The weight of homeless, addiction and poverty could drag a whole community down.
Gerald Holmes knew it all too well. Growing up, and as a young man, he struggled with all three. He had seen how lives had been decimated by the combination, and considers himself fortunate to have escaped its clutches himself.
He believes God has called him to help others escape as well.
“I was personally convicted that I had to be a part of the solution,” he said.
Holmes has helped plant a new Johnson County church, aimed at addressing those ills plaguing society. City Connect aims to use faith to unite the community, with a particular focus on programs aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty, addiction, homelessness and hunger throughout the area.
The church formed in February, and only recently started meeting at a new home — every Sunday at the Bargersville Community Center.
“If we can save one life, five lives, 10 lives, 100 lives, 1,000 lives — think of the difference it would make,” Holmes said.
Since entering the ministry, Holmes has made poverty one of his key focuses. Prior to founding City Connect, he was pastor at Second Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on the far eastern side of Johnson County.
Through his leadership, the church started the I Care Center — a way to counter the sense of helplessness that came from watching neighbors struggle with hunger and other hardships.
But something gnawed at him, Holmes felt.
“City Connect started with a restlessness in me,” he said. “I was a comfortable pastor, with a lovely congregation. And I felt that there was so much more that needed to be done, that I was not addressing a personal standpoint.”
Holmes’s own personal journey stirred that restlessness. Growing up in Sullivan County, his father was killed when he was 11 years old, and his family was uprooted over the next two years, forced to move to Ohio.
By the time he was 16 years old, he was homeless. Soon, he fell into the depths of substance use disorder, both with alcohol and drugs.
“I wandered the streets of Dayton, Ohio,” he said. “To talk about this without a broken heart and tears is nearly impossible.”
Holmes knows first-hand how circumstances can make situations such as his increasingly worse. He knows that these issues are not solely a moral failing, and that those who are homeless or trapped by substance use disorder need help, not to be shunned.
“When I hear about folks struggling with alcohol or drugs or homelessness, we’ve all heard this, and all guilty of saying it — it’s the result of a lot of bad decisions. Absolutely,” he said. “But for the grace of God, so go I. I’ve been there. We’re talking about people that have value, that Christ loves just as much as he loves me or loves you.”
At the core of many of these people’s problems is some kind of trauma in their lives, Holmes said.
“We all know the effect trauma has on the brain, and the tremendous mental health issues that are out there that we have to address,” he said. “So many (nonprofits) are doing a great job of addressing these issues.”
In City Connect, Holmes sees a local model based on an existing faith-based program in Atlanta, Georgia. City of Refuge, formed by pastor Bruce Deel, brings essential services to people in need, provided under one roof in a 200,000-square-foot building.
By partnering with nonprofits throughout Atlanta, City of Refuge can help people can get food, clothing, housing or healthcare at the same time. They can sign up for job training, or learn financial literacy.
“They’re able to take care of the immediate needs, and then they’re able to provide their long-term needs of learning to manage finances, or be placed in a job,” Holmes said. “These are the long-term needs we really need to address.”
In the last five years, City of Refuge has been able to help place 727 people in jobs, house 351 people and serve more than 225,000 meals.
Holmes wants to make a similar impact on people in Johnson County.
“The task we’re trying to accomplish is so huge, why shouldn’t we all just come together, rather than all trying to compete for the same dollars,” he said. “If we could use City of Refuge’s model of bringing it all together, and accomplish more.”
To get his vision off the ground, Holmes shared his ideals with other friends in the faith community. They encouraged him to get involved with other groups working throughout Johnson County on poverty and mental health issues.
City Connect started meeting at the Indiana Church of God headquarters in Greenwood in February, before moving to the Bargersville Community Center on June 18.
As City Connect finds its footing in the county, Holmes and other church leaders plan to put a variety of programs into place. A new I Care Center will offer counseling, food, clothing and educational programs to people in need. Part of the center, Dollie’s Place, will provide an emergency center for survivors of domestic violence.
At an event they’re calling Kidz Konnection Adventure, they’re inviting families to gather in July for food, prizes, bounces houses, school supply distributions and more. Holmes hopes to have a mobile food pantry present as well.
“It is my vision, my burden, my conviction, to do everything I can to help reach hurting people in Johnson County,” Holmes said. “I want to do my best to bring healing into their lives on every level possible.”
AT A GLANCE
City Connect Church
What: A new church planted in Bargersville focused on spreading a message of love, encouragement and hope, with emphasis on addressing homelessness, substance use disorder and mental health issues.
Pastor: Gerald Holmes
When: 10:30 a.m. Sundays; Bible study at 9:30.
Where: Bargersville Community Center, 14 W. Old South St., Bargersville