This is a story about why we don’t pay rent with benevolence money and the time we did.
Several years ago Baylor School of Social Work put on a course for ministers to learn how best to serve the actual needs of their community. They offered both the theory and practical advice needed for decision making in regard to spending missions and benevolence money as well as the kind of services that are and are not actually helpful.
One of the practical applications they suggested was for churches with limited benevolence money to stop paying rent for people.
It sounded like a harsh suggestion at the time, but they explained that when money is limited, it’s better to focus on things like food and clothing rather than rent. A church could- and many have- spend their entire benevolence budget paying rent for people and never do anything to actually help transform the situation.
That’s why the social work school suggested two things: 1) support organizations working for free and affordable housing, and 2) use your limited benevolence money on essentials other than rent.
That’s been one of my guiding principles when managing NorthHaven’s benevolence funds. We do not have much money (-$300 right now), and we need it to stretch as far as we can. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, like children, NorthHaven doesn’t pay rent for people.
This is the story about the time we did.
One of the organizations NorthHaven supports is a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Housing and food are free for those who are accepted into the program, and the location of the facility is kept secret from nearly everyone. While there, they have programs to develop job skills and get GEDs. They even have volunteer tutors to help the children with schoolwork. It’s a stellar program.
In December, I received a call from one of the women in charge of the program. She told me that a mother and her preteen daughter were graduating out of the program soon, but unfortunately, as does happen from time to time, they didn’t have anywhere to go.
The mother used her time in the program to finish her associates degree. She had a job secured and would start soon, but it would be a little bit before she had the capital needed to make a security deposit and pay rent on top of their other living expenses.
“Is there something y’all can do to help out?” The program director asked.
I called a friend who works with Catholic Charities, one of my favorite organizations, and asked if he could get his hand on any affordable housing. We were in luck, because they recently renovated a small apartment for just such a circumstance.
With the director of the women’s shelter vouching for this mother, I used $3000 to pay the security deposit and 3 months rent for them, along with book and winter clothes for the child and formal clothes for the mother to where to work.
This August, I was invited to a luncheon with Catholic Charities. The very same woman I just told you about was there to give us a tour of her small apartment and tell us her story. Then, what I thought was just a lunch to honor partners quickly turned into a work day. They told me to bring tennis shoes, but I didn’t understand the implication.
Next, they led us to a second site to install insulation in a garage in order to convert it into another small, economical apartment. All under the leadership of the woman we helped six months prior.
It was amazing to see her taking charge and telling us all what needed to be done to make that space livable. Less than a year ago she was shy and quiet, living in a shelter for abused women with her daughter. Now she boldly corrects a bunch of mechanically inept senior pastors when we install insulation poorly. I later learned that she regularly volunteers her time to help develop donors and do building projects when they came up.
I was astounded and inspired by the transformation in her, and grateful that NorthHaven was able to play a small roll in making her journey a little less difficult. And I was warned. Always bring work shoes when Catholics invite you to lunch.