Every Thursday, a handful of Catholic missionaries take to the teeming streets of Times Square, bearing sandwiches to feed the bodies of the homeless and the word of God to feed their souls.
“We are meeting them where they are at … there is Jesus there, and Jesus is always the focus of our work,” says Ed Greene, pastoral director of LAMP, the Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor. Once a week, about 10 LAMP ministers join with outreach workers from another group, Holy Cross Fellowship, to “share God’s love and mercy” with homeless or impoverished people they encounter at the “Crossroads of the World.”
On a recent day, one of those the missionaries met was Kevin Timpson, who was panhandling at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, trying to raise enough money to buy food for his wife, who has lupus, and his children.
Timpson said he looks forward to the weekly visits from the LAMP missionaries, who he credits with transforming his life through their evangelization efforts. He even attends their weekly private prayer sessions at Holy Cross Catholic Church.
“It’s like my home away from home,” Timpson said. “They’re like my extended family. It’s a shame I have to stand out here, but I do it for the kids.”
LAMP is a ministry founded by Tom and Lyn Scheuring in 1981. On most days, the group can be found running the LampCafé, which offers lunches, Scripture readings, and prayer at three sites in the South Bronx.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, LAMP workers ministered in nursing homes throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn, but those efforts were suspended, though Greene expects to revive them soon.
As of September, there were over 87,000 homeless people in New York City’s shelter system, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, and many more people are homeless, including those who sleep on the streets or in the subways.
A long-standing issue in the city, homelessness is rooted in a throng of symptoms: Fifty-five percent of households were considered “rent burdened” in 2021, according to a recent report by the Community Service Society. In addition, recent research by Bronx Works shows that two-thirds of homeless New Yorkers have some measure of “mental health needs.”
Further exacerbating the existing crisis, the city has estimated that arriving migrants from South and Central America will cost more than $4 billion over two years. The church that serves as LAMP’s Midtown home base, Holy Cross Catholic Church, is located across the street from the Port Authority bus terminal, giving the missionaries a firsthand look at the numbers of migrants being bused in.
The LAMP missionaries concede that while they may not have the resources to root out the city’s homelessness problems, they can attack the loss of spirituality that comes from living in the extreme conditions of the street, Greene explained.
The missionaries make an effort to make eye contact and initiate conversation, and only then do they offer to pray with them, as well as offer them food and any other supplies they have.
LAMP draws people from across the United States, including Kate Schieferecke, 26, who is from Kansas. She has been with the LAMP missionary team for 16 months.
“I’m amazed by the faith and the hope that I’ve encountered in the people LAMP serves. The resilience is amazing,” Schieferecke said. “People are just really hungry for the Lord.”
While expressing their faith through service, the missionaries are themselves bearing witness to the power of faith. Among the newest members of LAMP is Peter Solberg, a recovered alcoholic from Wisconsin, whose addiction drove him to homelessness. However, through faith, he rediscovered himself, he said, and became a counselor to others who were struggling with the same affliction.
“When I know the only thing that is going to save this addict’s life is a relationship with God, I need to be able to tell them that,” Solberg said. “I’m now in a position where I can go out on the streets and talk to people.”