The Work Behind PLNU’s Homeless Ministries

Downtown San Diego on a Friday night is full of loud and bright trolleys, people on dates. There might be an accident with police officers at the scene. During the hustle and bustle of downtown is The Beacon of Light Homeless Ministry. Groups there provide sacked lunches, hot drinks and conversations to unhoused individuals.

Dana Hojsack, the director of community ministries at Point Loma Nazarene University, said that the Homeless Ministry leaders typically spend five to five-and-a-half hours every week preparing for a night downtown. 

“They’re doing a lot before they even greet the volunteers,” said Hojsack.

The leaders start the week with a meeting. According to Bella Rindone, a third-year child and adolescent development major and one of the Beacon of Light Homeless Ministry co-leaders, they spend about 30 minutes every Monday night fellowshipping and having dinner with each other.

Then, all the leaders of Homeless Ministries and Children, Youth and Visiting Ministries talk together for another half hour. The last hour of the meeting is spent in smaller groups, known as core groups. This is when Children’s Ministries members meet together, and the leaders of Homeless Ministries are together. Rindone said her core group does everything from icebreakers to preparing for the week ahead.

One way the leaders prepare during this time is by writing emails to be sent out to those who are signed up for the ministry email list. Rindone is usually responsible for coordinating these emails, and after people have signed up, on Thursday nights, she is the one who sends the emails to let people know if they have a spot or are on the waitlist.

When Friday rolls around, a lot still needs to be done.

Tori Vatcher, a third-year psychology major and the Campus Ministries intern, normally comes in on Friday afternoons to help prepare the wagons. She said this normally takes her about an hour. This means making sure the leaders’ backpacks are stocked with hygiene kits, Bibles, trash bags and anything else the leaders might need.

Every third Friday, Kiana Callahan, a third-year biochemistry major and the Community Ministry intern goes to Costco to pick up supplies. Often, she goes with Andi Thompson, a fourth-year psychology major and the Homeless Ministry director.

Callahan said that this trip is typically a three-hour process, from checking inventory and picking up a van to getting back on campus and putting everything away. While at Costco, Callahan said they typically get two carts of water and then go pack the vans. Then they come back and get two carts full of the snacks they put in all the sacked lunches.

Sometimes, Homeless Ministries receives clothing donations. When they get donations, they ask for gently used items of clothing, specifically focused on sweatshirts, jackets and pants.

Hojsack said, “If you wouldn’t give it to a friend, don’t give it to us.”

Once everything is collected, it gets sorted.

When sorting through a recent donation of clothes from the recent Center for Justice and Reconciliation “Live Justice” event, Callahan said, “It’s hard to judge what kind of people you’re going to see, so it’s hard to judge what clothes to keep.”

Everything they think they can use, the leaders sort and wash, and then it gets organized by type in the basement. During the wagon prep, the leaders choose a mixture of clothes to bring.

Around 5 p.m., it is time for the sandwich-making prep. The leaders and any volunteers who have signed up for sandwich prep all meet in the southeast kitchen to make around 60 sandwiches to hand out. This is also the time the sacked lunches get prepared and the insulated containers get filled either with coffee or hot water.

This process normally takes the Beacon of Light team about 45 minutes.

Paul Towne, a third-year mechanical engineering major, has been helping with the sandwich prep for Friday night’s homeless ministry since his freshman year. He said, this semester he has been going out to deliver the sandwiches he helps to prepare.

After packing the sacked lunches, they head to dinner to eat together, and then at 6:30 p.m., it is time for all of the volunteers to gather near the loading dock behind Nicholson Commons.

This is when orientation happens for the volunteers: there is an icebreaker, safety is discussed, groups are announced and they pray before heading out.

Once the groups make it downtown, each leader has a route they typically follow. Sean Boyd, a fourth-year biochemistry major and Beacon of Light co-leader, said he likes to stick to the library route, where he can see a lot of the same people and build relationships with people he sees week after week.

“I am person-oriented, so I like the stories and want to hear about other people,” Boyd said. “I like allowing them to provide their own voice.”

Boyd said he also wants to help the unhoused individuals who they are providing resources for to find communities. One way Boyd has done this is by partnering with the San Diego Humane Society.

When Boyd’s group was out in downtown San Diego, they gave away 25 sack lunches, bottled waters and many hot drinks. They also had conversations with the unhoused individuals who they shared resources with.

Many people would say, “My night just got better” after receiving food, a hot drink, and maybe even some new clothes and someone to talk to.

One gentleman, Michael, was with his dog, King. He declined extra water because he said other people would need it more.

During this evening, the group gave eight people meals and hot drinks and had conversations with them. 

One gentleman, Big Al, recognized Boyd and they had a conversation. 

“Big Al holds everything together and he brings community,” said Boyd.

Boyd’s group also ran into a man named Albert. He was on a bike and asked for a hot drink. “Thank you for bringing your atmosphere,” Albert said. “What you practice at home is what you bring to the streets.”

For Brooke Ridout, a third-year biology major, this was her first time participating in Homeless Ministries. She said that she had a really great time. 

“I felt more reserved in the beginning because it was my first time doing it, but the longer I was out there, I felt more comfortable,” Ridout said.

Ridout said she hopes to go again and bring her friends with her.

“It’s an eye-opening experience to see into people’s lives for a five-minute conversation or a cup of coffee,” said Ridout.