On Topic With: Renee MillerDec 01, 2022 03:56PM ● By Stephen Klein
Renee Miller is the Pastor of City Walk Church and Executive Director of City Walk Urban Mission, a church and homeless shelter located at 1709 Mahan Drive.
Like most conventional Christian churches in America, City Walk provides a sanctuary where religious services are held, along with various activity rooms and a food pantry stocked with donated items.
Additionally, City Walk offers individual rooms for those who are enrolled in one of its programs, allowing them to reenter society from incarceration or long term homelessness.
These rooms are furnished, and the residents are encouraged to decorate the walls in the rooms and hallways with colorful artwork.
The facility currently has housing for 64 people, and has separate male and female housing.
City Walk also runs a thrift store and outreach center, which is located at 1105 North Monroe Street, where donations and sales assist the mission.
Renee Miller, pastor and executive director of City Walk Urban Mission
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what drives you?
“My name is Renee Miller, and I am the Pastor of City Walk Church and Executive Director of City Walk Urban Mission. I guess what drives me is just that the Lord told us to do this, and we’ve been faithful and serving. He called me to ministry soon after I became a Christian in my mid-20s, and we’ve been a full-time mission since then.
We are a church, and we provide a lot of social service programs. I think that people sometimes get the two mixed up.
They think, ‘Oh, you’re a social service organization, OR you’re a church.’
We believe that a lot of American churches have it backwards.
We believe that if we’re the church, we should be focused on helping the least of these, which is a really big litmus for your relationship with Jesus and scripture.
We are commanded, and it’s not relegated to the government, or a certain group of people or an organization.
So for us to have a church feeding and clothing and housing, ministering to people, it’s all throughout scripture that we’re commanded to take care of the poor.
If every church did this, we would really change the world.”
Tell us about City Walk and what you do here.
“We are a church, and because we’re a church, we [offer] housing, prison re-entry, food and clothing and all of that.
We have three different housing programs right now; we have transitional housing, from incarceration or long-term homelessness, and that is for people who need a reentry plan.
Sometimes they’re required to have a reentry plan to be released, depending on what your charges are
If you’re going to be released to homelessness, oftentimes you’ll just stay past your End of Sentence date, because they don’t have a place to send you. That can be for someone with a felony-heavy background.
It can also be for someone who requires certain types of medical care, so if you released them to the street they would just pass away, and that’s just inhumane.
Our working reentry program lasts 12 months, and you have a job from day one, and you’re earning income from day one, you’re paying your own way from day one.
We provide licensed mental health care, with a specialist in trauma therapy, and another who specializes in reentry and veteran services. We have other counselors who cover drugs, and anger management.
We have a plethora of services to offer a holistic approach. And I am a Christian Clinical Counselor. Then we have Sober Living, which is for people who maybe aren’t quite ready to live on their own, they don’t have enough money, or they don’t have enough personal executive function, and they have a possible background in substance abuse and are worried about slipping back.
And then we have supportive housing, which is for people who are aging, people who are actively dying, and people who are in need of medical care, whether mental or physical. That population can’t go to another shelter if you’re in a wheelchair, if you need help with bathing, if you need a bedside commode, you can’t just go to the city shelter.
They don’t have the beds or the accommodations.”
What is the background and history of City Walk?
“We planted the church in July of 2012, so a little over 10 years ago.
It was really just a burden on our hearts, and God opened my eyes.
After I became a believer, I was like, ‘Okay, now what? I'm a believer, now what am I supposed to do?’
God just kept putting it in my heart that this was the population that I was supposed to help, and I’d be sitting at my desk, at work and I would just literally hear God say, ‘Go to Frenchtown and eat lunch.’
And I would go and just start walking, and there would be people I would meet that I would be able to witness to.
There’s no greater feeling than having a front-row seat to what God is doing in someone’s life.
Like you hear these stories in church and you’re like ‘Wow, that’s awesome! Goosebumps!’
I don’t want to just hear these stories in church. I want to live them!
