Group wants Christians to shelter homeless

DUBUQUE, Iowa – The founder of the Christian faith urged his followers to aid those who need help, including sheltering the homeless. One Dubuque group wants people of all faiths to offer shelter in their own homes to those without homes.

The Hope House Catholic Worker group seeks input on what it is calling The Christ Room Project, a network of “hospitality rooms” throughout the greater Dubuque area to be opened to those facing homelessness. Hope House is one of a handful of Dubuque shelters for homeless men.

“Our shelters have been at capacity all winter, and there is an increase in chronic homelessness, so more shelter will be needed,” said Tom Johnson, Hope House director, told the Telegraph Herald “We’re testing the waters to see if there is any interest.”

Johnson presented the idea to the Dubuque Homeless Advisory Council and will offer the idea to the Dubuque Catholic Social Justice Network.

“We live in a time of deep inhospitality. Providing hospitality is a Christian’s opportunity to be and show Christ to the world,” Johnson said.

The project would organize an informal network of homes with spaces set aside to shelter a homeless person or family. Johnson realizes the project would face challenges.

“We [at Hope House] just assume the risks here, but I don’t know if other people would do it if they didn’t feel safe,” he said.

Jim Munson, of Hillcrest Family Services, said that, before the program could start up, issues such as background checks, medications, mental health, culture barriers, housing layout and legal documents would have to be worked out.

“I don’t like to organize charity, but people need to feel safe,” Johnson said.

Mike McFarland’s one-bedroom Dubuque apartment is its own Christ Room. Three years ago, he heard a presentation by a group of Minneapolis Mennonites on the idea. He vowed to participate if asked, and a month later, he met Richard Mockmore, fresh out of prison and needing a place to sleep. McFarland invited the stranger to stay with him.

“That first night we talked until 3 a.m., and we’ve been close friends ever since,” McFarland said. “I didn’t think twice about it, but if I had family living with me, it would have been quite different.”

Since then, McFarland has sheltered three other homeless men for a few days each.

“The idea of Christ Rooms is formal, but I think a lot of people are doing it informally,” he said.