logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries
September 2011Vol. 1 No. 6

homeless woman using day center telephone 

Client using Justa Center resources as she works to locate services/ housing


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ! 


This month we are tackling a topic that is uncomfortable for most of us: homelessness.  Task Force member Rev. Scott Ritchey directs the Justa Center, a day center in Phoenix for homeless seniors.  Scott shares that most clients have some type of disability, either mental illness, physical illness, or both. 

Homeless adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are a group that is growing as parents pass away without a plan of care for their dependent children.  These parents did not seek government help that would have opened the door to state funding, and lovingly kept their children at home against the advice of that era to institutionalize them.  Now the survivors without a safety net form a very vulnerable segment of the homeless population. 

Other clients become homeless after a health challenge such as a stroke causes them to lose their jobs and income.  The lucky ones double up and share housing with others. Life on the streets or in the woods makes it difficult to manage insulin, oxygen, medication management, and other aspects of health self-care. 
The selected resources this month will help you both prevent homelessness and reach out to people with disabilities who are homeless.  Please let us know of other programs that address these concerns, and please support the ministries in your community.

Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Ministries with Homeless Persons
Upcoming Disability-related Events
Meet the 2011 Task Force

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Ministry with Homeless Persons: Justa Center

Justa day center clients with walker and wheelchair

The streets are not safe for homeless individuals in general, but older people (especially those with disabilities) are particularly vulnerable.  Developed by United Methodists, the Justa Center is a day resource center in Phoenix, AZ
for individuals over the age of 55 who have nowhere to live. The Center is a caring place where homeless seniors - called "members" - can receive necessary services in a safe environment from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., every day.

Justa Center staff members work with individuals to locate earned benefits, obtain housing and medical assistance. They also provide referrals to other services in the community. The Center acts as a safety net for people who have few resources and even fewer friends and family members on whom they can count for help.
An integral part of this safety net involves helping members address the problems that have caused their homelessness such as catastrophic medical issues, job loss, substance abuse, and/or mental health issues. Medical issues include stroke, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic lung disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease. Each individual has a unique set of circumstances, so Center staff members create a personalized plan for each person who seeks help.
On a given day, more than 125 homeless seniors may use the Center. As a resource center, Justa Center caters to their immediate needs, e.g. access to identification papers, banking, Social Security benefits, health care, unemployment insurance, food stamps, veterans benefits, and more. An on-staff nurse and counselor work with those who have on-going physical and mental health issues.
To empower participants, the Center's services are designed based on member input. Justa Center provides such amenities as showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, computers and Internet access, lockers, coffee, books, and TV. Also in response to requests from clients the Center offers weekly church services, Bible study, morning prayer, and faith-sharing opportunities.
Since opening in 2006, the Center has helped approximately one person escape homelessness each day. Justa Center provides each person who moves into independent living with a bed, a couch, and a move-in kit that contains necessities such as pots, pans, and dishes. Once members move out, the safety net continues, as staff visit periodically to ensure they are doing well on their own.
The Justa Center is a remarkable place where lives are transformed daily. Local United Methodist congregations and United Methodist Women units provide volunteers, material goods such as laundry soap and homemade hats, and financial support, as the center operates solely on private donations and gifts. The center is supported by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference.  For more information, see the Justa Center website.

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Ministry with Homeless Persons: Other Models

Ministries with homeless people range from churches helping one family at a time to conference-wide initiatives.  Lake Oswego UMC (Oregon-Idaho AC) is a suburban church that realizes that homelessness exists even in affluent communities.  They are part of Lake Oswego Transitional Shelter Ministry, a coalition of churches that partners with area social services agencies to assist single mothers who are trying to find stability.  When the church built a new fellowship hall, they decided to add a furnished transitional apartment in the basement. The apartment has a separate entrance and is fully ADA compliant.  One or two families reside in the apartment while seeking permanent housing, receiving support from both trained church volunteers and local agencies. 
The North Georgia United Methodist Housing and Homeless Council takes a broad approach.  The conference takes an annual Homeless Offering for programs, with endowment funds covering overhead.  Council members visit grants applicants.  The Council provides up to 75 grants a year for shelter and transitional housing, home ownership and affordable housing programs, and services such as job training, food, rent and utility assistance, and health care for poor and homeless persons.  In addition the Council advises churches on starting new programs and provides advocacy and awareness through a speakers' bureau and video presentations.poster with faces of people assisted by homeless offering
The Rev. Virginia Tinsley is the director of the Housing and Homeless Council.  She finds that most chronically homeless people have multiple disabilities, with mental illness and addictions the most common.  Many states including Georgia shut down large mental hospitals but didn't offer resources to support community living for those discharged.  The current economy has affected people's ability to find jobs, and the housing crisis has pushed others into homelessness.
Virginia pointed out one model that works in both rural and urban areas. The Interfaith Hospitality Network (also called Family Promise) provides screened families with a room and meals in a different church each week along with help finding housing and other services.  Churches can support having transitional housing throughout their city and not just in specific neighborhoods.  She recommends having a designated member of the congregation who can sit with and companion worshipers who show signs of active mental illness.  She advises members to not dismiss people who beg by giving them cash, but to try to address deeper needs. Be ready to offer prayer when persons ask for this, as those requests are sincere.
While it could be easy to become discouraged facing a growing need and diminishing resources, Virginia finds hope in the deep faith of many persons she encounters.  Her mission is to get church people involved with people on the fringes and help set up mutually beneficial ministries.  She reminds us that even in seemingly hopeless situations the church can offer the means of grace and represent God's power to people. 

