Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness

At first glance, the work of advocacy training, hosting gubernatorial forums, and community organizing may seem like purely political acts. But for Heidi McAllister and her colleagues at Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness, working for social justice is fundamentally an act of faith. Sixteen houses of worship in downtown Minneapolis comprise DCEH, coming together to combat a range of systemic injustices that often exacerbate poverty and contribute to homelessness. McAllister describes this commitment as a “calling,” stating: “[A]ll faith traditions believe that we should all be working for the common good.”  Two mosques, one synagogue, one Unitarian Universalist society, and twelve churches—nine Protestant, two Catholic, and one Greek Orthodox[1]—form the core leadership of DCEH. 

Although interfaith collaboration flourishes among its sixteen member congregations, DCEH’s community events and workshops also attract diverse participants from the wider community.  Building these ever-increasing networks is key to DCEH’s effort to end homelessness in the Twin Cities. DCEH organizes its efforts around “building relationships, education, and civic engagement.”  Relationships take on a variety of forms, from case managers that offer support to homeless youth, to community-organized food and clothing donations, to the 1,045 member-strong advocacy network. The strength of these relationships is reflected in DCEH’s structure and the organization’s impact within the community. A Steering Committee comprised of representatives from each member congregation and the Congregational Organizer, Heidi McAllister, is charged with setting and furthering the goals of DCEH. To this end, the Steering Committee is divided into four subcommittee teams that focus on advocacy, education, direct service and fund development, respectively.  “Our strength is that we gather people together,” adds McAllister.

Since its founding in 2007, DCEH’s networks and impact have grown exponentially.  Recent collaborations include a civic engagement-focused training with state legislators to discuss how to end homelessness; conversations on relevant issues within the community such as panhandling; and educational events such as the “Sabbath to End Homelessness” and a performance of “Homeroom,” a play written, created, and acted by formerly homeless individuals and others.  Additionally, the Currie Avenue Partnership, created by DCEH in 2010 along with the Downtown Business Council, assists people experiencing homelessness and those threatened by homelessness in transitioning to permanent housing. As of late 2011, funds have been raised to house over 150 people.  DCEH also partners with Heading Home Hennepin, the 10-year plan of the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County to end homelessness in the area by 2016.       

“Homelessness confronts us daily, and is something our congregations wrestle with in terms of how we need to respond to requests for support,” says McAllister.  DCEH grew out of what she calls a common need for all faith traditions to respond to issues of social and economic inequality, and from a desire to work together to end homelessness in addition to stymieing its impact.  While many of DCEH’s services provide immediate relief through food, clothing, shelter, vouchers, etc., these services go hand in hand with a commitment to creating long-term solutions by providing educational and civic engagement opportunities. The Basilica of Saint Mary, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Saint Olaf Catholic Church, Community Emergency Services created by Augustana Lutheran and Central Lutheran Church offer programs on computer literacy, legal advocacy, financial assistance, financial education, as well as spiritual guidance and “listening” sessions. These efforts go beyond simply providing a hot meal to create spaces for the city’s voiceless to share their stories.

Together, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations in downtown Minneapolis are working together to raise awareness about homelessness and overcome what McAllister describes as “Minnesota not-so-nice,” that is, the tendency to ignore and avoid issues of poverty and homelessness.  The work of DCEH is built on a foundation of interfaith partnership and the desire to empower Minnesota’s overlooked and marginalized homeless populations. By bringing different faith and philosophical backgrounds together, DCEH continues to build on a strong foundation of relationships and commitment to the common good.


[1] Member congregations include Augustana Lutheran Church, The Basilica of Saint Mary, Central Lutheran Church, First Christian Church, First Covenant Church, First Unitarian Society, Gethsemane Episcopal Church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Masjid An-Nur, Masjid Al-Ikhlas, Plymouth Congregational Church, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, Saint Olaf Catholic Church, Temple Israel, and Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness