Oakland Church advances pastor’s work to house homeless

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OAKLAND — An 80-year-old church in Oakland has pledged to help house the homeless not just because of the gospel — but because of the pastor’s personal mission.

Oakland Pastor Ken Chambers
Oakland Pastor Ken Chambers.

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The effort comes as city leaders scramble to provide new housing options for the hundreds of people evicted from the sprawling Wood Street encampment.

Every Wednesday, a large shower and laundry trailer pulls up in the parking lot of West Side Missionary Baptist Church, all thanks to the work of Pastor Ken Chambers.

“As a pastor, my mission is to be my brother’s and sister’s keeper,” he explained. Chambers is very familiar with the struggles of homelessness. He and his family lost their home during the economic downturn of 2008.

“My three daughters were at UC Berkeley and we all stayed in their dorms,” he recalls.

When Chambers got back on his feet, he made it his personal mission to help others struggling with homelessness. First, the church launched a safe parking program in the parking lot, where people who live in their cars can have a supervised and safe place to sleep at night. Then the church added small houses.

It offered just enough space for 31-year-old Terence Williams to thrive.

“If it wasn’t for this program, there’s no telling where I would be. But I definitely wouldn’t be as well off as I am now and at least have a chance to do something with my life,” said Williams as he made the bed in his tiny house.

Williams was only nine years old when her mother died of breast cancer. He was placed in foster care and eventually ended up living on the streets. He then began sleeping in the West Side Missionary secure parking lot.

“I used to cry every night I was in my car, just hoping I had a roof over my head. I didn’t expect anything, but the reality when I got here was better than I expected,” Williams said. .

He was one of the first inhabitants of the small houses four years ago. Since moving in, he earned his GED, then earned an associate’s degree from Laney College. Now he is set to move to Dallas where he has already been accepted as a transfer student to a four-year college.

“My short-term goal is to get my bachelor’s degree and then I want to go to law school. I want to be a juvenile attorney. My long-term goal is to be a congressman or a senator,” Williams said.

He says there is no one better to help solve the homelessness crisis than those who have been through it – just like Pastor Chambers.

The church is looking to expand the tiny homes program. He currently has two tiny houses and wants to build four more and a group shelter. Pastor Chambers serves as president of the Alameda County Interfaith Council and is working with other local faith organizations to raise the needed $750,000.

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