Lead Homelessness, a national initiative formed to fight the causes and effects of homelessness in the United States, has named David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, one of the “11 Most Important Leaders Needed to Solve Homelessness in Orlando.” Others named to the list include Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer; Linda Gonzalez, Vice President of Social Responsibility for the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association (NBA); and Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In a video presentation produced by Lead Homelessness, Swanson said that in his 13 years as pastor at the downtown Orlando church, “the primary need I have faced, since day one, has been how to deal with the countless numbers of homeless people that have been on our steps, that are in our church on Sunday mornings, that are coming seeking money, shelter, and all the different needs that they have. It has been a constant challenge.”
Under his leadership, First Presbyterian Church has spent $1.5 million serving the homeless population of Central Florida. However, he emphasized that while those efforts helped people, they did not address the systemic issues that caused homelessness. In a partnership with the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness and the Lead Homelessness initiative, efforts are now focused on securing permanent supportive housing, in addition to meeting felt needs.
Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, noted that homelessness in the United States is a ministry opportunity for every city-center church, and many suburban and rural congregations as well.
“The emphasis that First Orlando is involved with in helping secure housing for the homeless is having a major impact in a major city,” he said. “What this church is doing can be a real model for all our EPC city-center churches.”
Swanson emphasized that ministry to the homeless, while not always easy, can have long-term significance in many ways.
“One of the Church’s most effective witnesses is the manner in which she serves the larger community,” he said. “Being actively engaged with community leaders, civil servants, non-profit leaders, and elected officials builds positive relationships while also addressing larger social issues. It is often a winsome and positive way to intrepret the gospel to a city. This has been the case for us as it has engaged us with the city of Orlando in the area of homelessness.”