More than five years ago, on a Wednesday morning, Art Figueroa and other members of St. Matthews Lutheran Church in North Hollywood waited anxiously for their first guests.
The congregation of the small, decades-old church had opened up inside the pastor’s quarters, a shower room for anyone in the surrounding community who needed it. And it was clear that there was a need. At the time Los Angeles was already in the grip of its homelessness crisis, which has since gotten worse.
About a dozen people came that day to take a shower. With only one shower stall, they were all men and women they could accommodate, said Figueroa, a longtime member of the church.
That 2 March 2016, day turned out to be the start of a drop-in center program which was a one-day-a-week effort. It has since grown slightly to five days a week, two days of which are held in the neighboring church. Now they also have a mobile shower unit available at drop-in days, and can accommodate many more people.
In addition to hot breakfast and lunch, they offered electronic charging stations, clothing, toiletries, and case management services. Before the pandemic, he opened one of his rooms as a lounge area for people to spend the day. And during pandemics, the drop-in center hosts COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics.
A non-profit, the NoHo Home Alliance, was eventually set up to handle the volunteer- and staff-run operation, which now includes housing services and an outreach team, which was launched in September.
“That first day went well,” said Figueroa, recalling the start of the show. “We all got to know each other a lot better and got to know our guests.”
The program also attracted volunteers who were not members of the church. Sandy Kelly, now the site manager of the drop-in program, said she happened upon her way to a farmers market. The church was holding a bake sale on Wednesdays to help add a Monday drop-in day to the existing one. She has been volunteering with him ever since.
Lex Roman, a Studio City resident who reached out to the church’s pastor about starting an outreach program, said she was inspired to do so when she saw that “more people have come to the Studio City, North Hollywood area.” hit the streets,” during the pandemic.
The seeds for the drop-in center were sown when Pastor Stephanie Jagger, then new to the church, was familiarizing herself with the church’s facilities. When he looked into the pastor’s room, he found a small bathroom with a shower. It was being used for storage. Jagger said he found signs and cases of beer from a recent event for Reformation Day, a Lutheran observance that coincides with Oktoberfest.
Figueroa held these early stories of the drop-in center last weekend during celebration of its 90th anniversary, a year after the church worked to accommodate a COVID-19 pandemic that has led to in-person services. shut down.
While notable, especially given the size of the church, the story of the drop-in center and its growth is only the latest chapter in the church’s unique history of addressing critical needs in their community that cannot be found anywhere else. Were were
After the Great Depression and World War II, the church supported those moving to the former San Fernando Valley. In the 1950s and ’60s, the church offered mental health counseling, a speech clinic for children with disabilities, and a recovery group focusing on the arts. They Church served the youth of North Hollywood in the 1970s.
And in addition to its drop-in center, the church is often best known in the local community for its efforts during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. A large red ribbon depicting AIDS and HIV awareness that hangs on the exterior of the church – an unusual sight in a religious setting – often stops passersby in their tracks. St. Matthews welcomed people into the LGTBQIA+ community at the time and cared for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Melanie Ronning, a member of the church, said that one of her earliest memories of St. Matthew is “in the early ’90s, sitting in the pew and reading mission statements that included apartment-dwellers, singles, single-parents, who were gay, lesbian or bisexual.”
“And since I live next door in the townhouse, it was so important to read that someone who was really trying to figure out my sexual identity at the time,” she said.
The church took the initiative to organize a deaf ministry about 25 years ago, at a time when there was no such official ministry in Evangelical Lutheran churches in the country. On Sundays, a sign-language interpreter translated services for deaf members of the church. On the first day, during an anniversary celebration aimed at the community, a workshop held to introduce the public to the history, culture and signs of American Sign Language attracted participants young and old.
Jagger said the value of being included in St. Matthews and engaging with community issues often takes people by surprise. A joke that stuck out about his church, he said, “St. Matt is not your grandmother’s church, unless your grandmother is gay.”
But Jagger explained that the purpose of his church is to serve the true purposes of his religion, which include giving importance to the human dignity of each individual. The word “salvation” comes from a Greek word for healing, she also noted, which can be applied to “healing wounds” that are both personal and social, including “oppression, injustice, or marginalization.” are related to.
For Sunday services, Jagger said, he chose a song that invites congregations to build a “church on human weaknesses,” a call that aptly reflects the approach of the church during its 90 years that has often been Used to share a lesson about defining the church by its men and its community, not by the building in which the church is located.
Jagger said the call could easily be linked to a debate taking place in Los Angeles today, in which the value of a sidewalk is being weighed against the value of fellow community members who live and live on those sidewalks. .
Efforts are underway throughout Los Angeles by city leaders to ban living in the public right, despite the still-slow process to provide housing and services to everyone, through city ordinances such as LA Municipal Code 41.18. are. Meanwhile, heightened tensions over how to address homelessness threaten to divide Angelenos.
“Lutheran tradition especially focuses on the fact that if you want to know where God is, God is where there is suffering, where things are broken,” she said. “So God is not in glory, but in the suffering of human experience.”
When applied to issues surrounding “justice,” Jagger said, it calls for “action in solidarity with those who are experiencing suffering, especially injustice, marginalization, oppression.” , and suffer likewise.”
She said, a church based on the concept of “weakness” is one in which the church “recognizes that we are imperfect, and that our systems are imperfect.”
On Thursday, the Department of Motor Vehicles participated in the church’s NoHo Home Alliance Group drop-in day to help replace IDs that are needed to apply for housing and services but are often lost or Thefts happen when someone lives on the street. The lack of an ID is a frequent, but often overlooked, problem that hinders service providers’ efforts to quickly connect people to housing.
And later this week, the Coalition plans to canvas neighborhood businesses, urging community members to join them in providing services, housing and outreach.
Art Figueroa, who joined the church 20 years ago, said it was the church’s focus on the service that first attracted him. “One of St. Matt’s greatest strengths is the importance placed on trust in helping our fellow man,” he said. “He was super attractive to me.”
As the church and its members step in to help their neighbors, Jagger said they try to survive the difficult times of the pandemic and also to strengthen their abilities to prevent feelings of isolation from their community. seemed.
“You start to build relationships and see people as people,” Jagger said of the experiences of many church members who were able to connect with their non-neighbors on a more personal level.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we all stand still,” she said. “Because we never stopped (during the pandemic). These volunteers came here to serve and lived their lives.”