Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Serving the Homeless in Santa Cruz

Elm Street Mission

When I traveled to Santa Cruz to visit a friend last week, I was able to participate in her Wednesday night ritual of serving food to the homeless and cutting their hair at the Elm Street Mission. Many churches in the area get involved in serving food at the mission, and the night we participated, we served about 500 people. First we spent time preparing a plentiful table of sandwiches, spaghetti, salad, chips, mashed potatoes, ham, gravy, and cupcakes. The homeless also received "Bible bags" consisting of Bibles, sleeping bags if needed, and hygiene products. My friend Star and another lady provided haircuts for anyone who wanted one. What a special ministry!

Server at Elm Street Mission

One of the things that struck me the most while serving food, was the number of homeless kids. Many 13 and 14 year old, mostly goth girls, went through the line. There were some Jerry Garcia clones, old Vietnam Vets, young and old hippies, and lots of kids. There were babies in strollers, and even a woman who seriously looked like the neighborhood librarian. I have worked with homeless people before and understand that some homeless people are homeless by choice and others the result of bad decisions. A few are in their homeless situation due to bad circumstances, perhaps the loss of jobs and homes. Some are mentally ill, and some are homeless due to alcoholism or drug abuse. I hated seeing the young girls the most. Santa Cruz is not a place to wander around at night as a young girl. My friend Star assured me that there are many shelters to house the kids and I felt comforted by that. It was an interesting experience because I love to people watch and Santa Cruz is certainly a place to observe people.

I was told by one of the servers that various churches serve during the week, and the pastor of Elm Street Mission states that the homeless who eat at the mission must attend a service as well. Wednesday nights draw the largest crowd because a service is not required. Figures. The man next to me told me he attends a couple of churches in the area, one of them being Dan Kimball's church, The Vintage ( I think it is called). Interesting in light of my return home, only to read posts centered on the Emergent Church and Dan Kimball himself on Pyromaniacs. I wanted to ask the guy what drew him to that particular church as he was a much older man. I was just curious I guess.

Serving homeless people was a highlight of my trip and I found that I miss being involved in that kind of a ministry. I am seeking God for something I can be involved with, as I am seeking a new job and wondering how much time I will have to get involved with something. Of course I must not forget my foremost ministry is to my husband, which in my case involves lots of foot rubs.


At 2:38 PM, Blogger nspao said...

I came across your blog while searching Elm Street Mission on google. It's great to see how God is using this local outreach to impact the lives in our community and beyond.

Elm Street Mission has a blog at

Looks like I have to get Ben to update his postings.

Peace be with you.

At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First let me say that you took the time to do this, and that in itself is great. So please take the commentary on Elm St. as just that, and having nothing to do with you personally.

In my eyes Elm St. mission is very unfair in the manner in which they serve the poor. Here are my reasons which I am sure will bring some dissent. I hope we can keep it civil.

If your a Christian and want to hear a sermon you get a huge meal. Great for you if that fits your world view. If you don't attend the sermon, you get fed outside, and get a pittance of what you would if you went in listened to the sermon.

A friend named Eric was new in town, hooked on heroin, was homeless and had very recently lost his leg. He was having difficulty dealing with it. He came here. He went to Elm St because he was HUNGRY and new in town. Pastor Ben immediately glommed on to Eric seeing a soul he thought he could "Indoctrinate". He ended up talking Eric into and through a semi coerced conversion that only added to his Eric's guilt , and was largely demoralizing, as he did not believe in what he was being led through. Eric was not a Christian of that type. When he brought up his concerns the next day, as he felt guilty, but was more in psychological pain, and wanted to explain HIS TRUTH that he was not converted. He was immediately cut off from all services, banned from Elm St. mission. How Christian of them.

Eric, who was a very kind and peaceful man, came to the Monday meal we served then. After eating one meal he wanted to help. He started volunteering and even brought in two more volunteers. This helped him gain a sense of pride and self without a forced conversion.

