Prior to 2005, people who found themselves without a home in the Fredericksburg region might have ended up in one of two shelters. If those programs were out of beds or the person had already outworn their welcome, they’d move into a tent, their car or other place not meant for human habitation. Without a way to meet their basic needs and problem-solve the simplest of situations, their crisis deepened, any remaining support unraveled and they knocked on the doors of the downtown churches as a last ditch effort to hold themselves together.
The churches responded, as churches often do, by launching a number of outreach efforts–financial assistance programs, meal services, shower opportunities and so forth. But it quickly became evident that miscellaneous endeavors to support those on the street in their survival wasn’t going to alter their long-term circumstances. So, the churches got together, pooled resources, combined manpower and formed Micah Ecumenical Ministries. With the biblical call of Micah 6:8 in mind, the faith community has used the organization to strategically fill gaps for those who do not fit into other programs ever since.
In the beginning, Micah’s work was very much a centralization of all the basic need services that the churches had been doing on their own. Showers, food, clothing and a person available to help people problem-solve was all the pilot program could muster. In time, however, the safe gathering space for people with no other options became a learning ground for the churches to dig deeper into the root causes of community homelessness.
The years have brought many new responses to what we learned in that original space. As needs were identified, partnerships with other service providers emerged. Social services, the veteran’s administration, Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, Goodwill and others were soon offering their services directly from our central space. People who showed up in leftover scrubs with doctor’s orders to go “home” and get better inspired what is now an eight-bed shelter for those who have no where to stay after a visit to the hospital. Eventually it occurred to us, while everyone walking through our door came with a different story and varied problems, they all had the same diagnosis–a lack of housing. So we got to know landlords, put people in apartments and wrapped them with services so they could keep it. Naturally, a lot of the people we housed needed income and we tackled that too. A holistic income development program, now under Micah’s umbrella, offers job training, connects people to mainstream employers, makes possible the pursuit of educational goals and streamlines the disability application process as a last resort.
It is these things that have brought our work beyond helping people survive on the street. Today, we are moving people from the street to permanent housing, and in that housing they are finding the stability and the support needed for their lives to be restored.
In reflecting on the journey to this place, a long-time Micah friend in need said it well. “When all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, he ends up at Micah.” The broken spirits we encounter can take a really long time to heal, but we like to think the services, relationships and hope available through our doors is the very thing that can overcome the most insurmountable odds to put the pieces back together again.
For the next several months, Micah’s communication will focus on the eight areas the organization believes are necessary to successfully move someone from the street to permanent housing. The month of October will offer an overview of the series.