Almost 20 years ago, clergy members at downtown churches became concerned about the men and women they frequently found sleeping in church doorways when they arrived at work in the morning. As faith leaders, they wanted to provide a better kind of shelter, so they teamed up with the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, and created a new, grassroots organization they named PACEM.
PACEM stands for People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, but it’s also the Latin word for peace—what the program hopes to provide to dozens of people who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets. Each week, a rotating group of churches and community groups provides a hot dinner and beds for the night. Caseworkers also help guests address their needs and work towards finding permanent housing.
PACEM was originally designed to run only in the coldest months, from October to April, but this year the organization is hoping to extend the season to provide year-round shelter to those who need it. And women’s case manager Heather Kellams is also advocating for a permanent shelter for women, who have been seeking shelter in rising numbers recently, and who face unique challenges living on the street.
To meet their new goals, they’ll need more local support. But if the past is any indication, that’s a challenge Charlottesville is well-equipped to meet.
With more than 80 churches and local groups involved to date, PACEM is a prime example of a community stepping up to take care of its most vulnerable, one that’s especially welcome as our national leaders attempt to make a virtue out of callous indifference and cruelty.