When Simpson United Methodist Church opened the doors to its basement in 1981 for adult men experiencing homelessness, it did so because Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” — the congregation saw Jesus’ face in the faces of those cast into the streets for whatever reasons. Congregants from the church itself and from partner faith communities kept the shelter open for 14 years before transitioning the operation into its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit now known as Simpson Housing Services.
Simpson United Methodist Church, along with many other communities and individuals of faith, proudly supports the work of Simpson Housing Services through financial contributions and volunteer support. While the author of a Feb. 16 front-page article (“Rethinking spaces for the homeless”) writes, “Some religious institutions don’t necessarily provide financial support for the shelters … so the church-shelter relationship can create a false impression,” we want there to be no false impression here: Simpson United Methodist Church provides Simpson Housing Services with financial and volunteer support. In fact, Simpson Church has been repeatedly presented with opportunities to relocate to more advantageous worship spaces and chosen not to because the congregation was concerned with the fate of Simpson Housing Services’ shelter in its basement.
The church also stands alongside Simpson Housing Services in support of eliminating the requirement that Minneapolis homeless shelters need to be housed in faith communities. The shelter operating in Simpson Church’s basement was never meant to be permanent. It was intended to be a stopgap measure until society found a better and broader way of addressing homelessness. Shelter continues to be a critical component of our community response to housing instability. It’s imperative that we provide a safe, warm space to our neighbors in crisis and partner with guests on the journey back to stable housing in our community. The church, and now the nonprofit agency born from its efforts, both envision more than mats on a tile floor when we practice radical hospitality to our neighbors in crisis. Decoupling shelters from church buildings opens the door to better urban models for housing people in crisis. We are grateful the Minneapolis City Council is taking it up.
As long as people need shelter from the dark and cold, Simpson Church will continue to partner with Simpson Housing Services to comfort those who have no other place to go. And both the church and the agency look forward to a day when we can have a different conversation entirely: what to do with all these mats when those we have welcomed in from the cold no longer have need of them.
The Rev. Rachel McIver Morey is pastor at Simpson United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. Steve Horsfield is executive director of Simpson Housing Services.