Text by Dixie Lobmeyer
Jesus used the illustration of salt and light in the Sermon on the Mount, one of His main teachings on morality and discipleship (Matthew 5:13-16).
Salt, once the only resource to preserve food, has been replaced by refrigeration. And today, light is available to us at all times with the flick of a switch. With the inundation of 20th-century technologies, we often miss Jesus’ main point about salt and light. His metaphors addressed the impact that one’s faithfulness to God should have in the world. It should illuminate and preserve. Like both salt and light, our relationship with God should positively impact everyone with whom contact is made.
“‘Salt and light’ spoke to the project in the way that it is gritty and caustic, yet seasoned with goodness, light and love of community,” says Adrianne Hillman, Salt + Light Works founder and CEO. “It feels like the purpose of this is to serve the homeless. Yet to me, the real purpose is to show people a way to love others the way that Jesus did. That’s the real gold here. People will be witnessing us truly loving our neighbors.”
Adrianne — life coach, speaker, writer, mother, wife and lifelong Tulare County resident and community leader — felt the call to serve while in the front row at Neighborhood Church in Visalia.
Late Pastor Steve Harms was giving a sermon on loving people the way that we are called to in Christ. This sparked the flame in Adrianne’s heart to serve the homeless community.
“I pushed the thought away, immediately thinking this is not the direction I’ve been going,” she said. A few weeks later, she was asked to serve on the Lighthouse Rescue Mission board and accepted as a way to answer this new calling.
Fast forward a few years, she was still serving on the Lighthouse Rescue Mission board and Tulare’s Homeless Ad Hoc Committee when she learned of the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, from a podcast in which founder Alan Graham was promoting his book, “Welcome Homeless.” Eager to learn more, she dove deep into the project’s specifics, Graham’s book and his successful efforts to serve the chronically homeless. After attending a symposium at the Austin village, learning the essentials behind the inner workings of the movement and how individuals can bring this purposeful model to their own cities, Adrianne knew that her life would not be the same.
“I felt ill-equipped and daunted by the challenge. I am not a developer nor did I know anything about running a nonprofit,” Adrianne admitted. “I knew this was my call. After a year of praying and asking God for guidance, I accepted the challenge in its entirety. I formed the nonprofit, developed the plan and officially launched Oct. 12 of this year.”
Unveiled at a kick-off party, themed “In My Backyard” — a play on the common characterization of opposition used when a homeless resource center or shelter is proposed in a city — Graham shared his theory on homelessness and Adrianne’s vision for Salt + Light Works to hundreds of Tulare County dignitaries and com-munity leaders gathered in her backyard.
Graham believes that the single greatest cause of homelessness is “a profound, catastrophic loss of family.” He first answered the call to “love your neighbor” in 1998 through his mobile meal service, Mobile Loaves and Fishes. With the help of others, he formed the idea
of Community First! in 2007 and, after much “not in my backyard” pushback, broke ground in 2014. Today, the 51-acre master-planned community will serve more than 200 formerly homeless men and women at full capacity.
“It’s a new, old way of living,” Adrianne said. “It goes back to the tribal community atmosphere where no one was left behind. The one human need we all share is to be fully seen, fully known and understood, and to connect with other human beings.”
Salt + Light Works will closely follow the Community First! model with some exceptions. Funded through grants and private donations, there is a three-step approach to radically shift the trajectory of homelessness in California. Engagement is the first phase, with the primary focus on educational and relational growth to better understand who our homeless neighbors are. Phase Two is building the long-term and sustainable community village. Once that occurs, Phase Three will be to multiply those efforts statewide.
The community village will be made up of three components — homes, micro-enterprises and healing. Starting with a proposed 20 acres, the community will house more than 200 once-homeless neighbors in tiny homes with community kitchens, laundry, weekly dinners and events. Micro-enterprises will provide the opportunity for residents to utilize their talents, develop new skills and earn a dignified income. Opportunities on-site will include a coffeehouse and bakery, workshop and art house, outdoor movie theater, community garden and farm, plus others led by staff leaders who will attend weekly job fairs to present what is offered at the micro-enterprise. The third component will incorporate both mental and physical healing resources on-site. There will be many points of care, including medical and mental health clinics, monthly mobile dental clinics, support groups (i.e., Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous), Bible study, yoga and wellness classes.
One key component that will differ from the Austin model will be a memorial garden and columbarium. “One fear shared among the homeless community is dying alone, being buried in a pauper’s grave and having no one to celebrate their lives,” Adrianne said. “The columbarium is our way of showing our residents and neighbors that we will love them all the way through their lives and that they will never be alone.”
Unlike the Community First! Village, Salt + Light Works will not have RVs on-site. Permanent homes will be available for both those who were once homeless and those who volunteer to downscale from their current living conditions and live in the community — including Adrianne and her husband, Scott.
Those living within the community must follow three basic guidelines: pay rent, obey civil law and obey community rules, which mimic those commonly found within homeowner associations, such as keeping your dog on a leash. Contrary to most rehabilitation programs or housing for the homeless, those residing within the community will not be required to participate in faith-based resources such as Bible study or church services.
“We are not interested in churching people,” Adrianne said. “These folks
are so fragile and traumatized. These services will be openly and freely
offered for everyone who are willing to participate.”
Another key element that sets Salt + Light Works apart from other programs is the lack of a requirement to be alcohol- and drug-free in order to be welcomed into the community and receive help. “We believe in the power of community to help people settle and heal because we know the origination of addiction comes from loneliness and trauma,” Adrianne said. “We can’t expect people to overcome those internal battles without offering them the help that they need.”
“We will not take in sexual predators; that is the only eliminator,” she said. “We will partner with local agencies that track the local homeless with the HMIS system to determine who has the most need. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to serve all of the need at first, due to lack of funding. Eventually, that is our goal to grow and serve everyone in need.”
Community First! in Austin operates under the same rules and regulations, along with a three-strike system for residents. Salt + Light Works plans to incorporate those along with other safety efforts enforced in Austin to keep the community secure. Surprisingly, since the development of Community First!, there have been seven crimes, all of which were committed against those living within the village by outsiders.
“If they can do it in Austin, I know we can do it here,” Adrianne added. “The best way people can help is by leading us to people that can help develop this master-planned community. Whether you know someone who knows someone or you may be that someone, help us speed up the process and construct this community from the ground up.”
To learn more or to get involved, visit SaltAndLightWorks.org.