‘The urgency of now’: Faith leaders, residents raise awareness for winter shelter, remember MLK’s legacy


Jorja Siemons/Daily Senior Staffer

Walk for Warmth participants gather outside First United Methodist Church, which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited nearly 60 years ago to raise awareness for resources for Evanston’s houseless and housing insecure.

Jorja Siemons and Divya Bhardwaj

On May 19, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached to Evanston residents at First United Methodist Church about each person’s role in creating a strong community. 

“We cannot all be doctors or lawyers, but all work has dignity if it contributes to the welfare of humanity,” King said. “If you sweep streets, then sweep streets as Shakespeare wrote poetry.” 

Nearly 60 years later, religious leaders and residents gathered outside the same church at the corner of Hinman Avenue and Church Street to raise awareness about resources available for Evanston’s unhoused population. 

The fourth annual Walk for Warmth’s route passed by each of the eight faith communities that host Interfaith Action of Evanston’s rotating winter shelter. Open October through May, the shelter accommodates 25 people a night.

A group of participants walk across the street in downtown Evanston, with one person holding a “Connections for the Homeless” sign.
Connections for the Homeless was one of more than 40 organizations that participated in Interfaith Action’s Walk for Warmth. (Divya Bhardwaj/Daily Senior Staffer)

Mayor Daniel Biss and the Rev. Michael Nabors, the senior pastor at Second Baptist Church, opened the event before participants began the 2-mile walk through Downtown Evanston. 

A rainy forecast threatened to cancel the event, but organizers decided to persevere. 

“We realized the people we serve are homeless people who don’t have that option to stay home and stay warm,” Interfaith Action President Melissa Appelt said.

Many of the more than 300 registrants, representing more than 40 organizations, participated. While the event was not primarily a fundraiser, Interfaith Action also raised more than $26,000 of its $30,000 goal, as of Monday evening.

The nonprofit organization started the rotating shelter program in the winter of 2018, according to Board Secretary Carol Wilson. Unlike a previous iteration of the program, this rotating shelter would not be temperature-dependent and will be reliably open to residents.

Each faith community hosts the shelter for three weeks at a time. Two shelter sites also offer daytime services to unhoused residents that extend past the shelter’s 6:45 a.m. closing time. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church offers a hospitality center during weekdays. Hilda’s Place, located in the basement of Lake Street Church, hosts a weekend warming shelter.

Minister Pamela Little, an Interfaith Action delegate from Second Baptist Church, said the event encourages broader community engagement. 

“There’s power in numbers,” Little said. “Every single person represents a vote, and that makes a difference.”

Faith leaders expressed the need to unite for the common cause of aiding Evanston’s unhoused residents, guided by their unique faith-based and humanitarian principles.  

Rabbi David Eber, the assistant rabbi for education at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, said he and his congregation believe housing is a human right.

“It says in the Book of Deuteronomy there shouldn’t be needy, and then about two verses later, it says when there are needy people among you, you have to take care of them,” Eber said. “It’s important to support our people who are homeless in Evanston and keep working for a world where everyone has adequate housing.”

He said it’s important to maximize awareness about homeless residents in Evanston through visible events like this one.

For Alison Finkel, who held the sign for Beth Emet The Free Synagogue during the walk, the event showed the power of interreligious organizing for a common cause. The synagogue is part of the rotating shelter program this winter. 

“I think it’s beautiful that the different faith communities and other community organizations that are faith-related are collaborating to provide a support network for unhoused people,” she said. 

Before participants began their walk, Nabors told the crowd they had come together and set aside differences to act as one united Evanston. 

He highlighted King’s focus on the “fierce urgency of now” — a call to action King evoked during multiple speeches to emphasize the need for immediacy, not complacency. 

“We can end homelessness in this country. We can end poverty in this country,” Nabors said. “And if the country will not be the ones to do it in Washington, D.C., then a tiny little enclave on the western side of Lake Michigan will take charge and let this nation know it can be done.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons

Email: [email protected] 

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