The culmination of 15+ years of urban ministry centers around two Cleveland neighborhoods – Clark/Fulton and Stockyards
“Since moving to the Clark/Fulton neighborhood a couple of years ago, my husband and I have developed a deep love for the people that make up this community,” says Kim Wheatley, a local resident and Christ follower. We’re so thankful for the relationships we’ve built, the culture and history as well as the opportunities we’ve had to minister to people. While there’s so much to love in this community, the deeper we go into people’s lives, the more I see the issues that plague residents such as predatory and unresponsive landlords, unaffordable housing and drug abuse.”
Community instability is the single largest obstacle to Kingdom work in urban neighborhoods. In its 15+ years of urban ministry, BHITC has seen and heard the impact of poverty first-hand from churches, church planters, fellow non-profits and families connected to its ministries, and the outcomes are undisputable. In situations of poverty, people often find themselves forced to move for a variety of reasons, and as a result, faith communities in these types of neighborhoods never see outcomes that reflect their level of investment and relationship with its people.
According to research by the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, persistently poor children are 2.5 times more likely than all children to move multiple times for a negative reason – that being 44 percent – as compared to 17 percent, whose families move voluntarily into a better life situation.
The recurring displacement of the poor is a trend BHITC believes God is calling the Body of Christ to act upon in two specific Cleveland neighborhoods – Clark/Fulton and Stockyards – which represent the most culturally and racially diverse communities on the west side, as well as communities where nearly 50 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line. In preparation for deep investment and relationship in this community, the organization conducted listening sessions last fall and heard countless residents tell of the vulnerable situations they and their loved ones in poverty face around housing. Predatory landlords are quite common for the approximately 70 percent of residents who are renters, with rent accounting for 58 percent of their take-home income, nearly double the recommended housing expense guidelines.
Just a glimpse into the issues perpetuating the cycle of poverty reveal deeper stories of hurt, oppression and disadvantage. As an organization committed to unleashing the power of underestimated people, BHITC believes these residents have much to offer themselves, their families, their community and the Body of Christ. As one resident said last fall, “It doesn’t matter how someone labels a person or place, it can still change.” That’s the gospel, after all!
Revealing underlying assets
While underlying issues associated with poverty have been consistent in 15 years of urban ministry, so too have been the underlying assets, gifts, skills and hopes in these communities. BHITC believes sustainable community transformation begins with using the strengths already present in the community, which the organization has seen to be true in other ministries, which were once new, such as working with the immigrant and refugee community or venturing into social enterprise businesses.
“I know that God loves this community, and I continue to trust that he is working through me and others to address the very real injustices here,” added Wheatley.
Strength in numbers
Another asset in the community are so many faith-based partners. Beginning late in 2015, BHITC and several area Christ-centered non-profits came together with a faith-inspired vision to restore and transform communities on the near west side with housing as the tool. This collaborative effort is a combination of Community Service Alliance, Family Ministry Center, Scranton Road Ministries C.D.C. and BHITC, all of which are familiar with the neighborhoods. This effort is referred to as the Nehemiah Collaborative. To fully address the needs of these communities, many people, churches, organizations and leaders need to be at the table, and BHITC believes its years of urban ministry, in relationship with the poor and developing know how culminate for this very purpose.
Councilwoman Jasmin Santana agrees. “Building Hope in the City has become a great friend and partner in the work my office is seeking to accomplish to better the communities of Ward 14,” she says. “In addition to their significant initiative to restore our housing stock, stabilize residents and develop relationships, perhaps what I appreciate most is their collaborative spirit towards other stakeholders within the community. They know they need others to accomplish this work and that’s why I am glad to labor alongside of them.”
Housing changes everything
Asset-based community development (ABCD) is a model BHITC will implement as it enters into focused housing and ministry efforts in these neighborhoods. The approach of ABCD draws out strengths and successes in a community’s shared history as its starting point for change. Among all the assets that exist in the community, it pays particular attention to the assets inherent in social relationships, as evident in formal and informal associations and networks.
To facilitate this greater vision, BHITC manages Good Neighbors & Co., its new property acquisition, renovation and rental business. To date, five homes have been acquired, renovated and either sold for profit or rented to tenants connected to its ministries. In time, it will also become a property management social enterprise as well as potentially offer workforce training in construction skills and trades.
The vision God has given BHITC for Clark/Fulton and Stockyards is big, so will you pray alongside the organization? With spiritual and vocational support for tenants, BHITC believes families will again be filled with hope for their lives, make progress towards achieving their dreams, such as purchasing homes, opening businesses and becoming leaders in their own communities. Then, churches planted in the community become the central point through which God moves and changes lives as new leaders and pastors live together in holistic community with one another.
Housing is truly just the beginning. The point where we move into the neighborhood as Jesus first moved into ours.