Virtual Voices

Unconventional campaigning

Campaign 2012

A rescue mission for the homeless might not be the most conventional campaign stop for a candidate for Congress. But former U.S. Rep. David McIntosh sees a good alternative to big government at the Kokomo Rescue Mission in Kokomo, Ind.

McIntosh is a leading Republican candidate for the 5th District seat that Rep. Dan Burton is leaving. The district ranges from Indianapolis' Northside into Howard and Grant counties.

The rescue mission features the best of several worlds. Homeless men, women, and children find shelter and food. The court system in Howard County has an alternative to jail or prison for some offenders. Families sometimes find a path to reconciliation, as fathers or mothers leave addictions behind.

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Children of homeless moms also can find preschool education at the women's shelter, Open Arms, which can accommodate up to 25 women and 35 children. The men's shelter has room for 56 men.

With three young children, Michelle was evicted for not paying her rent in southeastern Indiana a few months ago. "We were pretty much on the street," she told McIntosh on his recent tour of Open Arms. "I had a friend in Kokomo. She said to call Open Arms."

The shelter aims to help people find a permanent home. "We call them guests. We don't call them residents," said Kem Howell, the Open Arms director. "This is not your home."

The goal is to develop a personal success plan. "What is the root of the homelessness?" is the key question, Howell said. "It might be domestic violence. It might be a lack of financial management."

Not everyone succeeds. "Some are runners and don't want to complete the program," said Kelly Landrum, a case manager. "A lot of the ladies didn't have a mother that taught them how to live. A lot of them don't know their dads. That can make it hard for them to know how to relate to men."

Jason Camery sees relationship skills as critical for the men. He is associate pastor of the Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kokomo, which welcomes guests from the mission. A former policeman, he has seen the homeless problem from several angles.

"A lot of these men have broken relationships on multiple levels, with civil government, jail and restitution-and with mother, father, son, daughter, wife," Camery noted. "When they understand the vertical relationship with God and reconciliation with Him through Christ, that provides the avenue for reconciliation with their loved ones, neighbors, and society."

McIntosh sees the mission as a vital alternative, as federal spending must shrink.

"We'll need more effective cooperation between government and faith-based institutions," he said. "A faith-based institution is ideally suited for this work because they recognize that each person is uniquely a child of God, created different than others. So each person needs a unique path for healing and restoration."

From that perspective, a rescue mission is a fitting campaign stop for a candidate for Congress.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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