Staff of The Christian Recorder
Homelessness is one of the largest civic problems facing Los Angeles. A story published in the October 8, 2016 edition of The Los Angeles Times stated that 43,000 persons were living either on the street or in shelters. African-Americans are the single largest racial ethnic group, making up 39 percent of the homeless but are only eight percent of the population of Los Angeles.
The AME Church has been on the front lines in combatting this epidemic and finding solutions. In 1987, Ward AME Church pioneered local church involvement by the Winter Shelter Program under the then pastor Bishop Frank M. Reid, III. Due to a variety of reasons, participation in the program was discontinued in the mid-1990s. In 2015, Ward resumed participation in the program under the Rev. John Cager. Pastor Cager was also responsible for implementing the program at Second AME Church, Los Angeles, in 2009. The physical capacity and facilities of Ward made it one of the leaders in the program. Three other Los Angeles area AME churches participate: Bethel, Bryant Temple, and Second.
The Winter Shelter Program is spearheaded by “First to Serve,” a social service organization founded by the Rev. Richard Reed, a mentee of the Rev. Cecil Murray of First AME Church, Los Angeles. It is the largest provider of Winter Shelter beds throughout the city. Additionally, many of the Program’s staff persons are formerly homeless or incarcerated. The Program also provides access to social services, health agencies, and job opportunities to help end the cycle of homelessness.
In addition to sharing their space, Ward members interact with Program participants by providing gift bags, special meals, and interacting with guests from 7-11PM. When asked about the Program’s significance for Ward, Pastor Cager commented, “For members of Ward…we had gotten away from the true mission of the church—minister to the lost and left behind. Focusing on the mechanics of Methodism, we lose [its] essence. We are about saving souls and impacting lives.”
Connectional Social Action Director Jackie DuPont-Walker contributed to this article.