Light One Candle

Skip Navigation Links
Light One Candle
LOC Archive
For Editors

 

Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Service Led Me Back to Faith

Kathy Izard has made it her mission to provide housing for the homeless in her adopted home of Charlotte, North Carolina. You could even say that she’s doing God’s work. It’s ironic since she spent much of her life questioning God’s existence. Izard’s doubts stemmed from her mother Lindsay’s battle with mental illness. It took 16 years for doctors to correctly diagnose and treat Lindsay so she could live a relatively normal life. But the experience soured Izard on the idea of a loving God, even though she came from a religious Presbyterian family. She had no use for church until one memorable experience after she became a parent herself.

During a “Christopher Closeup” interview about her Christopher Award-winning memoir “The Hundred Story Home,” Izard recalled that she and her four daughters had been swimming in the YMCA when they passed a portrait and her eight-year-old asked, “Mommy, who’s that?”
                Izard recalled, “It was a picture of Jesus. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve taken this non-religion thing too far!’ I started going back to church. That led me to volunteering for the soup kitchen and working with the homeless...Service is something that my family grew up with and that led me back to a faith I didn’t know I’d lost.”

That service began at Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center, an interfaith ministry dedicated to feeding the homeless. For years, Izard believed she was making a positive difference. But when she was giving a tour of the facility to a formerly homeless man named Denver Moore, he asked her why they do so much good during the day, but send the homeless back outside at night to fend for themselves.

That question changed Izard’s life. She gave up her job as a graphic designer to take a full-time position with the Center and start researching how to move forward. She came upon an idea called Housing First. At the time, the prevailing idea was that the homeless needed to become sober or get a job before earning the right to housing. The problem was that living under a bridge in 32 degree weather and wondering where your next meal is coming from didn’t allow them to focus on anything else.
                Izard said that the Housing First philosophy asks, “What if we housed people and then worked on what they needed, whether that was sobriety or education or mental health treatment? That’s the way our program started...We took 13 people who'd been homeless for years, and we found them apartments. We put them with a case worker and tried to work on the issues that had made them homeless. Amazing things happen when you restore people’s hope and dignity, and you give them that shot.”

Izard also discovered that this approach was more financially feasible than the alternative: “When people are on the streets, they overuse jails, ER rooms, hospital beds. We did a cost analysis and it turns out the average cost of leaving a person on the street was about $40,000 a year. The cost of housing them was $13,000 a year.”

Today, the Urban Ministry Center owns and operates a permanent supportive housing facility for over 120 homeless men and women. They’ve moved over 450 people off the streets and plan to build more housing. In addition, because of her mother’s struggles, Izard helped create a “residential mental health treatment center” called Hope Way. 

Izard grew up with the mantras “Do good” and “Love well.” She’s certainly living up to those standards.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, FINDING THE COURAGE WITHIN, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org