The True Cost Of Ministry

Last week I posted about 5 difficult things we learned at Impact! Ministries this summer. One of those things was that we needed a new model for funding the outreach to the impoverished along with the regular fixed expenses that comes with the day-to-day operations of a ministry organization. In an effort to be completely transparent and open, I thought it might be best to post what our actual costs are on a monthly basis. These totals are based on Impact! Ministries’ costs from June 2019. They are pretty indicative of our normal monthly expenses these days. During that month we had 3 families in hotels as temporary housing, was working with 7 more families to get them into permanent housing, 11 families going through the assessment process, provided 17 homeless vets with transportation to the VA hospital in Tampa and made countless trips to deliver food, clothing and supplies to those in need. It was also the month where 85% of our donations were designated by the donor for specific homeless families. That means that only 15% of the financial donations we received in June 2019 could be used for the expenses listed in this blog post. All totals have been rounded down.

$3150.00 – Temporary Housing

In the month of June we had 3 separate families needing temporary housing. When we got the referral calls from other area agencies we found one family living in their van, another family living in an abandoned home and another family sleeping on park benches at night. At the time, every temporary housing option in Central Florida (Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando) was full. As a result we cut a deal with a local hotel in Winter Haven to put these families up for a set price of $350 a week. Only one of the families needed to be housed for the entire month, so we ended up only having to pay for 9 weeks total for all 3 families to be off the streets until we could get them into permanent housing.

$2100.00 – Permanent Housing

In the month of June we worked with several other area agencies, ministries, and churches to help 7 families get into permanent housing. While other organizations helped with the costs of rental deposits, initial housing costs, furniture donations, groceries and cleaning supplies, Impact! Ministries was responsible for finding the housing, getting the families moved in and covering the deposit cost for utilities (electricity, water and trash pickup). We have a going rate with the City of Lakeland to pay a set deposit of $300 for each family we help.

$350.00 – Co-working Office

On any given month Impact! Ministries is taking 10-15 homeless families and individuals through the process of obtaining permanent housing. This involves quite a few meetings, assessment sessions and office work (filing forms, making calls, receiving mail, etc.). We also have monthly staff meetings, volunteer training classes and quarterly board meetings. Having an office at a local co-working organization (meaning several business share office space, conference rooms and post office boxes in the same building) means we have a central location to work from. When dealing with single mothers or women that are homeless, being able to meet in office space where there are plenty of other people around provides comfort and a sense of safety. It also provides accountability for other male volunteers and myself when we have to meet with a female for assessment purposes.

$325.00 – Storage

Impact! Ministries maintains two storage units in town – one small air conditioned unit and one large non-air conditioned unit. We are constantly receiving donations of food, clothing, furniture, cleaning supplies and appliances that need to be stored until they are distributed to those in need. There are also times when we have to put a homeless family’s personal belongings in storage until we can get them into permanent housing.

It was also the month where 85% of our donations were designated by the donor for specific homeless families. That means that only 15% of the financial donations we received in June 2019 could be used for the expenses listed in this blog post.

– Rev. Chris Elrod

$650.00 – Insurance

When dealing with the homeless, volunteers and staff there is always the potential for physical injury or loss of resources. As a result, Impact! Ministries carries liability insurance as a financial safety net if someone gets hurt or injured. Every day we are going into the woods, abandoned buildings and walking the streets to find new folks to help. Every month we have projects that involve volunteers providing clean up, moving furniture or fixing property. You never know when an accident will happen and when an ER trip is needed. We also carry insurance on the contents of the storage buildings since we always seem to be storing a homeless family’s personal belongings.

$237.00 – Meals

Many times when we find a homeless family they have not eaten any proper food in days. Taking them to get a meal is a great way to build trust, develop a relationship and meet an immediate need. Since there are children involved we find ourselves at Chick-fil-A (great food and a wonderful play area for kids) quite a bit for these meals. Also, we have a great relationship with the managers of both of the Lakeland Chick-fil-A restaurants and they will comp the meals when possible. In the month of June 2019 we took 9 families out for dinner.

$425.00 – Fuel

Each month Impact! volunteers and staff use our personal vehicles to take homeless veterans to the VA hospital in Tampa, deliver food or clothing to homeless camps, run donated resources between other Lakeland agencies, drive throughout Polk County looking for new homeless camps and transport homeless families to meetings for obtaining permanent housing. When finances allow, we do our best to reimburse folks for the fuel used in these ministry opportunities.

$1400.00 – “Salaries”

“Salaries” is.a pretty loose term around Impact! Ministries. Our goal is to cover everyone’s health insurance and make sure they get around $1000 a month as a “salary” for the work they do. To say that Impact! Ministries is beyond a 40-hour-a-week job would be an understatement. Most of us are putting in well over 60 hours per week. It leaves little time for outside sources of income. Unfortunately, in the month of June 2019 there was not enough to cover ministry expenses and a salary for our staff. In the end were only able to cover the health insurance for everyone. As a result our staff members were forced to look elsewhere for income to support their families. By August everyone had found other jobs and were no longer working for Impact! Ministries. Since then I have been the only “employee” of the ministry still working “full-time” on reaching the impoverished and incarcerated. To date, health insurance is still being covered, but there has not been enough income to cover a salary (more on this in a future post).

$421.00 – Basic Business Expenses

With every organization comes basic business expenses. Phone service, postage, printing, office supplies, etc. For the month of June 2019, Impact! Ministries’ total for basic business expenses came to $421. $68 of that was a cell phone from Metro PCS that we use as a our main phone. We rent a P.O. box which is $55 per month. $40 went to postage and stamps. $173 was spent on printing postcards that we give out to the homeless. Each card lists the resources available in the area for the homeless as well as the contact information. We have to constantly update these cards as the information changes almost monthly. $62 was spent on basic business supplies (pens, pencils, paper, tape, printer cartridges, etc.). $23 was spent on new padlocks for our storage buildings as the old ones had become too rusted to use.

$9058.00 – Total Expenses

Impact! Ministries’ total expenses for June 2019 were $9058.

$7200.00 Total Donations (kind of)

Throughout the month of June 2019 we received a total of $7200 in financial donations via online giving, text-to-give and mail. However, as I stated above 85% ($6120) of those donations were designated by the donor to be used only with certain families. All of those families had already received assistance or had failed the assessments by June 2019. Essentially, these were donations that could not be used. We made contact with many of the donors to explain the situation – some allowed us to put the money toward wherever it was needed (about $1755) – but the majority asked for us to return the donation ($4365). As a result we only really received $2280 for the month of June 2019 that could be used for any ministry expense or outreach. Technically that left Impact! Ministries with a deficit of $6778 for the month of June 2019.

How did we financially make it?

Luckily Impact! Ministries had a little over $6248 in savings. Our financial buffer going into the second quarter of 2019 was a little over one full month of expenses (around $12,000). Unfortunately, the same thing we experienced in June (people designating their financial donations and more homeless families needing temporary housing than expected) also happened in April and May. Thus we had to dip into our buffer on two previous occasions by the time June 2019 rolled around leaving only $6248 in savings as a buffer. We applied the entire amount to pay for the rest of the $6778 in fixed and ministry expenses for June 2019. Not paying salaries helped us eliminate $2000 we usually paid each month. Even with the buffer applied, there was still a deficit of $530 owed. How did we pay for this? I sold a personal electric guitar on Craigslist and applied the money to the deficit.

Conclusion

As I stated in the previous blog post, we have taken steps to resolve some the financial problems we experienced this summer. I’ll explain more in a blog post coming up next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to financial contribute to the mission of Impact! Ministries please click here.

5 Difficult Things We Learned This Summer

The summer of 2019 was – by far – the most difficult season of ministry for Impact! that we’ve ever experienced. While we have been able to help get almost two dozen homeless families off the streets for good this year, there were so many others that we were not able to assist. A multitude of factors played into this, but left the Impact! team rethinking some of our strategies, partnerships, funding practices and evaluation system for determining who we could help. In the process God also laid a very specific calling on Denise (my wife) and my hearts about launching a new initiative to help a group of folks that are normally overlooked. To say that it has been an eye-opening and ministry-changing season would be an understatement. Below I’ll share five difficult things we learned this summer:

1. The homeless are getting less receptive and accessible.

Eight years ago when we started Impact! Ministries – first as a church and then more recently as a para-church ministry – the homeless were more receptive to outside people. Even those dealing with addiction and mental health issues were more friendly and accepting of people trying to help. Over the past three years we have seen a huge change in this attitude with many of our homeless friends becoming less and less receptive to outside people visiting the homeless camps. They are also coming out of the camps less often to take refuge or receive help from local shelters. Over the summer it became more prevalent than ever before. For the first time in our ministry there were certain homeless camps that the Impact! team no longer felt safe in visiting. Threats were made against us warning us not to return. Many declined even the smallest gestures of kindness and very few welcomed us back when we did return. Even from homeless families – where children were involved – there was real lack of gratitude toward any assistance. Many felt that they were entitled to the help since they had children. Almost daily we dealt with homeless mothers and fathers showing extreme levels of anger if assistance was not provided quickly and in abundance. In the end we lost volunteers and came to the realization that we needed a new way to evaluate folks before determining if we could help them.

2. We do not have a sustainable way to finance the ministry.

Every homeless or poverty relief organization in America is dealing with a lack of financial resources. Charitable giving donations are dropping across the board – especially donations to Christina organizations. Impact! Ministries has not been immune to this problem. In fact –at this very moment our operating finances all almost depleted. This summer has seen more homeless families in need than what resources would allow. On any given week, Impact! was receiving an average of 8-10 new referrals for homeless families in Polk County. These were not families staying in a hotel or folks we had already begun to work with. These were homeless families NEW to the area living in cars, tents, abandoned homes and even sleeping on park benches each night. Yes, you read that right – homeless parents and children sleeping on park benches. By early July there were no more temporary and permanent housing solutions for these families. Our only option was to put them in hotel rooms – sometimes 6-7 people to a room – just to get them off the street. As a result, finances were quickly depleted and we were forced into making some very hard decisions. In most cases we spent our last few ministry dollars on hotel rooms for the homeless to the detriment of operating expenses. As a result, there was not enough money to cover ministry needs AND for basic business expenses like storage rental (for furniture, clothing and non-perishable donations), postage, liability insurance and basic housing/medical insurance allowances for full-time staff. As we were trying to make ends meet and provide for the homeless, a large portion of financial donations we received were designated by the donor for specific families featured on our social media accounts – families which Impact! had already helped. It meant that we couldn’t use the funding anywhere else or with any other homeless family. It quickly became evident that we did not have a funding model that would financially sustain the work we were doing with the homeless and the operating expenses that comes with running a ministry. Next week I will be posting a video outlining the new ways in which we will be funding Impact! Ministries – we learned them from the amazing folks at Charity Water. By the way, if you’d like to financially support Impact! Ministries, you can click here to give securely online. You can also use our new text-to-give feature by sending a text message to 863-900-8554 and then follow the instructions in the reply. We could sure use the help right now!

3. The government is getting less compassionate and cooperative.

I think one of the reasons for the hostility I wrote about in the section above is that federal, state, county and city government officials are becoming less compassionate when it comes to dealing with the homeless. As a result, they are also becoming less cooperative when it comes to partnering with homeless relief ministries, organizations or agencies. As homeless camps and communities overrun cities across America, the homeless crisis has become front-and-center for the upcoming elections. Politicians and government officials are becoming increasingly more hostile towards the homeless – and are more determined than ever to eradicate them from their areas no – matter what it takes. As a result, there are stricter laws being enacted and enforced against the homeless. There are more law enforcement raids on homeless camps. In some cases, basic human rights are being ignored “for the good of the tax-payers”. We saw this in Polk County almost weekly this summer. Cities and counties all across the United States are demolishing affordable housing options with no plans of replacement. Finally, government officials have begun to ignore or limit the advice that they receive from the leaders of homeless ministries, agencies and organizations. In essence, we are no longer fighting poverty. We have begun fighting the poor – and the poor are beginning to fight back.

In essence, we are no longer fighting poverty. We have begun fighting the poor – and the poor are beginning to fight back.

– Rev. Chris Elrod

4. Too many women are leaving prison and going straight into homelessness.

Over the years Impact! Ministries has come to realize that many of the homeless women that we work with have spent time behind bars. Often they leave prison with little more than the clothes on their backs and $100 on a prison debit card. Job opportunities are limited and a proper support system of family or friends in almost non-existent. As a result, a large portion of these women find themselves back to committing crimes or living on the streets within months of being released. This summer almost all of the homeless women that Impact! worked with had recently been incarcerated and had no place to go when they were released. Statistics show that over 95% of the incarcerated women in America will be released – a majority serving a sentence of less than five years. Most of these are being held for non-violent crimes, but are not receiving any kind of educational help or training to prepare the women to be on their own. In essence, it is a set up for failure – almost guaranteeing that women being released from prison will surely end up homeless. Unfortunately there are very few organizations, ministries or agencies established for helping these women succeed after prison. For the most part they shuffle from one homeless shelter to another with little hope for a better life. It is for this reason that Denise and I have begun to sense God’s calling to create an initiative for providing aftercare to women being released from prison. Years ago – while I was a platform speaker for Prison Fellowship – I had a dream of a ministry called Women Without The Walls. Over the next few weeks you will begin to hear more about that dream – and how my wife and I are working to make it a reality.

5. We just can’t help everyone – even when there are children involved.

A few moths ago I posted a photo of a homeless mother and her daughter to my social media accounts. It received quite a bit of attention and response from folks wanting to help. Though we had taken the mother through our normal evaluation process at Impact!, some things fell through the cracks. Not because we were lax, but because of some basic flaws in the process itself. As the weeks pressed on we began to have concerns about the mother’s background and found multiple inconsistencies with her story. In the end we found out that she was in a toxic and controlling relationship with a man that was constantly in trouble with the law. Every dime she was making at her job would be used to buy things for him (who would not get a job) – to the detriment of her and her daughter. Things took a much different turn when we discovered that there were members of her family in the area that would give she and her daughter a place to live – but the man was not welcomed (rightly so). She just couldn’t let go of the relationship. The mother chose for her and her daughter to be homeless in order to keep a man in her life. In the end, the mother failed to meet the requirements for Impact! Ministries – and other local agencies – to help her. Fortunately the family members took her daughter in to live with them and she was doing well the last time we checked.

Unfortunately this story happens all too often – and occurred many times this summer with the families Impact! worked with. Time and again we witnessed homeless parents refusing to do the simplest of things to meet the requirements for help. Quite a few had serious addiction issues and could never pass a drug test. Many had opportunities for employment, but did not want to work – they only wanted a handout. Still others kept making poor decisions that left them and their children in dangerous situations. On more than one occasion we found out that the story the parent would tell us about how the family became homeless was a complete fabrication. If we heard the statement, “It’s not a real drug, it’s only pot” once, we heard it dozens of times. The last time I checked marijuana is still a felony charge in the State of Florida – and will definitely keep you from getting a job or financial assistance around here. In the end, we could help only about 3 out of every 10 homeless families that we evaluated. We spent almost as much time calling the Department of Children & Families as we did coordinating permanent housing options. We have now completely revamped our evaluation process and are more clear with homeless parents about what is expected from them ij order to receive assistance.

In conclusion

I realize that this is not a very positive post with happy stories. However, it is the reality of the work we do at Impact! Ministries. Our goal is always to see people come to know Jesus, but also for them to become eventually self-sufficient without the help of financial assistance. Unfortunately, we don’t see that goal achieved very often. Still – each day – we head back out into the woods, parking lots, abandoned homes and local parks searching for someone – or some family – that needs love, hope and belonging. We greatly appreciate those that volunteer with us, those that financially support our mission and those that pray daily for the work God has called Impact! to. We would ask that you continue your support as we work hard to impact lives one heart at a time.