The following is a Christian Work Project sponsored in part by a grant from the Boston Baptist Social Union.
Starlight Ministries is a program of Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC) The mission of EGC is to understand and nurture the vitality of urban churches in the context of their urban communities. EGC works with urban churches to help them develop programs and partnerships that meet the social and spiritual needs of their ethnic or geographic communities. To accomplish this mission. EGC conducts research, offers consulting, and provides programs that support the work of urban churches.
For nineteen years, Starlight Ministries has been serving people in Boston and Cambridge who are homeless. and equipping individuals and churches to do the same. Last year Starlight provided approximately 6.500 meals, 3,700 snacks. 8,000 articles of clothing, and 2,000 blankets to nearly 1,000 adults and youth who are homeless. Starlight does not just bring immediate relief to these individuals, but provides critical referral services, counseling and case management to assist our friends in transitioning from the streets to hope, housing. and healthy community. We also host a daytime drop-in center to deepen relationships in a safe place, and offer follow-up care, prayer, showers, haircuts and other services, as well as an evening arts community for homeless and street-involved youth. All of Starlight's services are offered at no charge.
As critical as direct ministry to folk's on the streets is, Starlight Ministries mission to equip the local church to engage these individuals wherever they gather. Starlight's staff works with volunteers and church-based teams to engage in street outreach and trains churches and individuals about homelessness and how to do relational outreach effectively. We offer quarterly trainings for people who want to learn more or want to become volunteers with Starlight, and we are planning on increasing our training offerings in 2009, to accommodate more volunteers and deepen the capacity of existing team members. Last year alone we trained 151 individuals, and we have trained thousands over the years. Training is also a natural part of the mentoring and modeling that happens with volunteers as they engage individuals who are homeless alongside Starlight staff.
Our training and coaching for church-based teams have made possible five additional nights of outreach in Boston and Cambridge by four of our partner churches. These churches are doing outreach in their own neighborhoods where individuals who are homeless gather. Church-based teams are at the heart of Starlight's strategy to give every individual who is homeless in Boston and Cambridge the opportunity to experience the love of the Body of Christ and the chance to embrace new hope to turn their life around.
In everything we do, we offer Hope that is found only in Jesus. Through His transforming love, new friendships are formed and the lives of both people on the streets as well as staff, volunteers and churches are being changed.
Mission and Philosophy of Service
Starlight's mission is to serve and disciple people who are homeless in Boston and Cambridge and to build the capacity of churches and individuals to do the same. Our primary vehicle is to build mutually transformational relationships between individuals on the streets and individuals in the pews. As these relationships are formed with our staff volunteers and church-based teams, we strive to nurture the gifts, potential, and self-esteem of people who find themselves without a place to live; encourage them to refrain from making unhealthy choices; intervene when they do; and facilitate the transformation process as each individual strives to change his or her life. Although we seek to assist people to move beyond homelessness, it often is a long path for chronically homeless people to achieve permanent housing, and the route is often fraught with many barriers.
Many of the people Starlight serves have been on the streets for years, some for decades. People who are chronically homeless need more than access to housing, jobs or job training, and health care, although these are often needs as well. They need individualized long-term care to help them set and achieve clear goals. People often tell us they come to Starlight because they feel safe and comfortable because we are committed to working with them starting where they are, not where we would like them to be. Because Starlight is ready to build a relationship with any individual on the street, we are often the ones first approached when someone is ready to face the uphill battle to housing, community, or hope and faith.
In addition to serving adults, Starlight also serves youth and young adults ages 14-24 who are homeless or at risk of hopelessness. Homeless youth and other youth at risk for hopelessness are not served by school-based programs or traditional youth development and youth centering services. Often they are too old or unwilling to be taken in by child welfare, and too young for adult social services which are not tailored to their age group. Starlight Youth Outreach uses a multi-service, mentorship approach to help empower street youth and build their self-reliance. We seek to help these youth overcome the barriers that discourage them from receiving care for their physical and mental health needs.
