Homeless Ministries at PLNU

Photos credit to Andi Thompson.

Point Loma Nazarene University provides students with different opportunities to give back to their community through volunteer work. Homeless Ministries — a PLNU community Ministry volunteer group — serves in locations throughout San Diego.  

Homeless Ministries is made up of different sectors, including  Bread of Life, Beacon of Light, WNO (Wednesday Night Outreach), Anointed Homeless Ministry and SALT (Student Athlete Leadership Team). On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights, volunteers go downtown to share food, pray and offer worship for unhoused individuals. Transportation is provided to all volunteers.

Through serving and helping the homeless, Homeless Ministries allows student volunteers to see a completely different perspective, as well as grow as a person, according to third-year child and adolescent development major Shelby Domke. 

“Serving individuals who are unhoused has given me a different perspective of the community,” said Domke. “While it can be intimidating, I have made so many connections and had so many amazing conversations with the people downtown. It has definitely allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and serve in a way that I never had before, and has also allowed me to share my faith more with people I just met, which is such a cool thing.” 

Domke has been serving in Homeless Ministries since her freshman year. She first heard about the ministry from a friend who loved it, so she started going with her. Through her time of service, she has had the opportunity to hear testimonies and share her own faith as well.   

Photos credit to Andi Thompson. 

“While I have seen and heard a lot of difficult things while serving downtown, I have also had so many impactful and encouraging moments,” said Domke. “I have had the opportunity to pray over different people and hear their faith stories, and just stories in general. I have been able to give bibles to people and talk to them about Jesus, and about my own faith which has been so amazing.”

Similar to Domke, first-year undeclared major Genoa Orloff has only recently started going after hearing about the ministries through her roommate.   

“I just recently started. I’ve been to two different ministries but I am definitely going to start going on a regular basis,” said Orloff. 

Through helping unhoused individuals, Orloff has received a better understanding of the areas in  San Diego in need of community outreach.

“Since I have been going, I feel like there is such a bubble at Point Loma,” said Orloff. “Kind of getting outside of that and going downtown, especially since it’s such a different place and honestly a little scary in some areas – you turn a street corner and it’s just tents after tents, rats running on the street and I’ve seen cockroaches and broken glass. It’s very eye-opening.”       

Dana Hojsack, director of Community Ministries, said the Community Ministries predated her time at PLNU. To her understanding, its formation began in the ‘80s when the Office of Spiritual Development was created. Hojsack’s role is to mentor and oversee all of the Community Ministries on campus, although the ministries themselves are run by student leaders. 

“The ministries predate my tenure at Point Loma but compassionate ministries have always been a part of the church of the Nazarene and dates back to the 1800s when the church was founded,” said Hojsack. “The Nazarene Church initially reached out to their neighbors and asked them to serve, come alongside and meet the needs of their immediate community, that’s really what community ministries are based off of.” 

The three weekly Homeless Ministries that go downtown to the East Village neighborhood meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the one indoor ministry meets on Fridays at Sacred Heart Church in Ocean Beach. 

According to Hojsack, the East Village area tends to be the area where a lot of unsheltered neighbors live. 

“We use the language of unsheltered or unhoused to focus on the person instead of the problem and provide them with dignity,” said Hojsack.  

The downtown ministries walk throughout the East Village neighborhoods between the public library and Living Water Church of the Nazarene which is located between 16th Street and Market Street.  A PLNU alum — who works as a nurse practitioner — hosts a weekly ministry at the church offering a triage clinic that students in the pre-health or biology department can attend as a volunteer opportunity within their department. 

Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach is also another neighbor and partner. 

“Students spend their time encountering and visiting with our neighbors there. Talking, offering prayers, listening or handing out sack lunches, water, hot coffees and other resources like socks, hygiene kits, blankets and clothes,” said Hojsack. “Student ministry leaders devote five to ten hours of their time weekly to lead these volunteer ministry groups and it’s powerful to see them lead.”

Students gather around for Homeless Ministry Orientation on campus before heading out to downtown.

A group of 18 volunteers is led by three trained and experienced student leaders, which later split into three groups that walk around different routes. 

Andi Thompson, a fourth-year psychology major and homeless ministries leader, said the ministry groups allow for trust to be built between students and unsheltered neighbors. 

“The heart behind the Homeless Ministries program at Point Loma is to provide a space for students to serve and build relationships with our unhoused neighbors in San Diego,” said Thompson. “The things that we offer our unhoused neighbors in ministry (food, coffee, clothing, etc.) serve as a bridge for conversations to be held and relationships to be formed.” 

According to Hojsack, they had about 30 people total on the waitlist to volunteer during the week of Oct. 2. They try to stay mindful when scheduling volunteers and typically waitlisted volunteers get a spot within the following week. Hojsack encourages students to plan ahead when registering to volunteer as anyone registering on Monday will most likely be waitlisted next week.

“It basically fills up as soon as emails are sent out which is a good problem to have, but I don’t want people getting discouraged on joining because we will always try to find space for them,” said Hojsack. 

Their emailing list is currently at 350, pointing to the widespread interest and reach of their community on campus. 

According to Thompson, those who do end up volunteering leave with powerful experiences. 

“I have spent time talking with countless other students about the ways that serving with the Homeless Ministries have expanded our worldview, challenged our faith, given us the most special friendships and contributed to our overall growth as a person,” said Thompson.“I view ministry as a way to build a foundation of wanting to bring about greater policy change in the San Diego community surrounding homelessness.” 

To find out the most up-to-date information on community ministries visit their My PLNU  website or app, or check out their Instagram page @plnucommunityministries.