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Fort Street Presbyterian's Open Door Ministry Supports Homelessness in Detroit

 

December 20, 2018

was a chilly December morning in Detroit. Lashawna Forest just wanted to be someplace warm where the people were friendly. She opened the side door of Fort Street Presbyterian Church and found what she was looking for.

Wednesdays are Soup and Sharing Day at the church's ministry program, The Open Door. Established in the mid-1960s, the ministry aims to support the homeless and financially insecure in the downtown area. A small group had already gathered around the large table and Forest joined them, smiling and greeting the others. The options were turkey vegetable soup or beef barley. Forest chose turkey vegetable and began chatting with the others. Some were the program's volunteers, some were the program's "guests," as they are called. Also at the table was the ministry's director, Trish Hubbell.

Hubbell has been in her position less than a year, but she is no stranger to the social problems plaguing the city. The lifelong Detroiter has always been involved with her community, serving on neighborhood block clubs and volunteering in community development organizations. Her experience includes work within the healthcare industry, where her focus was on community health and the many variables contributing to the state of health and wellness in minority communities. "I've volunteered in lots of different soup kitchens," she says. "I've just always had this interest in social justice and been involved in a lot of social justice issues, and to me, this is one of those issues: the haves and the have-nots."

Hubbell says that in the 1960s, up to 900 homeless and financially struggling people were fed each Thursday at Fort Street Presbyterian. These days, that number is closer to 200, due in part to other soup kitchens and organizations stepping up to provide for those who struggle with food scarcity. Thursdays are the ministry's busiest day. Volunteers arrive around 6 a.m. and doors open at 7 a.m. The Open Door allows guests to use the showers and provides access to barber services on site before serving a hot meal beginning at 9 a.m. The ministry also distributes clothing and has medical staff available one Thursday a month. While the emphasis is on the basics of food, shelter and clothing, Hubbell explains they are not merely feeding the homeless and throwing them back out on the street. Other services provided by The Open Door include assistance with obtaining identification cards, bridge cards and referral to housing assistance. One of the challenges Hubbell says the ministry faces is that there is no clear path laid out to get people to where they need to be, and that each individual has t was a chilly December morning in Detroit. Lashawna Forest just wanted to be someplace warm where the people were friendly. She opened the side door of Fort Street Presbyterian Church and found what she was looking for.

Wednesdays are Soup and Sharing Day at the church's ministry program, The Open Door. Established in the mid-1960s, the ministry aims to support the homeless and financially insecure in the downtown area. A small group had already gathered around the large table and Forest joined them, smiling and greeting the others. The options were turkey vegetable soup or beef barley. Forest chose turkey vegetable and began chatting with the others. Some were the program's volunteers, some were the program's "guests," as they are called. Also at the table was the ministry's director, Trish Hubbell.

Hubbell has been in her position less than a year, but she is no stranger to the social problems plaguing the city. The lifelong Detroiter has always been involved with her community, serving on neighborhood block clubs and volunteering in community development organizations. Her experience includes work within the healthcare industry, where her focus was on community health and the many variables contributing to the state of health and wellness in minority communities. "I've volunteered in lots of different soup kitchens," she says. "I've just always had this interest in social justice and been involved in a lot of social justice issues, and to me, this is one of those issues: the haves and the have-nots."

Hubbell says that in the 1960s, up to 900 homeless and financially struggling people were fed each Thursday at Fort Street Presbyterian. These days, that number is closer to 200, due in part to other soup kitchens and organizations stepping up to provide for those who struggle with food scarcity. Thursdays are the ministry's busiest day. Volunteers arrive around 6 a.m. and doors open at 7 a.m. The Open Door allows guests to use the showers and provides access to barber services on site before serving a hot meal beginning at 9 a.m. The ministry also distributes clothing and has medical staff available one Thursday a month. While the emphasis is on the basics of food, shelter and clothing, Hubbell explains they are not merely feeding the homeless and throwing them back out on the street. Other services provided by The Open Door include assistance with obtaining identification cards, bridge cards and referral to housing assistance. One of the challenges Hubbell says the ministry faces is that there is no clear path laid out to get people to where they need to be, and that each individual has different needs.

On Tuesdays, the ministry offers a Career Closet, to provide business attire for those heading to a job interview or who are newly employed. The Career Closet offers suits, skirts, blouses, shoes and more at no charge.

The ministry also provides a social support for homeless individuals. Guests are treated with courtesy and respect at The Open Door and it makes them feel welcome. Some volunteers have been with the ministry for years and have gotten to know many of the guests as friends. Hubbell says that is why this program works. "It's very lonely to be homeless," she explains. Most people don/t look at homeless people they encounter, and when they come in here, "they feel like somebody cares," she says.

Hubbell says it is extremely satisfying to connect with the people she works to serve. "It makes my day," she says. "I think it really makes their day 'cause they fell that somebody cares, somebody's looking forward to seeing them."

Hubbell says the changing dynamics downtown are making their work a continuing necessity. The revival of the downtown area and arrival of affluent businesses and residents has displaced the population which once claimed the area. Affordable housing in the area is scarce and opportunities are even scarcer. "We have a lot of chronic, generational poverty," she adds. However, the situation does provide opportunity for Fort Street Presbyterian and The Open Door to be a voice for the underserved and disenfranchised. Hubbell is hoping to connect with corporate partners who already allow their employees to volunteer at the ministry. She says people need stable places to rebuild their lives. "People are so quick to say, 'get a job!'" she adds, but says there are many barriers for those with too few resources to begin with.

The Open Door operates out of Fort Street Presbyterian Church Monday thru Thursday. While the ministry is well-established, volunteers are always needed. The church is located at 631 W. Fort Street in Detroit. Please call 313-961-4533 for more information on the program or how you can help. The ministry also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Fort-Street-Open-Door.

 

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