Filtering by Category: Poverty

  •   Poverty   •  

OP ED: "Working together, we can find real solutions for the homeless"

Orlando_Sentinel_CMYK "Home for the holidays?" As many of us take that option for granted, there are thousands among us for whom a home is only a dream. Yet, I take heart in our community's new robust commitment to help the homeless across our region.

I'm excited: In almost 30 years as a spiritual leader of Northland Church and as an involved citizen in Central Florida, this is the highest level of focus and passion to help the homeless across this region that I have ever seen. As a board member of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, and a participant in CFCH's recent trip to Houston, I am seeing firsthand the tremendous momentum for creating solutions for homelessness.

We have some initial reasons for optimism. Recently, local leaders committed more than $10 million in just one week. Florida Hospital's huge multimillion-dollar commitment helped lead the way in this new beginning to provide permanent solutions for the homeless.

Just days after those commitments, more than 300 faith leaders from throughout the region joined together in an historic summit to address this critical issue. The room was packed with the top leaders, and almost every faith group of our region was represented. The event was hosted by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. The mayors talked about the critical role the faith community must play as the moral compass of this issue, and as those who serve on the front lines each day with the homeless.

By themselves, neither government agencies nor generous businesses nor faith communities can turn the tide for us. As a pastor, I believe it is critical to know the "times and seasons" of God — the divine moments that are ordained from above to see great change happen. I believe that this is the season for all citizens in our community to address homelessness in Central Florida.

In the next few weeks, you will see many of Central Florida's leaders on billboards and social media holding signs that say "Rethink Change," signaling the second phase of the Commission on Homelessness "Rethink Homelessness" campaign. This will be a call to action for every person in this community to get involved in his or her own way to help the homeless and the needy, to rethink what creating real change for the homeless requires from each of us in time, talent and treasure.

In the past, the approach in this community has been to delegate to others, to agencies and experts, the responsibility of addressing the needs of those on the streets. That approach does not make a real, permanent difference for most of the homeless population. The reality is that to actually solve the problem, we all need to be committed to doing something.

One of the greatest Christmas miracles would be for us all together to help those who are homeless find real solutions to get off the streets. Other communities in our country have been successful in addressing this issue; we can do the same.

One common denominator to their success turned out to be citizens compelled by their values and faith to act. Let's not wait for some other "Good Samaritan" to come along and do what we ourselves can do. We intend to show you ways you can participate, and there are many ways to share your blessings that will permanently transform the lives of the homeless and needy.

So as you sit down this holiday season with your family and friends, please think about all the blessings you have been given by your Creator, starting with a roof over your head and food on the table. Let us all take time this Christmas to remember those veterans, children, people with disabilities and struggling families who do not have the security of a home or even a warm meal this holiday season.

My thoughts and prayers will include asking what else I can do to help the hungry and the homeless in the days and months to come, and I ask you join me in that search. This is our community together. Let's ensure that this is the last Christmas many of the needy spend on the streets or in makeshift lodgings. There should be "room" for them in the inn that is Central Florida.

The Rev. Joel C. Hunter is senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood.

View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

The Cost of Homelessness: Central Florida Commission on Homeless Cost Analysis

Living on the streets isn't cheap: Each chronically homeless person in Central Florida costs the community roughly $31,000 a year, a new analysis being released Thursday shows.

The price tag covers the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.

In contrast, providing the chronically homeless with permanent housing and case managers to supervise them would run about $10,000 per person per year, saving taxpayers millions of dollars during the next decade, the report concludes.

The findings are part of an independent economic-impact analysis that will be discussed Thursday afternoon by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.

"The numbers are stunning," said the homeless commission's CEO, Andrae Bailey. "Our community will spend nearly half a billion dollars [on the chronically homeless], and at the end of the decade, these people will still be homeless. It doesn't make moral sense, and now we know it doesn't make financial sense."

The vast majority of long-term-homeless residents have some sort of disability, Bailey said. They are veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder; men and women with mental illness; or people with severe physical disabilities.

