When Sister Miriam Joanne hears a hard luck story from someone needing a little help to buy a prescription or pay the utilities, she has a solution. As long as the recipient is willing to work.
Sister Miriam Joanne, from Catholic Community Services, is chairwoman of the multidenominational Salt Lake Urban Social Ministries. It's an organization dedicated to the notion that churches can combine their resources and expertise to help others help themselves. Among the members are Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and Unitarians. Any inner-city church is welcome to join."It's a wonderful interdenominational group which came out of the inner city churches' problem in dealing with people who were in need coming to their doors. What's the best way to deal with those temporary sorts of requests people get for an emergency that requires a monetary donation?" said Sue Baker, a member of the group who represents the First Unitarian Church. "We like the concept of working for the money, instead of giving a handout."
In the Dignity in Work Program, someone who has an emergency and can't meet the cost of rent, utilities, a prescription or job-related needs such as uniforms and tools can apply at participating churches for assistance. The need is verified, then the applicant is sent to the Salvation Army to work for a maximum of 10 hours at a rate of $5 an hour. It's a one-time offer and the salary is paid through the goodwill offerings provided by the participating churches.
It's only the first step as SLUSM tries to meet the needs of the community.
During their first general meeting this year, members of the group targeted the housing crunch that poor people face as the main issue they'll tackle in the coming year.
They'll look at various aspects of the housing crisis, said Chuck White, who represents Mount Tabor Lutheran Church. For instance, there's always a need for transitional housing to help people who have been in homeless shelters get back into their own places.
"There's the issue of churches creating housing, such as Calvary Baptist did with Calvary Towers," White said. "And churches that need additional parking or expansion versus preservation of housing stock. How can they do both?
"We want to go in two directions: provide ideas on how congregations can become directly involved, like by adopting a transitional unit or through Habitat for Humanity. And also some direction and help in how to impact legislative action," he said.
"It's really a huge problem," Sister Miriam Joanne said. "We'll have people come in from various housing agencies who will be able to give us information and we can then decide what to do as a group."
They also want to take an active role as advocates for those who are poor or homeless or somehow disadvantaged. They've joined a coalition called the Utah Jubilee Action Network, which selects about five issues it feels are paramount to address during the Legislature.
Salt Lake Urban Social Ministries hopes in the future to take on other issues like ritual abuse, child abuse and day-care availability for low-income families.
In the past, they've looked at hunger and tenant-landlord issues.
Besides representatives from various churches, meetings are often attended by local organizations such as the Indian Walk-In Center, Travelers Aid Society, the Community Action Program and Salvation Army.
For information on SLUSM, call Sister Miriam Joanne at 977-9119 or Eileen Flowers at 322-5869.