The doors to Palm Bay’s first cold-weather shelter for the homeless will open this winter at Mosaic Palm Bay United Methodist Church.
But the key was forged in 2014, when Orange County teacher and homeless activist Tom Rebman made the decision to live on the streets of Orlando for 30 days to raise awareness and money for those with no resources and nowhere to go.
“We have the largest homeless population, and we're the largest city in Brevard County, so for us to be without a cold night shelter made no sense," Rebman told News 6 WKMG.
On August 4, members of area faith-based organizations, Palm Bay City Council and community sponsors that included the Brevard Homeless Coalition, Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce, Palm Bay Rotary, Volunteers of America and Community of Hope, gathered at Mosaic for a ribbon-cutting event.
|Mosaic Palm Bay UMC will be home to Palm Bay's first cold-weather shelter for the homeless this winter.|
“Mosaic is honored to serve as a shelter,” said Pastor Sean Peters, who established the church just over a year ago with his wife, Sandra.
“The City Council held a homeless workshop last March, and we attended since we were trying to get out among the public, meet people, get to know the community. As they were talking about having the largest community of homeless people, but no shelter or resources, I said, here’s a situation we can help with—what can we do about this?”
Peters and his wife had moved into an old UMC space and were renovating it. At a second workshop in May, Peters met Rebman, who was serving as a City Council liaison and point person on the homeless initiative.
“Tom and I got together, and he said of Mosaic: ‘This would be a great place to have a shelter,’” Peters said. “I talked to our UMC superintendent, and he gave me the green light.”
Peters had been a founding pastor at several other UMCs in North Florida and Alabama. Starting new churches is something he loves doing.
“We’re trying to build something—to be the kind of church that’s socially active, appealing to people here who are looking for a progressive place. I believe strongly in the idea that faith is lived out in how we serve ‘the least of these,’” he said, quoting Matthew 25:40.
While Mosaic offered a home for the shelter, Rebman and others held a fundraising campaign. Tomoka Christian Church alone raised $10,000.
“The initial push and monies raised are enough to support the shelter for five years,” Peters said. “There isn’t a lot of expense, really. Volunteers have stepped up, and there’s a very generous spirit in the community.”
Nancy Peltonen, president of the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce, praised the effort.
“Tom Rebman’s Homeless and Hungry program really got the ball rolling,” she said. “The Chamber wanted to get involved because social services are so lacking for the largest city in county—the only cold night shelter is in Melbourne, and how would the homeless get there?
“We’ve got 100 square miles in Palm Bay. Everyone has that NIMBY—not in my backyard—idea, so the churches’ willingness to step in was a really wonderful thing, and it’s nice to see it’s happening so fast. We’re thrilled to be a part of this initiative.”
Ken Stackpoole, board president of the Brevard Homeless Coalition, echoed Peltonen.
“We’re extremely pleased. The action of the City Council and the churches has been outstanding in moving this forward,” he said.
In addition to giving people a safe, warm place to stay, Stackpoole said, the shelter is an opportunity for the coalition, an umbrella organization of about 75 agencies, to provide aid for people who are otherwise living on the streets and hard to find.
“Our agencies provide people with housing, mental care, healthcare, help with the justice system and many other things,” Stackpoole said. “We’re glad that when the cold weather comes, they now have somewhere to go.”
Volunteers of America, a faith-based service organization, will offer case management and oversight at the shelter.
|Pastor Sean and Sandra Peters.|
“It’s more than just a place to sleep,” Peters said.
With this successful collaboration, the small congregation—about 60 regular members—seeks more “opportunities to be hands and feet of Jesus in the community,” Peters said. “We need to do more than hold worship services. We have to go to where people are, bring the church to them and be part of their lives.”
Mosaic now offers free meals on Sunday mornings. Peters said they have a deep concern about environmental issues and are helping to clean area waterways. They have also reached out to the LGBTQ community, taking part in the Space Coast Pride Parade.
“LGBTQ folks have often been rejected by Christian churches, and we want them to know we welcome them,” he said.
Mosaic is participating in the Brevard Interfaith Alliance, which includes Buddhists, Jews and members of the Baha’i, “a beautiful gathering of different faiths,” Peters said.
“We’ve got a lot of big dreams about what we want to do,” he said. “When you’re wired entrepreneurially, you’re always thinking about the next thing.”
One of them is a performing arts center. Peters and his wife have an arts background, and they have a plan for a summer/after-school program that exposes kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it to art, dance, drama and music.
They also have plans for a recovery ministry.
“People are trying to find ways to deal with their hopelessness, and they are sometimes destructive and dysfunctional,” Peters said.
“We want to create a safe place for people to come and heal. If we believe in Jesus, we should, as He did, offer grace to people who don’t have a lot of grace or hope in their lives.”
It is the perfect way to illustrate the church’s name: Mosaic.
The idea of Mosaic, he said, “is a bunch of broken pieces—different shapes, different sizes, creating a community that’s a masterpiece. We want this to be a place of healing where the broken folks can find their way to us. That’s our prayer.”
--Eileen Spiegler is a freelance writer based in Ft. Lauderdale.