Mustard Tree Ministry aims to move people from tent cities into housing, reaching out through church services and meals.
Two hundred homeless and formerly homeless people gather for various church services throughout the week led by Mustard Tree Ministry's the Rev. Barry Kidwell, of Hixson. Kidwell began ministering on a regular basis to the homeless 10 years ago.
"Our ministry helps people in tent cities and under bridges," said Kidwell, adding that downtown Chattanooga has several tent cities. "We are focusing on helping people in the tent city on Cameron Hill."
Mustard Tree and partnering churches are focusing on finding Cameron Hill tent city dwellers housing; 12 people have already packed up and moved into housing. Volunteers hope to move eight more from the hill into housing by Feb. 1, Kidwell said.
He said the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition has helped ministry volunteers find places for former tent city residents at The Overlook and rental houses from Lupton City to Eastlake. The coalition provides housing vouchers to supplement their rent.
Aside from finding housing, Kidwell said ministry volunteers work with churches to furnish the homes and provide food and Bible studies for people in need. He said many of the ministry volunteers were once on the streets themselves and now live in housing.
Formerly located inside Forrest Avenue United Methodist Church, the ministry now operates out of First Baptist Church and First Centenary United Methodist Church downtown and Brainerd United Methodist Church.
Ministry volunteers prepare meals at Brainerd UMC Wednesday mornings to take to the streets of Chattanooga at noon. The ministry hosts meetings for the homeless and volunteers at First Baptist Thursdays at 6 p.m. for a dinner and Bible study. Ministry volunteers and clients also meet at First Centenary UMC Sundays at 5 p.m. for worship.
Kidwell said he estimates that 500-600 people in the Chattanooga area at present are homeless. He said even though the average age of a homeless person is 13, the average age Mustard Tree assists is 36. Homeless families with children are referred to the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, Room at the Inn and Interfaith Homeless Network.
"We try to get people off the street," said Kidwell. "We serve urban homeless averaging 152 to 200 people on Thursdays. We have 80 people in attendance on Sunday nights. On Wednesdays we serve food to 100 to 200 people on the street."
Kidwell said he has always felt the biblical calling to help the poor. He said his ministry began by taking recycling to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen where he met people in need of assistance.