He just finished coordinating the very successful Beautiful Day, a service event which involved over 4,000 people working to help others all over Santa Clara County.
He is dedicated to service both at home and abroad, and is excited about ending homelessness.
This week he’s sharing a bit about his involvement with Housing 1000.
Q: What do you think the role of Christians should be in helping the homeless?
Jon: Many Christians respond to social problems out of conviction, but may not actually know what to do to help most effectively. In trying to attack a problem without the necessary knowledge, they may duplicate efforts, complicate the problem, or even make it worse. One example is San Jose’s equivalent of Skid Row, which is St. James Park—people may go there to serve food without a license, when that presents a problem for public health and safety codes, and complicates things for the City. Or people may give out hygiene kits when a local nonprofit is already providing that service, and it just winds up being more trash.
What Christians and other people of faith need to do is not be in silos and “start our own” everything—we need to find the leading organization working on a cause, and jump in. In homelessness right now, that organization is Housing 1000. We at WestGate Church want to be involved in really solving the problem of homelessness, and Housing 1000 is the resource in our community that is currently doing that.
I believe that Christ’s heart breaks for the poor. His heart is in the midst of what Housing 1000 is doing. I personally don’t believe these organizations are secular—which isn’t to say they are at all religious, of course. What they are is sacred. If Jesus were walking the earth, He would be working with Housing 1000 to house the homeless, He would be working with The Health Trust with folks with HIV/AIDS. He would be doing something to help.
Someone’s always going to be serving dinner to the homeless, and that’s great. But we need to take things a couple steps further and change the way our society deals with homelessness. As people of faith, we can make a huge difference.
Jon: I walked the encampments with Harry Mazier from County Mental Health, and really started realizing that dignity is a big part of this. We need to elevate the dignity of people living outside, identify their real needs—like housing—and point them to existing resources that can really help them. Then WestGate Church participated in the June surveying event—we actually had surveys in the auditorium at 4AM, and we did data entry in the gym. I saw the broad coalition that Housing 1000 was building, with council-members, business leaders, nonprofit directors and faith community members, and I realized—hey, this is actually going to work.
Q: How do you think Housing 1000 can make a difference in the lives of individual homeless men and women?
Jon: Everyone’s story is different, but Housing 1000 is a streamlined approach to systems change that combines case management, housing and services for the most vulnerable. I believe that one entity can’t do this alone. It needs to be a strategic effort, and a partnership between different actors, and that’s what Housing 1000 is. Collaboration is the only way to change.
Q: What would you say to other people of faith looking to help the homeless?
Jon: I think we do a lot of talking about Jesus, and it’s time to start living like Him instead. I like to tell myself to “shut up and show up.” I want people to experience the transformative Grace of Christ, but I also want them to respond to problems like Jesus would, and that means action to help improve the daily lives of other people.
Consumerism, individualism, selfishness and greed make it easy to turn a blind eye to others in need, but I believe that God expects more from us.
Q: What advice would you give to those already donating to overseas missions and charities?
Jon: I think that we need to own our community. We can’t just say, oh, I’m from Silicon Valley, and be proud of our tech and business achievements, without also owning the shadows and margins of that society.
Giving to charity isn’t just a “check-off” on your list of things to do as a Christian; people need to be personally engaged in solving local problems. You can have a financial presence globally, and that’s great, but you should also have a physical presence locally. Have a sense of the global pulse, but have your hands engaged in service right here at home. My family and I are involved in aiding orphans in Zimbabwe, and we have a deep commitment to alleviating global suffering, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suffering right next door.
You don’t need to go far to find it—people are dying on the street right here in Silicon Valley.
- Interview with Leslye Corsiglia, Director of the Housing Department of the City of San Jose (housing1000.wordpress.com)
- Housing 1000 April Newsletter: Ending Homelessness with Crowdfunding, Celebrations, and More! (housing1000.wordpress.com)
- Interview with Frederick Ferrer, CEO of The Health Trust (housing1000.wordpress.com)
- What You Don’t Know About Family and Youth Homelessness Can Hurt: The 2012 National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference (housing1000.wordpress.com)
- Homeless cancer patient living in her car in San Jose (housing1000.wordpress.com)
- RI considers ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ (seattletimes.nwsource.com)