EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) – When the first residents moved into the newly built emergency shelters on the campus of Meridian Baptist Church, it was the fulfillment of a ministry idea years in the making.
Since late December, three previously homeless women and their children have been sheltered in the emergency facilities located on Meridian’s property.
Rolland Slade, senior pastor at Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, said the need is great, as San Diego County (of which El Cajon is a suburb) has one of the largest homeless populations in the country.
“It’s a way to tackle this issue of homelessness, and it’s a way for us to maximize our opportunity to be salt and light for the community,” Slade said.
Upon viewing the shelter for the first time, Slade said one of the first residents was overwhelmed with emotion.
Slade said he was concerned that everything in the shelter would be ready and presentable, while she was overcome with tears simply upon seeing a place with a bed where she could be comfortable.
She had been sleeping in her car for three years.
“These shelters specifically give women with children a place of rest so that they can engage the system and move to the next level whether it is other temporary housing or more permanent housing,” Slade said.
Slade explained the shelters are on Meridian’s property and were built by more than 100 volunteers from the church, but many more have lent a hand.
Classified as a pilot project, the endeavor involves Meridian Baptist, a local non-profit focused on homeless women and children called Amikas, the city of El Cajon (including the city council) and a social service agency called Home Start of San Diego County.
Plans for the village of shelters, named the Meridian-Amikas Village, began in 2019 when Slade became convicted about homelessness in his city. He called it the biggest issue local elected officials are dealing with.
Slade joined the board of Amikas, and plans were soon underway for the pilot project.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed it down, but Meridian volunteers began construction on the shelters last year.
Slade said three of those shelters are currently filled, and the plan is to have all of them occupied within the next few weeks.
Women who stay in the shelters may remain there for 90 days as they figure out their next step.
A seventh shelter in the village houses security during the night, and the residents’ case managers during the day. The women can consult with them as needed, and use the computer available in their units to research job openings and conduct interviews.
In addition to these resources, the city, Amikas and Home Start provide, Slade said Meridian is using the Village on its campus as a ministry opportunity.
The church’s activities, including Sunday services, children’s programs during the week and ladies’ classes, are available as a way to build community with the residents.
“Throughout the whole process I just told the church to just keep praying and keep going,” Slade said.
“We thought if anybody is going to care for our community, it’s going to be us. If we can help them, we should help. Church needs to be a safe space, so we need to do everything we can to make sure women and children feel safe so they have a chance to hear the Gospel.
“We know we are doing this for the glory of God, and lots of different people and partners are really catching the vision of wanting to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
He encourages other churches to consider how they could minister to the homeless in their own community.
“I would say this problem (homelessness) is so real, and it’s time for us as churches and pastors to be creative,” Slade said.
“If nothing else, we can be like the four men who brought the man to Jesus through the roof. Whatever we have to do, it’s time for us as a Church to be as creative as those guys. God will give us the opportunity if we step out in faith.
“Our church didn’t start this idea just because it was creative, we started it because we saw the need. We can’t always sit beyond our desks in our offices. I would encourage pastors to think outside the box.”