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Upcoming Disability-related Events

West Ohio AC  


Autism 101 Training                                                           

Saturday, October 15th, 9:00am to 12:00pm                       Trinity UMC, Columbus, OH

OR Saturday October 22nd, 9:00am to 12:00pm                Epworth UMC, Ottawa Hills, OH


Autism 101 and Down Syndrome 101 Training

Saturday, October 22nd, 9am to 4pm              Hyde Park Community UMC, Cincinnati, OH


These workshops will provide information on characteristics of persons with autism spectrum disorders (and Down Syndrome in the full day course) as well as interventions, resources, and strategies to assist your church in ministry and programming.  The training will help you provide a safe and welcoming place, and to find effective ways to walk with these individuals and their families on their faith journeys.


Go to the West Ohio Annual Conference web site, click on "Register for Events", and create an account to log in and register.


For more information contact Rev. David Hoffman.


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Meet the 2011 Task Force

Task Force 2011 Group PictureThe Task Force on Disability Ministries would like to introduce itself to you.  This photo was taken during our July Annual Meeting in New Jersey.  Top row, from left: Rev. Russell Ewell, vice chair, St. Louis, MO; Mike Dyson, treasurer and liaison with SEMAR, Charlotte, NC; Rev. Scott Ritchey, Phoenix, AZ; Tim Tice, co-historian and self-advocate, Tonganoxie, KS; Lynn Swedberg, chair, Spokane, WA; Niels French, affiliate, Memphis, TN; Rev. Jackie Burgess, Ocean, NJ.   Bottom row, from left: Deb Wade, secretary, Somerville, AL; Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth, liaison with UM Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries, Dallas, TX; Rev. Liz Moen, Aubrey, TX; Rev. Jim McIntire, co-historian, Havertown, PA; Rev. Dr. Al Herzog, Westerville, OH; Tim Vermande, webmaster, Indianapolis, IN.  Missing from the photo: Beth DeHoff, Indianapolis, IN; Rev. Dr. Eric Pridmore, liaison with UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities, Poplarville, MS; Rev. Tizzy Von Trapp Walker, Farnham, VA; Patricia Magyar, GBGM liaison, Phoenix, AZ.  You can contact any of us through the Task Force e-mail address.


We will have several openings for new Task Force members at the end of the current quadrennium, beginning July 2012.  If you feel called to this ministry, have the time and experience, and wish to be considered for an opening, please fill out the Resource Person form noted below.  Members attend a 2 1/2 day annual meeting, participate in monthly conference calls, carry out the work of the committees between meetings, and connect with persons within their jurisdictions.  

Visit our web site to find the Resource Person application (listed under Disability Connection on the Get Involved page) and instructions for submitting the form.  Note that there are standard and large print versions of the form.

If you don't have the time to serve on the Task Force, but have experience or expertise in some aspect of disability ministry and are willing to assist us in an advisory capacity please fill out and submit the form.  We need you if we are going to lead the church in becoming fully inclusive and accessible!


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After We're Gone: A Christian perspective on estate and life planning for families that include a dependent member with a disability (3rd edition, 2011), by Duane Ruth-Heffelbower. Published by Herald Press, available through the Mennonite Publishing Network.   

Supportive Care in the Congregation: Providing a congregational network of care for persons with significant disabilities (2011 edition), by Dean A. Preheim-Bartel, Aldred H. Neufeldt, Paul D. Leichty, and Christine J. Guth. Published by Herald Press, available through the Mennonite Publishing Network.  

These two books can help your congregation become part of the support system to ensure that adults with disabilities remain in a safe environment in the community.  Don't assume that all older parents have made life plans, or that all participants in your adult disability ministries and camps are protected from homelessness.

Not Just a One-Night Stand: Ministry with the Homeless (2009), by John Flowers and Karen Vannoy. Published by Discipleship Resources, available through Upper Room Publishing.  Recommended by the Rev. Scott Ritchey and based on the experience of Travis Park UMC in San Antonio, this book helps middle class church members learn to be in ministry with persons who are poor and homeless.  Lives of both church volunteers and homeless persons can be transformed through a slow process of long-term engagement and friendship.  The process begins by listening to the participants' stories and ideas about what is needed to help them, and by expecting to learn from them.  Eating and worshipping together emerge as high priorities; congregations who take on this challenge need to expect that their fellowship and worship will be transformed as well. 

Ministry With - A United Methodist web site with information and resources aimed to help churches and individuals engage in ministry with the poor. 

National Alliance to End Homelessness - Recommended by the writers of "Homelessness in the United States", paragraph #3261 in the 2008 Book of Resolutions, this web site contains current statistics about homelessness, training and advocacy resources, and steps that groups can take to address causes of homelessness in their communities. 

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We pray that you will be moved to consider homelessness as a disability-related issue, and if you and your church are not already doing so, to take a first step toward prevention of homelessness and provision of affordable, accessible housing.
Please submit information about upcoming disability-related events by Oct. 1st for the October issue of The Voice.  Topics we will address in future issues include accommodations and ministries pertaining to person who are blind or have low vision, and ensuring that disaster preparation and response includes persons with disabilities.  Let us know about your ministries, and suggest topics that would be helpful to you.  

United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

Task Force E-mail