Reaching The City: City Impact, San Francisco, CA

SRO destruction (4644386584)I have always had a love/hate relationship with ministry to the urban homeless, poor, and the down and out in America.  As a Christian, I hear the call in the Bible to care for the needy, to provide of the poor, and to fight for justice of those that cannot fight for themselves.  Most ministries that care for the urban poor and needy do well at providing food, clothing, and shelter.  Other ministries are good at fighting for just the treatment of these demographics.  But many urban ministries seem to either forget to take the Gospel with them into their endeavors or minimize it to such an extent that it loses its power.  I have long tried to conceive of what a balanced ministry to the urban poor might look like that positively combines provision for the needs of the poor and advances the Gospel, and I think I have found a good starting place with City Impact in San Francisco, CA.

Twice over the last month I have had the opportunity to visit City Impact, an intriguing ministry in the middle the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, CA.  The Tenderloin is the burro of San Francisco where most of its homeless population and urban poor are located.  The Tenderloin is also home to a very unique urban housing situation; 500 apartment buildings that house SRO’s or single room occupancy units.  SRO’s are usually about the size of a 10’x10’ room furnished with not much more than a bed.  Sometimes these units have a bathroom, in other situations there is one bathroom per floor or ever two floors.  The occupants of these SRO’s usually receive some sort of government subsistence check for various reasons that covers the rent and maybe a little grocery money.  The occupants of these buildings are not the same as the homeless you may see walking around on the streets of the Tenderloin.  In fact many of the residents of the SRO buildings are scared of and avoid the people on the street as you or I might.

It is into this broken situation that City Impact has stepped.  City Impact has several aspects to their ministry.  Currently they have a school, a homeless shelter, a thrift store, a church, and a building adoption program.  In each and every one of these ministries the Gospel has been put front and center.

On my first visit to the Tenderloin and City Impact, I along with Bryan Catherman of Saltybeliever, were given a great tour of City Impact’s newly renovated building (all done by volunteers and support raised through prayer) which houses their school.  Currently they are the only school in the tenderloin and serve children that live in these SRO buildings.  The school has over 90 kids and now has the capacity to go up to 350 kids.  City Impact’s prayer is that they would fill the school to capacity.  Next on the tour we walked around the corner to a traditional homeless shelter run by City Impact.  Inside participants can get two meals a day after hearing an impassioned Gospel sermon and altar call.  In addition, the homeless shelter has a clinic where the homeless can receive basic medical care.  Up the street from the homeless shelter is an unmarked thrift store.  Here the poor and homeless can buy clothes and household items for cheap.  There is nothing at the thrift store that indicates it is a part of City Impact and this is on purpose.  City Impact uses the thrift store as a means to reach the homeless and down and out that are most adverse to anything religious.  After building a relationship through contact at the thrift store, CityImpact pastors are able to minister to even the most hardened hearts of the Tenderloin.  One amazing and humbling fact about the pastors at City Impact is that each and every one of them lives right in the Tenderloin.  They do not drive home every evening and leave the chaos of the City, but instead they have invested themselves in the City by living there with their families.

Now all the ministries I have just described I am sure sound familiar to you.  There is nothing out of the ordinary here, but there is one aspect of City Impact that I am most excited about. I had to wait until my second visit to the Tenderloin to experience the building adoption program.  Here is how this program works.  City Impact has selected 15-18 buildings so far that they have adopted.  They assign a team leader for each building and begin praying for these buildings.  They pray for the adopted building for several weeks and then it is time to go into the particular SRO building and reach out to its residence.  City Impact goes door to door in these SRO buildings bringing some food or general supplies as a peace offering and knocks on each and every door trying to build relationships, share Christ, and pray with people.  The goal of this endeavor is to see a home church started in each one of these buildings.  In addition to the teams that go into these buildings each and every week, there is a network of people around the globe praying for this work.  In fact you can become part of this network HERE.

When I returned on my second visit to the Tenderloin and City Impact’s ministry, they informed us that there had been 5 murders and two suicides in the two weeks since my first visit.  In fact, one of the suicides occurred right on the sidewalk in front of the CityImpact’s building.  A man from the neighboring building had jumped out of the window and landed on the sidewalk below.

On this second visit I was able to participate with the building adoption program.  Every Sunday afternoon the City Impact Building teams gather at 2:00pm for praise and worship.  I brought my church youth and college staff with me to the building outreach to see how City Impact is doing ministry.  We worshiped for thirty minutes with everyone going out into the buildings that Sunday and then we were assigned a building team to assist.  There was a prayer for the filling of the Holy Spirit, opportunity to share the Gospel, and protection as we went out, sheep among wolves.  In addition to the teams that go out, there is a prayer team that stays behind and covers those going out for the entire two hours.  I had the opportunity of visiting a building with Sean Brakey.  Sean is one of the pastors at City Impact.  Sean took us door to door in a building he has been working in.  Many of the residents knew Sean or asked to talk with members of the team that usually visit them.  To see people living in these SRO units is depressing.  They are small, sparsely furnished, and usually dark with the light off.  Most of the residents spend all their time in these 10’x10’ rooms alone.  If you ever want a picture of our human depravity and brokenness, this is it.  Several of the residents we visited poured their hearts out to us and gave us their weekly update on life, others we engaged with the Gospel, and some we met for the first time.  After two hours of visiting, evangelism, and relationship building, we returned to City Impact’s building to hear the days report from the other teams and closed in prayer.

I always walk away from short-term missions or days of evangelism with a renewed since of how easy it is to share the Gospel; just open your mouth.  Bringing Christ into the city and to those we would least likely encounter helps us to see those that are in need in our own cities.  City Impact started with one homeless man that was saved by Christ and looked around to see how he could make a difference.  His ministry has grown into a great example of what it means to meet the needs of people and share the Gospel.  City Impact will agree that they make mistakes, but they keep trying to find the best means of bringing the Gospel to the City.  City Impact has done well infusing every aspect of their ministry to the urban poor with the Gospel.

If you are ever in the San Francisco, CA area I highly encourage you to stop by and visit City Impact’s ministry and take a look around.  If you have time on a Sunday I encourage you to participate with their building outreach program that occurs from 2pm-5pm every week.  If you want to come for longer, they host mission teams all the time that stay in their building right in the heart of the Tenderloin and participate in the different aspects of their whole ministry.  I have no doubt time with City Impact with help you to see urban ministry in a new light and give you ideas to take home to your own city.

To listen to two podcasts about my experience with City Impact, please select from the audio below:

Missions and the Tenderloin audio
Jared Works With City Impact audio
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