Being Community: Hospitality
While Micah works toward Jeremiah Community, a place where neighbors can live affordably, have purpose and grow meaningful relationships, consider the many ways our collaboration of churches have already built a neighborhood of scattered parts.
It was around this time two years ago, that it became blatantly obvious that the two-week plan cobbled together at the onset of the pandemic was not going to send us back to normal anytime soon. Stay-at-home orders weren’t going anywhere. The emphasis to get people off the street was increasingly dire. And let’s be honest, none of us knew what we truly did not know.
Micah could not stay home during the pandemic, because those we care for had no home in which to shelter in place. Were it not for the robust support available through our church meal network and Hospitality Center, it would have been impossible to pivot in a time of crisis.
September 2020, however, marked an important milestone in who we would become during the pandemic and how we would accompany our neighbors to the other side. Unprecedented emergency response resources made it possible to keep people safe in hotels for the better part of two years.
The immediate goal was survival–literally. We never imagined it would make Fredericksburg, for a season, a community where no one had to sleep outside.
It would be a significant omission not to mention the grief we felt when the hotel money ran out and we returned to distributing camping gear and planning for the November opening of a congregate cold weather shelter. It was really a blessing to be in a situation where shelter was available to all who needed it. But the journey does continue, and a little time in the wilderness often launches the next great movement of God’s people.
Flash forward to the Micah Hospitality Center of September 2022, we are picking up right where we left off. Many community partners, DMV, Social Services, Germanna Nursing, Probation and Parole, who co-located in our building are returning. Hours of operation have returned to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10am to 2pm and Thursday 3pm to 5pm. New volunteers have found their way to our doorstep. And we have a whole new appreciation for the systems and supports that help people get back into housing. A stable shelter situation, for instance, became an opportunity for more comprehensive case management than is ever possible while people are living in tents, abandoned buildings or other places not meant for human habitation.
Micah, as did many communities in the U.S., learned so much about the unique role that hotel-style shelter can offer to people who have been over institutionalized, have trauma history and struggle with social anxiety. Between March 2020 and August 2022, 645 people were provided hotel shelter for at least one night. Of the 39% who were sheltered more than 30 days, 66% exited to a permanent location. By comparison, the pre-pandemic rate of housing stabilization was 40%.
Hospitality, in biblical terms, speaks of welcoming one another into our spaces and lives. It is meant to create the ultimate gift of connection. The pandemic has pushed us all to consider what life would be like without either. Thanks to a community of saints who wrapped around our unhoused these last several years, both hospitality and connection also continued to find our neighbors.