"Home for the holidays?" As many of us take that option for granted, there are thousands among us for whom a home is only a dream. Yet, I take heart in our community's new robust commitment to help the homeless across our region.
I'm excited: In almost 30 years as a spiritual leader of Northland Church and as an involved citizen in Central Florida, this is the highest level of focus and passion to help the homeless across this region that I have ever seen. As a board member of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, and a participant in CFCH's recent trip to Houston, I am seeing firsthand the tremendous momentum for creating solutions for homelessness.
We have some initial reasons for optimism. Recently, local leaders committed more than $10 million in just one week. Florida Hospital's huge multimillion-dollar commitment helped lead the way in this new beginning to provide permanent solutions for the homeless.
Just days after those commitments, more than 300 faith leaders from throughout the region joined together in an historic summit to address this critical issue. The room was packed with the top leaders, and almost every faith group of our region was represented. The event was hosted by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. The mayors talked about the critical role the faith community must play as the moral compass of this issue, and as those who serve on the front lines each day with the homeless.
By themselves, neither government agencies nor generous businesses nor faith communities can turn the tide for us. As a pastor, I believe it is critical to know the "times and seasons" of God — the divine moments that are ordained from above to see great change happen. I believe that this is the season for all citizens in our community to address homelessness in Central Florida.
In the next few weeks, you will see many of Central Florida's leaders on billboards and social media holding signs that say "Rethink Change," signaling the second phase of the Commission on Homelessness "Rethink Homelessness" campaign. This will be a call to action for every person in this community to get involved in his or her own way to help the homeless and the needy, to rethink what creating real change for the homeless requires from each of us in time, talent and treasure.
In the past, the approach in this community has been to delegate to others, to agencies and experts, the responsibility of addressing the needs of those on the streets. That approach does not make a real, permanent difference for most of the homeless population. The reality is that to actually solve the problem, we all need to be committed to doing something.
One of the greatest Christmas miracles would be for us all together to help those who are homeless find real solutions to get off the streets. Other communities in our country have been successful in addressing this issue; we can do the same.
One common denominator to their success turned out to be citizens compelled by their values and faith to act. Let's not wait for some other "Good Samaritan" to come along and do what we ourselves can do. We intend to show you ways you can participate, and there are many ways to share your blessings that will permanently transform the lives of the homeless and needy.
So as you sit down this holiday season with your family and friends, please think about all the blessings you have been given by your Creator, starting with a roof over your head and food on the table. Let us all take time this Christmas to remember those veterans, children, people with disabilities and struggling families who do not have the security of a home or even a warm meal this holiday season.
My thoughts and prayers will include asking what else I can do to help the hungry and the homeless in the days and months to come, and I ask you join me in that search. This is our community together. Let's ensure that this is the last Christmas many of the needy spend on the streets or in makeshift lodgings. There should be "room" for them in the inn that is Central Florida.
The Rev. Joel C. Hunter is senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood.