Mobilizing the community to care for homeless students


Five years ago, Pastor Parris Patrick felt God calling him to something new. He spent 40 days fasting and praying in a closet in his home. A few days later, Patrick attended a local school board meeting, where the topic of homeless students came up. He learned that there were hundreds of homeless children in Alief Independent School District, located in the Houston area. 

“It's as if God spoke to me at that moment and said, that's it—that’s what you're supposed to do. I didn't hear anything else in that meeting,” said Patrick, who serves as pastor of Agape Community Bible Church in Alief. 

The next day, Patrick went to the school administration building to meet with Jennifer Keys, the director of special programs at the time. Patrick shared with Keys what God laid on his heart about caring for the homeless children in the community. The two sat together for four hours and developed a plan on how to care for this vulnerable population of students. 

Less than 24 hours later, Patrick’s phone rang with an unexpected call. Maria Avalos, the McKinney-Vento social worker for Alief ISD, called to ask Patrick if he could help with a homeless student in great need. There was a 16-year-old student named Andy, whose mother just passed away and his extended family was unable to care for him. 

“Andy didn't have anywhere to go and we had kind of done everything on our end to figure something out for him,” Avalos said. “Whenever that happened, I didn't really know what to do. And the only person that came in mind was Pastor Paris because I saw the passion that he had for really helping us.” 

Patrick called his wife, and their family joined together to pray for Andy and for God to show them how they could help. 

“We all felt very comfortable that God was telling us to help this young man,” Patrick recalled. “We all knew what it meant—that he was going to live with us. And so I called the District back and said we want to help him and not only do we want to help him, but we're going to allow him to stay with us.”

A permanent home for Andy and the birth of a new ministry

Andy moved in with the Patrick family the next day, one week shy of his 17th birthday. 

“Ever since then, he has since become my son,” Patrick said. “Andy shared with me that he had always prayed that God would send him a father, and even though it was sad that his mom died, he felt like God answered his prayers by joining our family.” 

Within a couple of weeks of living with the Patricks, Andy accepted Jesus as his Savior and became a Christian. The Patricks also started the process of adopting Andy as their legal son. 

As the Patricks began caring for Andy, they also learned more about other homeless students in the school district and immediate needs they had. 

Out of this passion, Patrick formed the Alief Coalition for the Homeless (ACH). He began networking with local churches, businesses, and community leaders to pull resources together to serve some of the most vulnerable in their community.

Networking to meet needs

In 2018, there were 1,900 homeless students in Alief ISD. Through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act, the school district is able to employ two social workers who identify homeless children and connect them with needed services.  

When Alief ISD identifies a homeless family, they contact Patrick and the ACH network begins to work to meet immediate needs. 

“Pastor Paris supports us in any way that we may need,” Avalos said. “If we call him up and tell him that we have a need for dresses for a prom event, or we're having a toy drive, or a school supplies drive...that we need housing for student or for a family, he is always there to answer and to help us out.” 

Another aspect of ACH is a home for homeless boys called Andy’s House. When Andy’s mom passed away, she left her home to Andy and he decided the best way to use the house was to create a place for other boys to have a home when they found themselves homeless. After several renovations, in the summer of 2018, Andy’s House began to welcome homeless students in need of a safe haven. 

Four boys have lived in the home, three of whom were reunited with their families within six months. Curtis Jacobs serves as the “house dad” and is a constant source of love, encouragement, and stability for the housemates. 

“When we get the unaccompanied young boys, there's a process we go through to make sure that we're able to minister to them in the needs of giving them a stable environment,” Patrick said. 

ACH receives weekly requests to serve homeless families and students in their community. He relies upon a well-developed network to meet needs as they arise. 

“We have a network in our Coalition where we can make sure they get clothes, and pretty quickly if they need food, we can make sure they have food,” Patrick said. Local churches and business leaders respond within hours to an email sent out with needs and God provides. 

The Agape Community Bible Church, a Texas Baptist church and member of the Union Baptist Association, has also embraced ACH as a church-wide ministry. When a family is in need of shelter for a day or two, volunteers from the church will set up one of the rooms at the building to serve them. 

They set-up cots and sleeping bags, provide a warm meal, and many times bring other children up to the church to play games with the family and provide a safe environment for them. 

“This highlights the importance of the partnership between the Coalition and our churches,” Patrick said. “You’re helping work with people who can identify the need and then use your resources to meet that need. Just talk about that partnership. The only way to do this is to do together what we cannot do by ourselves. There's absolutely no way that one organization, one church, or one company is going to be able to solve this problem.” 

ACH is a Texas Baptist Hunger Offering recipient. Gifts through the Hunger Offering are used to provide food and basic necessities for the families and homeless students served by the ministry.

Visit hungeroffering.org for videos, stories and more resources to promote the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering in your church.

Related articles: Building healthy and strong families in Peru / Today we have hope, today we are fed: Texas Baptist Hunger Offering at Work / Cyclists weather storms to end hunger