Love Grows Here: Finding Human Connection in a Community Wellness Center
Loneliness is a common experience for people who are transitioning out of homelessness and are not connected to services and community. They may have difficulty building new relationships. It may be tempting to return to the streets in search of connection and community. “If you have no capacity to build new relationships, you may feel like an imposter in your own home,” says Bret Byfield. He is a volunteer at the Love Grows Here Wellness Center. It is a faith-based program offering human connectivity, access to health care, housing, and community resources.
You have just transitioned out of homelessness. Here is the key to your new apartment, your bed, and your television. Here is your shiny new life. Now what?
Loneliness is a common experience for people who are exiting homelessness and disconnected from services and the community. They may have difficulty building new relationships. It may be tempting to return to the streets in search of connection. “If you have no capacity to build new relationships, you may feel like an imposter in your own home,” says Bret Byfield. Bret is a social worker for South Metro Human Services in St. Paul, Minnesota and a volunteer at the Love Grows Here Wellness Center.
The Love Grows Here Wellness Center is a project of The First Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Every Wednesday evening, the Wellness Center creates a space of welcome for people transitioning out of homelessness. It offers a meal, healing services, consultations with a nurse practitioner, and most importantly – a human connection.
The Wellness Center started three years ago with nine people at a Sunday morning breakfast. Today 300 people come for breakfast each week. As volunteers from the church began to understand the needs in their community, they realized there was a need for evening hours. They recruited nurses from the Metropolitan State University System (MNSCU) to offer blood pressure readings, exams, foot care, medical triage, health education, and referrals to help people find an ongoing source of primary care.
A former psychiatric nurse volunteers as a cook. Bret describes her as “a monstrously loving woman who works clinical and culinary magic every week.” She often plans meals around a healing theme. Another couple drives 45 miles to volunteer every Wednesday regardless of the tough Minnesota weather.
A group called Ministering Angels formed a non-profit out of a collaboration among twelve churches and individuals who have donated supplies. Ministering Angels is a separate 501(c)3 organization that has emerged as a very valuable partner and collaborator in the development of the wellness center. They maintain storage space at the church and strengthen the mission of the center.
The Love Grows Here Wellness Center is a partnership between The First Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN, Metropolitan State University, The Hubert Humphrey Center, Ministering Angels, and volunteers from the community.
The Love Grows Here Wellness Center is planning to expand their hours to offer another weekly evening of food, community, and alternative healing offerings. “We are learning that energy healing work is very powerful. It helps people to change their outlook,” says Bret. “People who have been homeless have endured a full-time job in survival.”
Bret describes a typical evening at the Love Grows Here Wellness Center. “All of this strength, resiliency, beauty, pain, suffering, and hurt come together in one room. The space is filled with resiliency and pain in equal measure.” He believes that the key to reaffirming hope is through the power of human connection.
“Our society has relegated helping people who experience homelessness to government agencies and professionals. We need to make room for the community to help. As individuals in a world of scarcity and abundance, I believe each of us needs something to stand for besides our own individual selves. Each of us has the capacity to care for one another,” shares Bret. It is this philosophy of creating opportunities for people to care about each other that is the underlying strength of the Love Grows Here Wellness Center.
What’s next for Wellness Center? Staff are working with local university partners to collect data about the impact of the program. They are hopeful that the model could be replicated. Initial results show reduced emergency room visits among clients. In partnership with Lutheran Social Services, the Wellness Center has applied for state tax credits that would help to develop new housing units on campus. The Wellness Center is also talking with area landlords who are willing to rent housing to clients. This development is a direct result of the strength of relationships developed through a community that cares.
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