.
The next day, the card of a woman whom I had met in the highest social circles of Washington was sent to my room. As I came down through the hall, I saw in front of the house her carriage with footman and driver and team of Kentucky bred horses. When I entered she broke out in a sort of wail, “I hear you spoke at the Breakfast Association last night.”
“Yes, and made a great fool of myself. I do not expect to ever go there again except as a spectator. I fear I am more literary than religious.”
I wish I could describe the next few minutes. Her face blazed. “You! You!” she said, “Why your father was a minister, your mother is a good woman, and you are not going there to speak to lost men if you have the opportunity? You have had everything which training can give and you refuse to reach a hand to lost men?”
“Well what does that concern you?” I said.
She sat down. The agony in her face became anguish. She turned white then red then back to white till I feared for her heart. “What does it concern me? Well I must tell you, I have a son who sits down in that awful crowd.”
It was my turn now to be moved. “You?” I said, “Why you live in a white marble palace. Can it be that your son is a homeless friendless man?”
“Yes,” she said, “I live in a white marble palace and I hate it from turret to foundation stone because my oldest son is not allowed under its roof. He is a drunkard and will steal everything he can lay his hands on and sell it for drink so his father forbids me to see him or to give him money. The last time I saw him he was shoveling coal into a manhole and he looked the part.” Here she tried to give me a large roll of money as she said, “Take this and please go to the Breakfast Association and find my darling boy.”
“Madam, I am not authorized to take money for the Association. Dr. Henderson is the treasurer. Do see him I will not.”
“Will knows who you are. I told him much of meeting you in Washington. I want you to take this money and find and clothe my sorrowful son. Tell him when he sees a light at the top of the house that his mother is in the attic praying for him. Praying that he will not die under this.”
I took the money offered. The next Sunday evening, I went to the Association and my face must have told the story for when I said to Mr. Bean, “I have a message.” He let me speak to the crowd again. I told many incidents of heart broken mothers because of the sins of their sons and then I told of Mrs. W nearly in the above language. Probably two hundred men requested prayer that night and I saw God could use me for other than literary work.
Mr. Bean said, “That man will not show up till the others have gone.” So I sat down and waited.
When nearly everyone had left the room a poor blear eyed youth came to the platform. He said, “Mrs. Monroe, I am Will W. Do give me some money.”
I said, “Will do you intend to break your mother’s heart? Do you intend to keep on drinking?”
“Now see here Mrs. Monroe, I have honestly tried to quit.” Then pushing up his sleeve he showed me scars. “There I have signed the pledge with my own blood.” I met him the next day at a Turkish bath house. At first they refused to take him and only by paying a high price could I secure him a bath and proper barbering. I gave him a complete outfit of clothes and he looked very respectable. A good man was put on the case to talk with him and mentor him to keep at his side whenever possible.
My business took me out of town for several weeks but when I came back to the city I want the first Sunday evening to the Breakfast Association. After the meeting was over, Will W came slouching up to the platform as vile as when I first saw him. He had sold every article I had given him for drink. This sorrowful experience was repeated about five times but as good is stronger than evil the prayers of God’s people prevailed.
After staying off the drink for some time, the smells of the street began troubling him. For that reason, I went to his father’s wholesale house on Market Street. I had met Mr. W with his wife in Washington and he met me cordially till I said, “Mr. W, I have come to talk to you about your oldest son.”
He blazed at me, “Don’t you dare to speak to me of my oldest son! He has broken my heart, his mother’s heart, and disgraced my name! I will not permit even my wife to speak of him much less a friend!”
“But he is changed Mr. W! It will be different now.”
“Oh, he has a new dodge, has he?”
“Mr. W, you must talk to me fairly about this wrecked young life or refer me to someone who can act in your behalf. I want you to put him on a farm down near Media and get him away from the smells of Philadelphia.” Mr. W. saw reason and agree to the plan.
The next Sunday night, Will sat on the platform and testified to the power of God to save. When the meeting had closed a dainty young woman wearing a costly tailor made gown said to me, “Mrs. Monroe, I am going to marry Will W. this week.”
“Oh, my dear girl do not risk it till he has proved himself for two years! Do not risk it!”
“You believe he is changed, do you not?”
“Why yes, but we should see the transformation stay before you risk your happiness”
“Will needs me now to help him keep straight. You have not as much faith as you ought to have yourself or you would believe he will hold out.”
What more could I say? They were married. His mother was present at the ceremony and they went to the farm to live. Will was held by the power of God and after much blundering they made a fair success with a farm and with their family.