Eric decided he wanted off the streets and off the drugs. He did it under the bridge cold turkey. I brought him food, blankets, books and anything to keep him busy through his horrible three days of hell. But he did it, and then went home to his family that supported him without any help from the city, and certainly not Elm St. Mission. All Eric needed was a friend and to be treated with some dignity. He had good family. He simply took a wrong turn in life. Being converted at a vulnerable time in your life, and pledging your heart and soul to Christ is not the best time to make such a devoted extreme decision in one night, let alone one hour. However it is the easiest path for a Pastor, priest or minister to take a person in this mind state and convert them. This is far from right. Anyone changing religions should take more than one night to decide and not based on being desperate and hungry. This does not make it right. It only makes it easier for the pastor whose goal is not feed the hungry , but to gather souls for conversion.

There are a hundred other stories. I not against them feeding, but don't make people listen to a sermon to eat. Let them choose for themselves. Don't give more to others than some, because you feel their relationship to Christ is better than another's. A Church that serves food should cater to all, whatever religion equally, simply because its the right thing to do.

How would a hungry Jewish, Muslim or Hindu feel going to Elm St? I have spoken to a few and they were not all treated well.

Is this food only for those willing to convert? Is this fair? Is this even moral? Eric didn't think so? They could have easily helped Eric. They had the resources and only failed due to their fundamentalism. Eric simply needed a friend and someone to treat him with dignity. During the nine moths I fed every Monday in front of new leaf many came who were kicked out, or were non believers and had an issue with Elm St. and we fed all of them unconditionally.

Would Christ agree with this? I don't think so. If he comes back it will be as a homeless person, and chances will be people will walk by him and silently judge him.

This is Elm St Missions... Mission Statement. The Last sentence says it all.

"Elm Street Mission has been helping the homeless and hurting of Santa Cruz since 1972. We are a Church with a focus on working with those who are bound by addictions or mental illness. We serve a big God who can and will help all those who desire a change in their life and will surrender their lives to Him in repentance."

Tim Rumford

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first let me say to you grace and peace be with you in the name of christ jesus our lord and savior.
i got saved over a decade ago at elm street mission. thanks to God for delivering me from my sin and affliction. i first discovered elm street as a safe parking lot to sleep in, and to drink my booze, to do my drugs. there was no locked gate at the front like there is today. i was a wretch, and can relate to the song, "amazing grace" completely. at the time there pastor larry palm was in charge, with annie at his side, and there was good old ruth in the kitchen, david sorenson was always to be seen, and the mission was full of a bunch of hippies, with eric in charge, and hippie dan closely behind him.........patrick and suzanna were also around to supervise. i remember being high on just about anything, and really drunk, and being asked to come in. i would often pass out in the pews. annie palm, or suzanna would come and gently wake me up, and keep me awake so that i would catch some of the sermon. eventually some of it sank in. but i did not quit drugs or booze that came later. i started attending church, and eventually became a resident. still smoking pot and drinking i joined the worship team. i started replacing my vodka with chocolate milk. i started attending grace land, which later turned into vintage faith.people were being shown the love and grace of God. our hippie worship team appealled to the homeless hippies that were around at the time, and people were getting saved en mass, many went on to join the prodigal project, and are now missionaries around the world. it took quite some time for God to heal most the problems i have, and im sure that he will not be done until the day i die.
today i live in a house and am clean and sober, i have a job , and am attending college, i lead worship in several churches and i give back to the community by serving the homeless in several outreaches, as well as serving at celebrate recovery, a christian 12 step based program.
so i was shocked when i returned to elm st. and i found an angry man yelling at people, and throwing out the drunks. the Lord led me to start praying for elm st. i encourage the community to do the same. my hope is that elm st mission will one day again show people God's grace and love , as in days past. i know that christianity is not about rules and regulations, or how you look. my salvation is not based on what i have done, but what he has done. i remember willie, who used to sit in the mission drunk as a skunk..... he is dead now, but i know he is with the father. it brings tears to my eyes when i think of how the mission was. now i see it with a fence, and that pidgeon proofing wire, it looks like a prison. where i used to see smiling faces leaving the mission well fed, i see only downtrodden unhappy homeless people. GOD Help Elm st.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger candyinsierras said...

What a touching testimony. I am sorry that you have seen such changes. I have no prior experience to compare, and my friend is a lovely lady who cuts hair, so I am sad to hear that perhaps things have changed in a detrimental way. I am thankful for the sovereignty of God in your life!


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