In the U.S., Local Church Partners with Community to Open Homeless Shelter

Community outreach building is now sheltering those who live on the streets.

Evan Knott, for Columbia Union Visitor
In the U.S., Local Church Partners with Community to Open Homeless Shelter

When a local non-profit organization supporting homeless men in Salisbury, Maryland, United States, needed a new location for its winter shelter, the Park Seventh-day Adventist Church decided to lend a hand.

An organization called Hands and Hearts Ending Homelessness (HHEH) was founded 18 years ago after three men froze to death in Salisbury. The organization is a partner with the city government and local churches of several denominations to aid homeless men in the city.

For the past three years, the director of HHEH has been Walter Davidson, a member of the Park Adventist church. When HHEH needed to find another location for the shelter this year, Davidson reached out to his home congregation right away.

“It’s very gratifying to have my church come alongside this ministry and pick this ministry up and run with it,” Davidson said.

Greg Carlson, pastor of the Park church, approached the church board about using the community services building across the parking lot from the church as a shelter, and the board unanimously agreed.

“You could sense the Holy Spirit in the room in that board meeting,” Carlson said. “We have this building, and, of course, during COVID, we weren’t using it much at all. How could we not serve the community with the communityoutreachbuilding?”

With the board’s approval, members converted the community outreach building into a shelter, bringing in beds and setting up area dividers. The shelter opened to serve the community on November 6.

In addition to providing nightly lodging, the men’s shelter offers hot showers, clean clothes, haircuts, and warm meals. HHEH also works to find permanent housing for the men, which they achieved for more than 20 men in 2020.

Hands-on Ministry

Hosting the shelter at the Park church has provided opportunities for members to get involved in hands-on ministry through helping to prepare meals, providing supervision, and getting to know the men personally. Many of the men who have stayed at the shelter have chosen to attend the church’s Friday night vespers program and Saturday (Sabbath) morning worship service.

“It’s been a tremendous blessing to our church,” Carlson said. “I’ve had more guests on the campus of the Park church in the last 30 days than I did in five years.”

Partnering with HHEH to host the shelter is the latest example of the Park church’s commitment to collaborating with local community organizations and government agencies to serve those in need. The church previously worked with its partners to open a community center in the city this summer. According to Carlson, these partnerships are essential for effective community witness and outreach.

“Partnerships with other community organizations are key, and I think it’s something that Adventists have been deficient in for a long time,” Carlson said. “We’re now [building those relationships] here in Salisbury. If I walk down the street and see the mayor, he knows me, and I know him. These connections are wonderful. It tells people that, “Hey, the Adventists do care!’ ”

The Park church has committed to hosting the men’s shelter in its facility through April 2022.

“We would like to end homelessness; we know that’s not going to happen,” Davidson said. “But we’re going to take a big bite out of it.”

The original version of this story was posted by the Columbia Union Visitor.

Evan Knott, for Columbia Union Visitor