"These are not people who are just going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job," Bailey said. "They're never going to get off the streets on their own."

Last fall, the commission spent $15,000 donated by the Orlando Solar Bears to hire the Tulsa, Okla.-based company Creative Housing Solutions, which conducted the analysis. Researchers worked with local homeless outreach programs to identify 107 long-term-homeless residents living in Orange, Osceola or Seminole County. Using actual jail and hospital records, they tracked public expenses through the years to come up with the yearly average of $31,065 per person.

That figure was multiplied by 1,577 — the number of chronically homeless people throughout the three counties. In both cases, the figures were considered conservative.

"We didn't even include the money spent by nonprofit agencies to feed, clothe and sometimes shelter these individuals," said lead researcher Gregory Shinn, associate director of the Mental Health Association Oklahoma in Tulsa. "This is only money that we could document for the individuals we studied — and it's money that is simply being wasted. The law-enforcement costs alone are ridiculous. They're out of control."

The expense is particularly high for the city of Orlando, where many of the chronically homeless live on the streets. The most recent homeless census put the number there at about 900 individuals. In Osceola County, which has an estimated 300 chronically homeless residents, permanent housing for the homeless may be a tougher sell.

"The report's numbers actually reflect more what's going on in Orange County and Orlando," said Niki Whisler, homeless-advocate coordinator for Osceola. "Our priority here are our families, especially in hotels."

But for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, the findings validate what he has already proposed, he said.

"I can't say I'm surprised by the cost," Dyer said. "We recognize that a large percentage of these individuals roam the streets of our city."

In his State of the City address in April, Dyer vowed to get a third of the chronically homeless — some 300 people — into what's called permanent supportive housing within three years. Such housing is typically a government-subsidized apartment with a case manager to ensure the tenant is getting medical and psychiatric care and other services.

Researchers estimated the cost of permanent supportive housing at $10,051 per person per year. Housing even half of the region's chronically homeless population would save taxpayers $149 million during the next decade — even allowing for 10 percent to end up back on the streets again.

"We're not going to bat a thousand," Shinn said.

Bob Brown, president and CEO of the Heart of Florida United Way, said the cost analysis underscored the need to take action on chronic homelessness.

"This is no longer [one person] from the Coalition for the Homeless saying we have to do something," Brown said. "This is a reliable consultant who has used proven methods for calculating the cost. Hopefully this will finally get the attention of community and government leaders. We can't wish this away."

Joel Hunter, a homeless-commission member and senior pastor at Longwood's Northland megachurch, said he hoped the faith community would help persuade parishioners that supportive housing is the way to go.

"We're going to need to present to them how much wiser it is to address this problem than to ignore it," he said. "I don't think there is a huge momentum to fix homelessness at the moment, simply because a lot of people don't see it in front of them every day. But if we can make the business case as well as the moral case for them, I think we can build a desire to help those who need it most." or 407-420-5503


View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

New Faces of Homelessness

In Seminole County, one in every 50 children are homeless and that’s growing. This CBN story documents hardship and the hope for changing their lives.

View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

A Tax Day Bible Lesson

Screen Shot 2012-04-16 at 10.51.16 AM

Jesus’ famous line on paying taxes is “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)What is less well remembered is the reason Jesus called out both the political and the religious leaders who asked him about whether you should pay your taxes: Jesus “knew their hypocrisy.” (Mark 12:15)


There’s nothing more hypocritical today than the kind of political gamesmanship we have about paying taxes. The most vivid example of this is, as Erza Klein so rightly says, the “dumb tax pledges that dominate Washington.” These dumb tax pledges, especially “Grover Norquist’s now-infamous pledge” that Republicans have taken never to raise taxes on anyone for any reason, effectively ended our capacity to have government function properly. Of course, now, as Klein points out, Democrats are being forced into tax pledges of their own, exempting those who earn less than $250,000 per year from having their taxes raised. Dumb and hypocritical.

Taxes happen, friends. Nobody likes them, and yet it is certain they have to be paid. Daniel Defoe, in “The Political History of the Devil,” (1726) coined the famous phrase, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.” Death and taxes. They’re inevitable.

Taxes happen because taxes are how you fund government and you can’t have a government unless you have revenue.

Of course, the attack on taxes from the political right is an attack on government and its right to even exist. Norquist has said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” thus, of course, abolishing it.

Government needs to exist and in fact be celebrated. It’s U.S., all of us, and the way we take care of each other. We have a moral responsibility to our fellow citizens, both from a civil and a moral perspective. We are one people. The problem is that some of us, in fact, many of us in this difficult economy are struggling, and we need to help those folks out. Government does that.

The “small government” or even “no government” folks want to say that the churches should pick up the slack on taking care of the poor instead of us paying taxes for a social safety net. Rev. Joel Hunter, a prominent evangelical pastor, has recently noted how unrealistic that view really is in a recent talk with the title, “Government is Not the Enemy.”

Hunter’s church does a huge amount of humanitarian work, but, he says, they can’t do it all without the government:

“Look at the math. It is ridiculous to even, just look at the SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the old Food Stamps program – it has been estimated by I think the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that the average church in America would literally have to double its budget and just take that extra budget and give to hungry people. And that is just one government program. So let’s not fool ourselves.”

What is hypocrisy but ‘fooling yourself’? That’s what Jesus is talking about. Don’t be a hypocrite. We need taxes to run the government, and we need government because it does things no individual or even organization can do on its own.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Pay your taxes.

Even the Romans used the taxes they collected to build infrastructure, per Monty Python, the British comedians. Besides, everybody deserves a good laugh on tax day.

An On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

Pastor Joel Hunter: "Government Can't Change Lives, But They Have Resources We Need"

Screen Shot 2012-04-12 at 9.34.19 AM

It's not uncommon to hear the idealistic argument by small-government proponents that if the church did its job, then there would be no need for the government. But an evangelical pastor who is also one of President Obama's spiritual advisers said that looking at the numbers, it is not possible for the church to replace the government in feeding the poor, let alone meet other needs.

Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla., gave a short talk at the Q Conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening with the title of "Government is Not the Enemy." Hunter, who was named one of the 50 most powerful people in Orlando by Orlando Magazine in 2011, leads the 15,000-member Northland church, which is well-known for its humanitarian work in the community.

Northland has sent relief teams to neighboring states when they were devastated by natural disasters, been involved in the Homeless Services Network in Central Florida, worked with local schools to feed children from low-income families, and has organized community green cleaning events, among other activities.

Despite all of his church's humanitarian efforts, Hunter believes that the government is needed when it comes to helping the poor.

"Look at the math. It is ridiculous to even, just look at the SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the old Food Stamps program – it has been estimated by I think the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that the average church in America would literally have to double its budget and just take that extra budget and give to hungry people. And that is just one government program. So let's not fool ourselves."

Hunter recalled a conversation with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama during which he said that the faith community is tremendously underutilized. Obama had agreed, but also added that the church cannot do for the common good what the government can. The Florida pastor had also agreed.

"Government can't change lives, but they have resources we don't have. We can change lives with those resources," said Hunter, who served on the first Obama administration Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"The point is government isn't the enemy, and government isn't the answer. But government is the potential partner that we look for, that we might need."

Earlier in his talk, Hunter discussed what the biblical view of government is. He said the biblical view of government is it is an instrument of God. Pointing to the Bible, the Florida pastor said there are two types of relationships that God's people had with the government: the outsider – a prophet that would rebuke those in authority, such as Jeremiah, Amos, or John the Baptist; and the inside adviser – a person who would speak and guide the unbelieving government, such as Joseph, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, and even Paul who used the judicial system of his time to give a witness of what Christ had done for him.

"God has always seen to it that believers had some role in the institution of government," Hunter said.

The Q Conference in Washington, D.C., opened Tuesday and will conclude on Thursday. Some 700 Christian participants are gathering in downtown D.C. at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium to hear 30 presentations by church and cultural leaders on a wide range of issues that are aimed at inspiring them to come up with innovative ways to shape the church's future role in culture.

Speakers at the Q DC event include: New York Times columnists David Brooks and Ross Douthat; author and cultural historian Os Guinness; Elevation Burger Franchise Ventures founder Hans Hess; and D.C. pastor and author Mark Batterson.

Michelle A. Vu

View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

"Supplement Government Funding With Personal Help," by Dr. Joel C. Hunter

Screen Shot 2012-03-13 at 1.25.18 PM “Love ... does not insist on its own way.” —1 Corinthians 13:5

Faith-based communities offer the kind of support and empowerment that can break the cycle of poverty. We need to supplement government funding with personal help. And the first step in personal individualized help is understanding the world in which those in poverty live. Without some training, we could make matters worse and even become angry at the very people we are trying to help if we presume their responses to our efforts will be ones that match our values and lifestyles.

Because of two 60 Minutes pieces on homeless school children in our county (Seminole County, Florida), people in our congregation and other county groups got fired up to help those families transition out of poverty. It seemed wise to our church leaders that we train our congregation members in understanding poverty and some of the thinking of those who are poor. We adopted a course from the Billy Graham Institute for Prison Ministries on transitioning out of generational poverty.

Part of the course alerts those of us who have never been poor to our lack of knowledge on what it takes to survive without adequate income. Would you know where to get help if you had little or no money? What places offer food and how do you get there without a car? Which agencies offer which kind of services—housing, medical attention, job training, child care—in addition to any financial help you can get? Additionally—and this is key in being able to love well—how do those in poverty think differently than those in the middle or upper class?

This training is enlightening for many of its middle-class participants, who often are able to come to the point where we can see ourselves as likely to have the same response in various situations as do people living in poverty. Let me give a few examples. When you are in poverty, you ask a different question about meals than when you are in the middle class. In the middle class, people might ask, “Did you like it?” In poverty, the question might be, “Did you get enough?”

Those in poverty see resources differently. In the middle class we are more likely to turn to possessions in times of need. “Do you have savings? An emergency fund? An IRA?” For those in poverty, relationships are often the most valuable source of aid—“Who do you know that can help?”

When you are in the middle class, bills come first and vacations are optional. When you are in poverty, living with the constant pressure of survival, fun is so much more important—there may be nothing more coveted. The story is told of an elementary school girl who let it slip to her teacher that her family did not have a refrigerator. The good-hearted teachers pitched in from their already-meager salaries and surprised the family with a refrigerator. The next few days the girl was missing from school. When she returned, she again thanked the teacher and told her that they had sold the refrigerator and gone camping. They needed the break more than they needed the appliance! The way they chose to use this gift illustrates a difference in thinking that would make many who have plenty to share angry enough to stop engaging, if we are limited to our own perspective.

Both those in poverty and those who are not need training. We need to build understanding as well as skills to break the cycle of poverty, because our obligation as Christians is not just help, it’s love.

Dr. Joel C. Hunter is senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Florida.


View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

Children That Are Hurting

“Children that are hurting” is a phrase the Seminole county public school district’s board chair Dede Schaffner speaks to describe more than 1,700 homeless students served by the district. Joined by Brenda Carey, chairman of the board of Seminole county government, and Dr. Joel C. Hunter, they have formed a collaboration of faith-based organizations in the county to work side-by-side with the district to confront student homelessness, decrease it and, perhaps, if successful, apply that strategy in the future to address other categories of homeless people in Seminole county. This is the story of their first steps.

Produced, reported and edited by Stephen McKenney Steck at

View Post

  •   Poverty   •  

Faith Leaders Go All In to Help Homeless Student

More than 130 faith leaders in Seminole Co. met at Northland August 10, 2011. Their vision: to make homelessness for Seminole's kids a thing of the past.

The meeting is the result of a "60 minutes" report that aired earlier this year, which revealed that there are more than 1,750 homeless children attending Seminole Co. schools. This meeting, hosted by Pastor Hunter, was a first step toward solving this problem.

View Post