Two years ago, representatives from five Lutheran churches in Evanston – Immanuel Lutheran Church, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, Grace Lutheran Church of Evanston, and the Lutheran Campus Ministry/Northwestern University – started to discuss how best they could mobilize their congregations to make a positive impact in their community.

On Dec. 2, they presented the results of their efforts, in the form of a check for almost $15,000, to Connections for the Homeless. The group of churches calls itself “Bridges to Home” and has raised money specifically for the purpose of paying the rent for graduates of Connections’ Our House program for youth. Their efforts represent an innovative way for congregations to help create affordable housing for people in need.

The project began when the five churches engaged Lutheran Social Services of Illinois to guide them through a research and discernment process to select a need they could address. After exploration and discussion with many social service agencies in Evanston, the group was attracted to the issue of youth homelessness. They learned about the number of homeless participants in the Curt’s Café job training program, as well as Connections’ Our House program, the only residential program for homeless young men in north suburban Cook County.

As they learned about the lack of affordable housing in our community, the plight of future graduates of “Our House” rose to the surface. A spokesperson for the group says, “If a homeless young person enters Our House, follows the full program, and graduates with a job, he’ll be much better off and ready for the next level of independence. But he still won’t be able to afford housing in our community. We don’t want him to have to go back to square one. We want him to be able to stay near his support systems and to be stably housed while he takes the next step and learns to live without 24/7 services.”

The Bridges to Home group came to believe that affordable and stable housing is the greatest gift they could make to young people in need and determined to make that their goal. Accordingly, the group chose “Bridges to Home” as its name, to signify its work to provide a bridge between dependent and independent living for its young beneficiaries.  

All five churches have agreed that “Bridges to Home” will continue after this year and are making plans to continue their fundraising efforts.

Betty Bogg, Executive Director of Connections, says: “The Bridges to Home model is a simple one that has powerful repercussions. Research shows that supportive housing that combines a rental subsidy with comprehensive case management and supportive services is an extremely effective way to help homeless people achieve stability. ‘Bridges to Home’ is an amazing way to fill the gap and to provide homeless people with what they really need to thrive.”