When an elderly woman arrived recently at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, homeless and seeking help, officials at the Santa Monica congregation knew what to do.
First they contacted Darci Niva of the Westside Coalition, an alliance of local nonprofits and social service organizations, to discuss the woman’s needs.
Then they put the woman in touch with the City of Santa Monica’s Human Services Division, which offers a variety of support programs.
And then they connected her with St. Joseph Center in Venice, which coordinates a rapid rehousing initiative.
“She got the help she needed,” Niva said. “These situations end up being very collaborative.”
It was a single scenario, but it underscored the kind of collaboration that Niva is seeking to cultivate further within the local faith community, which her coalition views as a centerpiece in Santa Monica’s efforts to help people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, hungry, homeless or in need of other assistance.
Faith-based groups already play an important role in the Westside Coalition, making up 11 of its 42 member organizations, according to Niva. But officials believe there’s more progress to be mad on that front, especially considering churches and other religious institutions often serve as entry points for people seeking help.
“We’ve realized that houses of worship across the region have people coming to their door looking for assistance, and the rabbis and pastors are not always sure what resources are available or how to navigate the system,” Niva said. “People we know are being asked for rental assistance or a motel for the night, and it can be hard to know where the best help is.”
The Westside Coalition is trying to bridge that gap by hosting informational events for dignitaries in the local faith community. The goal of the events is to educate faith leaders about what to do when people in need come to their churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.
The sessions are held the first Wednesday of every month at 9 a.m. at St. Monica Catholic Church, which Niva said has been “at the forefront” of the recent effort to engage faith groups. She noted the work of Delis Alejandro, a coalition leader and a pastoral associate at the California Avenue congregation.
The coalition’s regular monthly meetings are held on third Thursdays at 9 a.m. at Mt. Olive.
Through the coalition, representatives from the Santa Monica homeless liaison program and police officials have spoken with faith leaders about addressing issues associated with the local homeless population.
“A lot of people think, ‘If I call, are they just going to arrest them?’” Niva said. “So those events have been really good.”
A popular referral destination is the aforementioned St. Joseph Center, which administers a rapid rehousing program. Niva said someone in need was recently placed in an apartment after connecting with one of the coalition’s faith partners.
Beyond bringing struggling citizens closer to the aid they seek, Niva said, members of area faith groups can also have other impacts. Through the so-called Welcome Home program, some bring furniture, toiletries and groceries to people who have already been placed in housing. Others conduct demographic surveys or advocate for funding using their collective political voice.
“The faith community is powerful by virtue of the numbers,” Niva said. “They’re fabulous partners.”