Urban Ministry gears for tough economy

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Every Wednesday morning, artist Bill Mangum leads the prayer breakfast at the Potter’s House Community Kitchen, overseeing a crew of nearly 40 high school students and adults who volunteer in preparing and serving meals to residents of the adjacent Weaver House, an emergency shelter for homeless men and women.

And for the past 20 years, Mangum has donated “holiday honor cards” he has designed to Greensboro Urban Ministry, the nonprofit that operates the kitchen and the shelter and has generated over $2 million from distributing the cards in return for donations
of $5 or more.

“Bill is just a very special saint,” says the Rev. Mike Aiken, executive director of Greensboro Urban Ministry.

With demand for emergency financial assistance and food rising 10 percent so far this year in the face of the stumbling economy, Aiken says, the 41-year-old nonprofit is
counting on continuing support from donations and the faith community as it expands its services to address growing needs among people living in poverty.

In September, Urban Ministry launched a new program to quickly get homeless families from emergency shelters into permanent housing, while paying their bills and helping them stabilize themselves so they can get back on their feet.

Known as “Beyond Pathways,” the new “rapid re-housing” program builds on the “Pathways” initiative Urban Ministry launched in the 1980s to address the emergency needs of homeless families.

Located on the campus of Urban Ministry’s Partnership Village at 3517 North Church St., Pathways Center provides emergency housing for 16 homeless families who typically stay for three months.

But with roughly 40 families on the waiting list for Pathways Center, and with the Guilford Public Schools identifying over 1,000 homeless children in Guilford County,
Aiken says, Urban Ministry was looking for a new strategy to help get homeless families on their feet more quickly.

Roughly 80 percent of homeless people lack housing because of their immediate situation, compared to the remaining 20 percent who are chronically homeless, Aiken says.

While it costs roughly $2,000 a month to house a family at Pathways Center, he says, Urban Ministry expects to pay $5,000 or less to rapidly re-house a family, pay its
back bills and provide support services through a social worker and volunteer “housing care teams” fielded by five churches initially supporting the initiative.

Launched with $200,000 from a $1 million bequest from the estate of Nancy Richmond Hudson, who volunteered for Urban Ministry, the new program is expected to serve 40 to 60 families a year.

With an annual budgeted of $3 million, a staff of 30 people working full-time and 30 working part-time, and support from over 200 religious congregations and over 2,000 volunteers, Urban Ministry serves over 40,000 people a year.

The agency provides roughly $1.7 million a year in emergency assistance, including nearly $500,000 in financial assistance for rent, heating, utilities and mortgage payments, and 1.2 million pounds of food its food pantry provides to over 20,000 people.

Urban Ministry also operates Weaver House, an emergency shelter with 84 beds for single men and 16 beds for single women that can add 20 floor mats for emergencies during the winter and last winter housed over 150 people on several nights.

In addition to Pathways Center, Partnership Village also includes 68 “transitional” apartments for formerly homeless families and individuals, and The McElveen Child Development Center, which serves children living in Pathways Center, the apartments and the neighborhood.

Urban Ministry also operates a chaplaincy program, including three chaplains who, with the help of 53 volunteer “Stephen Ministers,” provide pastoral care to the agency’s staff, volunteers, guests and clients.

In addition to the seasonal cards designed by Bill Mangum that are underwritten by the Wachovia Foundation and generated $190,000 last year, Urban Ministry receives support from an annual CROP Hunger Walk, co-sponsored by Indiana-based Church World Service, that last year generated $57,000 for the Potter’s House Community

Held Oct. 19, this year’s walk attracted 5,312 walkers and raied $219,200, short of its goal of $250,000.

The Greensboro crop walk is the second-largest in the United States, just ahead of Durham’s and trailing only Charlotte’s.

Aiken says he hopes others will contribute so the agency can meet its goal by Nov. 20, when it will hold its annual Feast of Caring.

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