Starlight Youth Outreach is one of only two programs with paid staff providing street outreach in Boston and Cambridge specifically for homeless youth and young adults. And of the two programs, we are the only one with Christ as our foundation.
Working with people who are homeless (youth or adults) can be a slow, long-term process, but one that can be better handled by staff, volunteers and churches who understand that God loves us at our best and our worst, that He can offer us the capacity and community needed to make positive change, and that He has a special priority for the poor and marginalized. Our strategy is to build relationships between loving Christians (our staff, volunteers, and church partners) and people on the streets, by making initial contacts through street outreach, at our Opportunity Resource Center, or at Sanctuary Arts Community. After initial contact, we seek to build a trusting relationship. Once a relationship is established, we walk alongside the person as he or she sets goals and begins to navigate the journey out of homelessness.
Recent Programmatic Changes to Facilitate More Ministry
When Starlight began in 1990, we wanted to serve people who are homeless. Our focus became chronically homeless adults, including groups gathering at Boston Common. Nineteen years later, the Boston Common's homeless community is potentially an "overserviced'' group. They are offered food and other items by a different outreach every week night, and by three different outreaches on Saturdays. This over-servicing can encourage people to feel entitled to be served and/or reinforce feelings that there is nothing they can do for their situation, aside from receiving relief from others. These are just some of the elements of "street culture'' that can help keep an individual trapped in the streets, and make engaging folks around material goods an awkward starting point for healthy relationship.
Starlight's response to the challenges of street culture, in addition to our response to changes in the environment in the cities (Boston and Cambridge) where we serve, have led us to make two significant changes to our programming:
1. Transitioning our evening outreach from being primarily van-based to stationary teams with carts or mobile teams on foot with backpacks: Until January 2009, Starlight offered van outreach every Wednesday evening at theBoston Common and Thursday evening in Harvard Square. This year, however, we are adjusting our night outreach strategy to leave behind the van and focus on foot access to individuals, based on a number of factors. First, the van's attraction of a crowd of individuals had some unintended negative consequences, such as attracting individuals who wanted clothes but were not homeless themselves, or reinforcing a dynamic where individuals came for goods only, not so much relationship. Second, in some of our outreach areas such as the Boston Common, initiatives at the city level (such as "making a safer Boston Common") insisted that we curtail our use of a van to distribute food and clothes to people in the area. Third, owning and operating an outreach van is expensive, and it can give churches the impression it needs a van in order to minister on the streets, which is not the case. Fourth, doing outreach in small mobile groups allows us access to individuals over a larger area, and offers the opportunity for more intimate conversation. For these, and other factors, this year we are gifting the van to a partner Christian outreach ministry, with the agreement that Starlight will be able to use the van about once a week, if needed. This allows us the flexibility of having a van available, without incurring all the maintenance and insurance costs associated with a commercial vehicle. We are not expecting to use the van for our evening outreaches in general, but staff and volunteers are planning on having a car parked in the vicinity in case an individual wants to be transported to a facility.
2. Increasing our focus on individuals who are on the cusp of desiring change, in additition to walking alongside individuals who are still entrenched in street culture: While we continue to engage individuals wherever they are in their process, some individuals can be entrenched in a downward cycle for years. so it makes sense for us to identify (and be especially present at) the potential turning points that these individuals might have. An example is increasing our outreach at facilities where individuals are temporarily off the streets, because of a hospitalization, arrest, or other episode, where they might contemplate change that seems much more out of reach when they are on the streets. We are currently developing a multi-dimensional "pathway to wholeness" that identifies leverage points in an individual's life toward change, and helps our staff and volunteers engage these moments more fruitfully, with increased skill and awareness of what could be the next step forward for each individual.
While some of the factors that have driven our modifications were initially unwelcome, the prospect of change has spurred Starlight through a powerful period of renewed vision and reawakened urgency to equip the church to engage the streets. Our mission remains not to grow Starlight, but rather to grow the church's ability to do all the things that Starlight does and more. Concretely, this means that we are improving and growing our tools to train and empower others to bring Jesus' transforming love and power as well as the practical know-how of navigating social service systems, to each person who is open to change. In several of our activities, we are increasing the number and scope of volunteers and church-based teams, and involving volunteers or interns in activities that were previously the realm of Starlight staff. Our hope is that through modelling every part of our ministry for others, church-based teams might grow that will minister in their neighborhood with faith, wisdom, and the tools they need to help individuals through their many barriers. We have already experienced the fullfillment of this hope in the launch of some of the neighborhood-based church outreach teams.
