For years, children and teens from two Lakewood Congregations have gotten a small, but very realistic taste of what it might be like to have no shelter—no home. St Peter’s Episcopal Church and Lakewood Congregational Church have chosen long, dark, cold January nights for this experience in which young people and their adult leaders have a simple meal of soup and bread, and then venture outside to spend the entire night on the church lawns. Their only protection from the elements are their own winter coats, hats and gloves, and the cardboard shanties that they may have taped together. They raise money from passersby, which they then donate to causes related to shelter in the city. The LMM Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside has been a recipient of some of these funds, for which we are extremely grateful.

If you ask most of the people associated with LMM, however, we’d probably say that we are just as grateful to these congregations for opening the eyes, and minds, and hearts of young people to what it must be like to have no place to lay one’s head. Generations of young people who have come through these congregations now have an inkling of how the inescapable cold seeps into one’s bones and just how long a frigid night can be. That single, memorable overnight experience translates into a lifetime of awareness and empathy. They learn that having a place to lay one’s head is absolutely a matter of life and death. Housing is essentially healthcare. Housing is the bedrock of wellbeing. What better place than a faith-based community for such a message to be communicated?

Faith-based organizations of all creeds have, at their base, the desire and imagination for the peace and well-being of all. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all share a vision of wholeness and well-being—otherwise known as shalom or salaam. Buddhism seeks engaged benevolence for a better world. In Hinduism, the great Mohandas Gandhi used to say, “Service to [people] is service to God.” Indigenous religions often have at their base the healing of relationships among people and the planet. Equal access to a safe, stable home is a core element for human well-being. That is why people of faith must renew their commitment to justice and equity in housing practices and affordable housing for all people.