Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Looking for a different approach to an old problem

Sometimes, you just have to look at things in a different light.

That can be true with many things in this world even Christian charity.

Take Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Columbus as an example. The church has several prominent outreach programs, including a long-standing Sunday morning breakfast that caters to the needy and a clothes closet for those who need essentials like underwear or socks or even something respectable for a job interview.

The church also has the St. Francis Fund, which is part of Trinity’s ministry and makes substantial grants for larger projects, such as the Trinity House for Women, a transition home that is part of the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries.

But one part of the church’s outreach did not seem to be working as intended, and they took a hard look at it, said Curate Nick Hull, who has been on the church staff for less than a year.

The church, out of the rector’s discretionary fund, was writing small checks for those in need something many churches do. It could be gas money to help someone get out of town; it could be for groceries; rent assistance; or to pay a utility bill before the power was cut off.

Those in need would line up at the church door and ask for help.

“Some days we would get here and there was a line going out the door,” Hull said.

At some point the Trinity staff and Rector Tim Graham began to rethink the practice.

“Rather than do 20 things melodically, we would try and do one thing really well,” Hull said. “ We wanted to be more intentional with our work and make an impact in the community, but being aware of the fact that if we bit off more than we could chew we would not be helping anybody.”

For a few weeks late last summer, Trinity stopped writing the small checks, and Hull and others began to research the help that was available to those with urgent needs.

“We were trying to get an idea of what was available in town, what resources were already available,” Hull said. “For example if someone could get into a shelter and we knew they could get into a shelter, we didn’t want to pay for a hotel room because we knew their needs could be met. We started to try and refer people as much as possible. It was like you didn’t have to write a check for everything.”

In that process, the church was understanding where its piece fit into the whole.

That led Trinity to Home for Good, a Columbus organization that is trying to take a global view of the Columbus homeless problem. It also led to a sharper focus rapidly rehousing families.

The church was looking to help those in a position to help themselves by assisting with rehousing for families. The first family to get assistance was a single father with children.

“We were looking for people that had income, were emotionally stable,” Hull said. “We were looking for people who could be self-sustaining, but were not. They were living out of a hotel room or about to be evicted out of apartments or houses they couldn’t afford.”

Hull puts it in simple words: “We tried our best to give them an out.”

On a small scale, it is working, Hull said.

“We’re not social workers,” Hull said. “People who’s expertise in housing are better at this. We would refer them to Home for Good. But we help with deposits; offer a sense of community. That is what churches are really good at, offering a sense of community.”

As we celebrate this Holy Week, it seems appropriate to thank the people of faith who reach out into our community and try to meet the needs of those less fortunate.

And sometimes meeting those needs is as simple and difficult at the same time as taking a look at the line at the church’s side door and asking one question: “Is there a better way to do this?”