Church Leaders Join Mayor for Homeless Pledge

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Rev. Mark Nakagawa of the United Methodist Church speaks at a press conference on July 20 announcing Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Day of Compassion initiative. (JUNKO YOSHIDA/Rafu Shimpo)

RAFU STAFF REPORT 

More than 100 religious leaders from Los Angeles joined Mayor Eric Garcetti last Thursday and signed a pledge to help in the fight against homelessness.

“It’s on us to push through the fear and the misunderstanding on homelessness, and it’s on us to find pathways out of homelessness for our brothers and sisters,” Garcetti said at a news conference with the religious leaders standing behind him on the south steps of City Hall. “It’s on us to lead by example and change the fate of the least among us, and its time that we open our doors without fear to create safe spaces for everybody.”

The Days of Compassion initiative commits the faith leaders to enlist their congregations to participate in various efforts, which could include hosting mobile showers in their parking lots, organizing tours of permanent supportive housing or offering day storage to homeless people for their belongings.

The initiative comes as city and county residents have approved billions in spending to go toward homeless programs and after the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count released numbers in May that found homelessness had jumped 20 percent in the city in 2016 and 23 percent in the county.

Measure HHH, which was passed by city voters last November, is expected to raise $1.2 billion to build housing for the homeless through a bond measure. Measure H was passed by county voters in March and is expected to raise $355 million for homeless programs annually for 10 years through a sales tax increase.

“While we wished homelessness was not the reality that it is here in Los Angeles, it has given this one congregation a valuable opportunity to live out the ‘social holiness’ that is embedded in United Methodist Christian faith,” said Rev. Mark Nakagawa, West District superintendent of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Nakagawa, former minister of Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo, explained that one of the congregations in South Los Angeles launched a Safe Parking program that allows homeless who sleep in their vehicles to park their cars at the church from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. There are currently six cars parking in the lot. The program was implemented with the help of the mayor’s office, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the Homeless Outreach Program and Integrated Care System.

“The journey from sleeping in one’s vehicle to a permanent home is a long one, and the next steps are still being formulated. What’s important is that Safe Parking now provides vulnerable, homeless persons and families that important first step,” Nakagawa said.

“On behalf of Bishop Grant Hagiya, Los Angeles area Episcopal leader, and United Methodists throughout Southern California, I thank Mayor Garcetti, his staff, and the various agencies involved for taking a chance on us, and giving us the opportunity to demonstrate that the faith-based community has much to offer in helping to bring homelessness to an end.”

Garcetti also announced his Housing Resource Matchmaker, a program that will match philanthropists or organizations interested in funding housing for the homeless with a mission-driven builder.

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