San Pedro United Methodist Church is a large, unassuming building on the corner of 6th Street and Grand Avenue. Built in 1923, the church once had a large rotating beacon of light in the steeple and served as a haven for visiting sailors, providing respite, showers, a hot meal, and a place to write a letter home.
The church has evolved over the years and with the leadership of Pastor Lisa Williams, it is returning to its roots to provide services for those in need. The church is not just handing out food or clothing, they are providing services that support families and individuals who are unhoused to get back on their feet.
“One of the reasons I got so involved in advocacy and housing is because I heard a speaker say the faith community has abandoned those in need,” says Williams. “Many churches are dying and need to change, need to be open and willing to look around their cities to see how they can help.”
Traditionally, a church would open its doors on Sundays for church services, and their empty buildings would be mostly unused during the week. United Methodist has seen an increase of people who are becoming homeless for the first time and wanted to offer help. They have been involved with a program called Family Promise of the South Bay for the last four years. Homeless families are provided shelter for a week at each rotating church like United Methodist. They provide food and shelter to up to four families at a time once a quarter in rooms inside the church. Ongoing social services are provided to the families through Family Promise as they work with families on their goals like getting a job or attending school.
United Methodist was gifted a large lot that is adjacent to the church over 20 years ago and once owned by a mortuary. The lot has been vacant for years but is in the process of becoming 54 units of affordable and permanent supportive housing for families and singles. There will be wraparound services provided to the people who will live there and rules that they must follow. The project is currently in the funding and application stages.
The church has been hosting mobile showers, funded by Supervisor Janice Hahn, every month. United Methodist is part of the San Pedro Faith Consortium along with First Presbyterian San Pedro, The Garden Church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Temple Beth El. They provide bagged lunches at the mobile showers and other resources with a goal to provide new supplemental services to the unhoused members of San Pedro.
Also, United Methodist works with Toberman Neighborhood Center during the holidays. Children are given toys at Toberman, and then the families head to United Methodist so the children can shop at no cost for gifts for their parents. Items like body wash gift sets, small speakers, and small toolsets are popular. Donations of these types of products are appreciated. United Methodist works closely with the two new shelters in San Pedro and provides product donations to them as they are limited on space. Donations needed are new sweatpants, new unisex t-shirts, Crystal Light to flavor water, new socks and underwear, cleaning supplies, adult coloring books with pens/pencils, and lunches for mobile shower days at the church.
“United Methodist is doing the work that is kind and respectful and shows dignity to all people,” says Williams. “Agencies, social workers, and churches need to work together and share resources, and none can do it alone. Now more than ever with so many first time homeless, it is about trying to connect people and be an advocate for those who don’t have a voice.”