Ann Arbor church’s efforts to help homeless fail

Update: Listen to my interview with Dr. David Apple, Director of Mercy Ministries at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.



The First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor’s experiment in providing a rudimentary shelter for the homeless is coming to an end.

Sometime this week, a wooden pavilion the church built in 2008 at a cost of more than $15,000, will be removed and given to the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

The church, 517 E. Washington St., tried but did not have success in managing “problematic behavior” among the homeless men who slept in the pavilion, co-pastor Paul Simpson Duke said.

The pavilion was built as an alternative for the homeless who had been sleeping on the church grounds, particularly under the large portico at the entrance to the building. Some church members felt unsafe when entering or leaving the church as a result.

The church wanted to be compassionate and did not want to remove the homeless; some were ineligible to receive assistance from local shelters, Duke said. So the church settled on the idea of building the pavilion, which has a roof and floor, but no walls, and put it on the side of the church’s property.

But it became a place for people to gather and drink and take drugs, Duke said. There were fights among the people who stayed there. And the church had concerns about noise and lewdness affecting its next-door neighbors, he said.

So where did this attempt go wrong? What are the obligations of the church (locally) to lose within its ministry area who are homeless mainly because of self-inflicted causes: drug abuse, anti-social behavior, criminal activity, etc.?

We’ll discuss these questions with Dr. David Apple from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia today at 4:00 pm ET on The Paul Edwards Program. Dr. Apple is the Director of Mercy Ministry for Tenth Presbyterian. Through their ACTS (Active Compassion through Service) they mobilize 300 volunteers every week to ministry to the homeless, people with AIDS, at-risk children, single parents, nursing home residents, the incarcerated, and people with special needs.

By developing a Bible based approach to caring for the poor they have developed a program with well-defined ground rules. They have trained their people. They understand from a biblical perspective what the role of deacon is. All of this and more combines to produce a successful approach to ministering to real people in adverse circumstances.

Tune in today (Tuesday, June 1, 2010) at 4:00 pm for more.

4 Replies to “Ann Arbor church’s efforts to help homeless fail”

  1. One successful thing I’ve seen in Macomb County (and I’m fairly certain they do the same thing in Oakland), is MCREST, in which churches throughout the county agree to house homeless individuals one week out of the year on a rotating basis. This allows the church and its members to serve, but also allows that service to be staffed by properly-trained professionals who can handle the social monitoring and progress of the residents.

    It works because there are rules. It’s not simply a free place to sleep. Particpants have to be accepted in and must remain drug/alcohol free (there is monitoring upon intake). There is also the expectation that this is a step toward helping people get jobs so they can get on their feet; it’s not simply a place to get out of the rain.

    I think it also works because, while the church MUST be compassionate and minister to those who are homeless, a full-time ministry like the one in Ann Arbor can become a distraction and even a danger to the members of the church–which is who the pastor is first and foremost responsbile for (the members and possibly other auxiliary staff trained for the purpose should take on the servants’ role in that perspective).

    Also, just as we love and accept all of God’s followers, we do not let them stay in sin, but encourage them to grow in repentance and look more like Christ. To model that properly to unbelievers, we would need a homeless ministry that offers shelter and safety, but also the expectation that they need to grow and make steps to live productive lives.

    Just my two cents 🙂

  2. “They understand from a biblical perspective what the role of deacon is.”

    Interesting since the Bible deals with the qualities to be sought in a deacon but not a thing about specific “roles”. I am not sure how something absent from Scripture can be described as being a “biblical perspective”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.