Program Activities and Timeframes
Evening street outreach: Teams of 6-12 volunteers and staff engage individuals on the streets every Wednesday (Boston Common) and Thursday night (Harvard Square) regardless of weather, through stationary or mobile teams., depending on the outreach area. Stationary teams stay in a large group in the outreach area, while mobile teams are primarly groups of 2 to 3 members who roam and cover a larger area of outreach on foot. Both stationary and mobile teams offer relationship and prayer, food, toiletries and small clothing items like underwear and socks (stationary teams wheel a small cart to the site, while mobile teams carry supplies in backpacks, ready for immediate relief when needed). We check in with old
and new participants and also provide counseling and referral to services as appropriate or requested . During outreach- we assess individuals' needs and connect them to appropriate resources either by calling and asking the services to come on site or by transporting individuals to those resources . In places where groups can gather stationary or mobile teams regroup at the end of the evening with a prayer circle. Bible message and worship time with our friends on the streets.
Adult daytime street outreach: For many individuals, additional connection with staff acts as a bridge from the streets to accessing additional help and resources. We continue to engage individuals and build relationships with them during the day in other areas of Boston where homeless individuals congregate (such as Dudley Square or near Boston Medical Center). Starlight staff also conducts follow-up outreach at hospitals, medical shelters. prisons and other locations. This outreach is critical. When individuals are off the streets (even for a short time) and sober, often they are more open to discussing change in their lives. Adult street outreach occurs Monday through Friday. This year we will be involving volunteers in our outreach at shelters, prisons, and similar facilities for the first time, to increase the experience of volunteers in navigating social service and correctional systems, as well as their understanding of the environments our friends on the streets have to navigate.
Opportunity-Resource Center (ORC): The ORC (located at our offices in the South End) provides a safe, welcoming and supportive environment where people can meet during the day with Starlight staff and volunteers. We provide clothing, showers. haircuts, MassHealth sign up, free voice mail, case management, special events, resource information, and coffee and snacks. The ORC is open on Monday and Thursday afternoons for adults. On many afternoons, there are so many guests that we have to ask some of them to return later. This year we will be increasing the number of volunteers at the ORC to increase our capacity to have in-depth conversations with more individuals and quicken the pace of trust building.
Counseling/case Management: Starlight staff and volunteers work with the individual who is homeless to assess his or her personal history, including work, health, housing, family, and substance abuse. Together, the Starlight team member and the individual develop and pursue a personalized plan in the areas of basic resources, sobriety, employment preparation, counseling, court involvement, and medical, family or financial problems. Once the individual has progressed significantly, we gradually reduce the frequency or intensity of contact. Ideally, by this point, we have had an opportunity to explore options for the individual to engage a larger faith community, like a small group or church, to walk alongside the individual as he or she continues on the journey out of homelessness. In cases where there is a crisis or backsliding, the Starlight team can reengage the individual more intensely if necessary, to continue to guide and support the person, provide counseling and access to resources, and help him or her with additional life skills mentoring. Counseling
and case management occur as needed throughout the week, and as more individuals engage our local churches, pastoral counseling and supportoccurs on weekends as well.
Starlight Youth Outreach: Starlight Youth Outreach integrates arts activities. outreach and case management. We reach youth where they are while fostering independence and self-sufficiency.
