calendar July 3, 2008 in News

Center City church welcomes homeless

As a frequent commuter, Pastor Violet Little noticed that the ladies’ rooms in the city’s major rail stations were often packed with homeless women trying to hurriedly change and wash up before workers came to move them along.

"Welcome“It’s the rest room, but they couldn’t really rest,” she thought. While people need common spaces but are often chased from public buildings, churches have spaces that often go unused much of the week.

Out of this revelation Little had a dream: a safe haven where the city’s homeless could step out of the cold and find a place to wash or sleep, to find someone to talk to for a while without being chased. She shared her dream with the people of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion at 21st and Sansom, who offered space and partnered with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod to provide a part-time salary for six months, and in January 2007 The Welcome Center opened its doors.

Now on Tuesday and Friday afternoons those who live on the streets or in local shelters can find community in a small room at Holy Communion. There’s chess and checkers, tea and a little lunch, and a listening ear. More than 3,000 lunches have been served in less than a year. A “boutique” offers guests a selection of donated clothes, and they can take books from the center’s own free library. “Our biggest problem,” Little says, “is that often we reach our limit of 25 people at one time and have to turn people away.”

"WelcomeThe Welcome Center is not just a feeding program but a place for engagement, and lives are transformed in this sanctuary. Little has reunited a homeless man and his long estranged Chippendale dancer son. A down-on-his-luck musician has been connected with a job in a local church. Donations funded the wedding of a couple who lived on the streets after losing their stadium jobs.

“I get calls when people are sick or in prison, and I visit people at their homes on the streets,” Little says. “It feels like a congregation – a congregation without walls.”


"WelcomeGuests have asked for spiritual nurture and, in a turn from the usual experience in churches, a Friday morning Bible study started with all men. During 2008, a guest named Jimmy who is a talented Gospel musician will help lead an informal worship service that guests at the Center requested.

“A lot of people who live on the streets are self-conscious about going to church on Sunday,” Little says. “This service will be a safe place where they don’t have to worry about how they’re dressed.”

A team from a local Baptist church visited and decided to open their own drop-in center on Saturdays. “My long-term goal is to find seven churches in center city so that people have a place to go every day,” Little says.

"WelcomeSince the initial funding ran out, Little has been supporting the ministry with private donations and grants from the city and Project H.O.M.E. At present she is working with several congregations – Lutheran, Episcopal, Unitarian and Presbyterian – to secure three years of funding for her part-time ministry to the homeless.

“It’s just basic hospitality, providing a place guests can come to for a few hours and know they are safe. That goes across all faiths,” Little says. And it’s the companionship that people respond to. Some guests are only in need at some times of the month, but come regularly, even when they have money. “They come for the relationship,” Little says.



Pastor Little officiates at the wedding of Janet and Arthur, who met at Holy Communion Lutheran Church’s Welcome Center outreach for the homeless.