Hope Heals: Pastor's mission is to empower inner-city homeless
A savory aroma permeates the midday heat as men and women of many ethnicities line up outside of an industrial building at Seventh Street and Virginia in Kansas City’s urban core. It’s lunch time at Hope Faith Ministries, an outreach program for individuals who are homeless or otherwise down on their luck in these tough economic times.
The center serves 1,000 to 1,200 hot meals a day, including breakfast, seven days a week, year-round. Many of these visits are made by homeless mothers who stop by mornings for showers and nutritious meals before sending their children to school and heading to work, says executive director Desiree Monize. “The face of homelessness has changed. Now teens and mothers are the highest number of homeless. And since the economy took a dive, clients also arrive who have Ph.D.s, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees.”
Monize, 45, is the former pastor of Vineyard North Church. While on sabbatical in 2007, she volunteered to cook and serve Christmas dinner at Hope Faith Ministries, located in a small storefront at 15th and Charlotte streets in Kansas City, Mo. That day would prove life-changing for her.
“I had a perception of the homeless, and I saw my perception was wrong,” she says. “Everything I saw challenged my belief system and I wanted to do something about this.”
Monize became a regular volunteer. Within two months, she was offered the position of executive director. At the time, the center fed 500 people a day, and was what Monize describes as a “kitchen that ran Bible studies.” She soon realized the need was far greater than providing bread and religion. “We needed to meet emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs,” she says. And that would require space.
Since 2011, HFM has been housed in a renovated 50,000-square-foot building. Called an “equipping day center,” it offers a sanctuary for people who sleep under the stars and in automobiles, and even for those who manage to hang onto their homes but don’t have enough to eat or adequate resources like toiletries, transportation and furniture. Services — all housed beneath one roof — include private showers, clothing stores, laundry room, hair salon/barber shop, and computer lab. In September, the center opened an onsite medical, dental and vision clinic. Next on the agenda is a business and career center.
HFM receives no government funding: 75 percent of its $700,000 annual budget is in-kind donations. Six-thousand volunteers, managed by 40 former homeless individuals who serve as interns, operate the facility. Collaborations include more than 150 small business and corporate sponsorships, 175 churches, and 75 nonprofit agencies. Thirty-five nonprofit organizations receive rent-free offices inside HFM in exchange for offering free services to clients. And 40 volunteers serve as security, with clients required to pass through a security scanner when entering the building.
While HFM is Christian-based, all faiths are welcome, including atheists. It focuses on helping all clients overcome barriers. “Sometimes the barriers are just $30 needed to get an ID or steel-toe boots for a new job,” she says.
Interns Ernest Mickens and Sue Wheeler praise Monize for her expansion of HFM. “Desiree has a passion. It’s rare to find someone with so much tenacity, especially when there’s nothing in it for them,” Mickens says. “She’s an angel,” Wheeler adds. “Words can’t describe how she’s helped me.”
But Monize, who chairs the Kansas City Homeless Advisory Council and serves on the Kansas City Homeless Task Force, refuses to accept credit. She met with a team of homeless individuals and asked, “How can we best serve you?” She got answers. “This center is their brilliant idea,” she says. “Not mine, theirs.”
Hope Faith Ministries hosts its Second Annual Disc Golf Tournament fundraiser on Oct. 13 at Thornfield Disc Golf Course. For more information, visit hopefaithministries.org.
Photo by Angela Bond