Arts-based activities: Art has always been a key component of Starlight Youth Outreach. Studies (including one by the Youth ARTS DevelopmentProject. a collaborative of federal agencies, national and local arts organizations) have shown that when at-risk youth participate in arts programs, they increase their ability to communicate effectively improve their ability to work on tasks from start to finish. improve their attitude about school, and decrease their delinquent behavior and court involvement. Starlight Youth Outreach launched the Sanctuary Arts Community in May 2007, and it now serves as a focal point for our work with youth. Sanctuary is hosted by Christ the King Church in Cambridge. Each Tuesday evening begins with a family-style meal shared by youth. Starlight Youth Outreach staff and volunteers. After the meal. there are arts workshops (guitar, drumming, painting, creative writing, and so on) followed by "creative space" community time. The ultimate hope is that the Sanctuary Arts Community will be a bridge that leads many to Christ, and that those who enter its doors will dream big while
gaining a deeper understanding of their full potential and the unique plan God has for their life. Alex Grant (Starlight Youth Outreach Coordinator) leads a dedicated group of volunteers from eight churches who help make Sanctuary possible.
Youth street outreach: Homeless and at-risk young people often distrust adults and institutions, which often deters them from seeking or receiving aid from many service agencies. By connecting with homeless young people on the streets, outreach leads to a relationship in which they begin to reveal things about themselves and begin to seek help to make changes in their lives. Alex and a group of volunteers build and maintain relationships through consistency and a positive attitude, gaining the trust of individuals who have learned not to trust as a form of self-protection. They do outreach on the streets in Cambridge on Tuesday afternoons in preparation for Sanctuary's Tuesday night meetings and on Thursday afternoons. In addition, Alex is available at other times during the week to meet with homeless youth for mentorship; assessing needs related to work, health, housing, family, substance abuse, court involvement, and discussing obstacles to housing and employment. Alex, in cooperation with other Starlight staff, helps youth identify and obtain the age-appropriate services needed as these youth endeavor to make major life transformations.
Training churches and individuals: Starlight offers quarterly trainings for individuals who are interested in becoming a volunteer with Starlight or who want to learn more about hopelessness, as well as special group trainings when church-based teams join us for one or two nights of outreach. Our day-long quarterly trainings cover topics such as substance
abuse, mental health issues, relational outreach, and breaking stereotypes around homelessness. In addition to these one-day trainings and special trainings, Starlight provides individualized technical assistance and training for churches that want to serve people who are homeless in their own neighborhoods. One effective variation of this model that we have
successfully launched is to train churches who are partnering to outreach together in the same neighborhood. This has proven to show a more compelling picture of who Jesus is to individuals on the streets, whose assumptions tend to be that churches are territorial and unable to work together well. Church partnership in outreach gives individuals an opportunity to engage outreach team members more as "followers of Jesus'' rather than members of a particular congregation or institution.
The foundation of all the work of Starlight is our Christian faith, and for many of our friends on the streets, it's faith in Jesus that gives them the wherewithall to actualize change in their lives. Believing that salvation is found in no one else, Starlight actively shares Christ with people we meet. Starlight provides spiritual direction and discipleship through a variety of
- Street outreach - During our weekly evening outreaches to Boston Common and Harvard Square, volunteers and staff share Christ with individuals who are homeless and anyone passing by through informal conversations. It is not uncommon for staff and volunteers to pray and share Scripture with those we meet. As more mobile teams take to the streets, we expect more individuals will receive prayer from these roaming groups. In areas where groups can gather, we offer a worship service at the end of the evening which includes singing, prayer and contextually relevant and understandable preaching.
- Spiritual direction - Through the course of continued care and support of those we serve, we regularly bring up issues of faith and help individuals see Christ in the midst of whatever they are going through. We also offer a weekly group Bible study on Tuesday mornings, followed by a family-style lunch. We are planning to begin a Christian 12-step recovery support group for individuals to deal with addictive behaviors in a generalized way, in partnership with a church-based "Celebrate Recovery'' group.
- Christmas banquet fur the homeless - This is an annual event which Starlight hosts for people who are homeless. This special time includes Christmas carols, presents and the presentation of the gospel through the Christmas story.
- Easter banquet - This event, launched in 2007, was modeled after our highly successful Christmas banquet. The Easter banquet offers a meal, community and a presentation of the Gospel for our friends from the street. This has become an annual event in partnership with a local church.