December 5, 2012

Building’s auction may leave homeless shelter without a home

Galen Townsend, a 59-year-old homeless Army veteran, regularly spends the night at Mosaic, a downtown Wichita church that operates a homeless shelter out of the building it rents.

Galen Townsend, a 59-year-old homeless Army veteran, regularly spends the night at Mosaic, a downtown Wichita church that operates a homeless shelter out of the building it rents.

The church and its shelter may have to shut down because its building at 216 S. Market is scheduled to be sold at an auction next month.

“It’s a bad idea,” Townsend said Wednesday. “I’d be back on the street, maybe under a bridge.”

Mike Furches, Mosaic’s pastor, learned Tuesday about the auction set for Jan. 11.

“Right now, unless something drastic happens, we’d have to close,” Furches said. “We need the proverbial Christmas miracle.”

Mosaic holds church services on Saturday morning for about 100 people – most of whom are homeless – and serves about 500 homeless people through the week, including lunches, Furches said. About 14 people stay there each night year round, he added.

The former Hubris building, which Mosaic rents for $1,300 monthly, is one of three downtown buildings owned by Real Development developers Michael Elzufon and David Lundberg that are set for the Jan. 11 auction.

A representative of the auction company, Ameribid in Oklahoma, came to town Tuesday to deliver the news.

“He felt that whoever bought the property will tear it down and turn it into a parking lot,” Furches said.

It’s a two-story building, but the second level is used only for storage. Mosaic uses the 6,600-square-foot first floor.

The owners offered to sell the building to Mosaic about a year ago for $276,000, Furches said, but the church didn’t have the money. Plus, he added, the building needs significant structural work.

Furches said he will try to find another affordable building — he hopes to find one downtown because that’s best for serving the homeless. One person has already offered to contribute $5,000 toward buying the current building or relocating to another one, he added.

Word quickly spread about Mosaic’s fate. Shortly after Wednesday’s lunch was served, the mood was somber at Mosaic as about 10 people remained and Christmas music played quietly.

“This isn’t just a place to hang out,” Townsend said. “This is also a church. Mosaic helps you in all areas of life.”

He said Furches’ approach creates a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere.

“You’re free to express yourself here in a dignified way,” said Townsend, who is one of 15 men who help with the upkeep of the building on a regular basis. “Pastor Mike is very broad minded. He has ears to hear. Other places treat you like a statistic and get you to sign in so they can get public funds. Here, you’re a human being.”

Mosaic relies strictly on donations from other churches and individuals and doesn’t receive any money from the government or agencies, Furches said.

The church doesn’t have any paid staff, he said. He added that he gave up his salary, drawing only a monthly housing allowance of $330 for his home in Park City.

InterFaith Ministries, which operates two shelters – one for men, one for women – also doesn’t get any public money or nonprofit agency support, said Janis Cox, co-chair of Wichita’s Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness.

Mosaic received $30,000 last winter to run the women’s overflow shelter at its building for AECH, Cox said. That was switched to InterFaith this year, she said.

While the five to 16 women who stayed each night at Mosaic last year were safe, Cox said, AECH had a difference of opinion with Furches on how the shelter should be run. Some women weren’t allowed to stay at Mosaic because of hygiene reasons, which is contrary to AECH’s policy, she said.

Furches said only one woman was asked to leave last winter and that was because she had an infectious condition on her feet.

“She got treatment and came back,” he said. “We’ve never kicked anyone out.”

Cox said, “We’re not champions of Mosaic,” but added that its closing “would create a void for the homeless.”

Mosaic has cots for 35 people but no showers, so many homeless opt to stay at shelters where those are available, Furches said. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday, plus breakfast on Saturday. About 250 came to lunch for the last Saturday in November, he said.

About six women usually stay at the shelter on Wednesday and Friday nights, when Bible studies and discipleship classes are held.

Mosaic has been around for about eight years, first located in Delano as a church plant by Andover’s Hope Community Church before holding services at schools and an abandoned theater. Furches, 53, became Mosaic’s pastor about 4½ years ago. He moved the church to the South Market building almost three years ago.

The nondenominational church brings in people of all faiths and even has atheists attending its services, he said.

“We’re more than a church,” Furches said, adding that he was homeless for a while after leaving his Tennessee home at the age of 16. “We want to provide a quiet, safe atmosphere and help. We try to get people back on their feet as opposed to being dependent on the system.”

To keep Mosaic going financially, he said even the homeless have given what they can.

“A homeless man put $20 in the offering plate the other day,” Furches said. “The reason I know that is because he gave it to me because he was afraid someone would steal it. Twenty bucks is a lot of money for a homeless person.

“We want to stay open, but we’ve already been getting by month by month.”

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