So God just clearly told us to do this, and we’re doing it.”
Do you have any special project or plans to implement over the holiday season?
“I’ll tell you, it’s really expensive to run this place.
Everybody tells us at holiday time, ‘We want to come and help.’
They don’t want to come and help.
They want to feel good about themselves.
They want to come and stand in a food line and put food on a plate.
We don’t have that here. We give them a list of other things that we need.
We spend $700 a month on toilet paper, and it would be great if we had your help in February, or March or August.
We need support to keep these doors open, and so if somebody wants to come over and set up a Christmas tree, and that will make them feel good, they can do it
But what we need is $30,000 a month.
We have a $5,000 light bill.
We’re still showering people outside. We need people to step up, year round.
Honestly, there’s some hurt and anger coming through in this.
I don’t know how to get this to be more important to our community and the people that care.
These people are only cared about on the last Thursday of November, and December 25.
People die every day, they are miserable every day, they are addicted every day, people get out of prison every day, we are here every day, 24 hours a day, and it’s just not thought about.”
What would a person need to do take advantage of City Walk's services? What might they expect to recieve?
“When someone is about to come out of incarceration and they’re going to be in a situation where they’re going to need this type of help, they will reach out and ask for an application or the classification officer will send out a referral.
We will begin that relationship before they are ever just out on the street.
We have a couple who are actually coming out of incarceration next month.
We’ll show up at the gate and get them, take them to get clothes, get them all set up in their room, and help them start a new life.
People who are indigent in our local area will often call us directly or show up and we’ll do an interview.
We will ask them what their goals are and what they want help with, and if they feel we are a good fit.
Then hopefully there is space available, and we can get them into one of our three programs.
We’re not a place where you can just come and crash, get three hots and a cot.
We believe God loves you enough to meet you right where you are, but too much to let you stay there.
We get a lot of referrals from the hospital, a lot of referrals from the jail, from the public defender’s office, social workers, family members and churches.”
Are there any organizations and individuals City Walk partners with?
“We have different partnerships.
If we’re not a good fit for a certain person, we’ll call, say, Good Samaritan Network. We’re great friends with them, love their ministry. Mike Mahan, he’s wonderful.
If they’re a pregnant woman who’s homeless, we’ll refer them to the Brehon Institute.
If they have children we’ll refer them to either Brehon or Big Bend Homeless Coalition, to get on a list for Hope Community, because we are single adults only.
We get our food from Second Harvest of the Big Bend.
Ability First, Disc Village, Apalachee Behavioral Health Center..those are just some [of our partners]; there are a plethora of them out there.”
How can members of the community get involved?
“You can email [email protected] and ask for a list of opportunities to volunteer.
Not everyone can write a check, but everyone can serve.
I understand if someone wants to get involved with their family, there are multiple opportunities to prepare food and bring it by, or help in some way with maintenance around here, or you have a special skill we need help with.
There’s just a lot of opportunities to help out.
A lot of people are going to be doing Cyber Monday shopping - maybe they can’t do anything large, but if enough people send us plastic forks then we’ll be set for awhile, or if enough people buy one roll of toilet paper (check with Emily at the above email before donating toilet paper, as it needs to fit a dispenser).
Just something that people think may be insignificant, that would be of great significance to us, that kind of thing would be helpful.
We also have the thrift store that they can donate to; so as you are getting ready for Christmas and clearing stuff out, maybe your kids have a bunch of old toys or clothes, drop them off at the store.
That is the main funder of this mission.
Most of the people in our work program work there.
They get a lot of job training from merchandising to pricing to warehousing to pick ups to customer service and cashiering.
It provides an income for them, and it also funds a large majority of what happens here.”
Any closing thoughts or final comments you'd like to add?
“We have, just since we’ve been at the Mahan campus, provided over 100,000 meals and about 40,000 nights of safe sleep.
I know those numbers roll off the tongue pretty quick, but just think about the magnitude of what that means, and what situation the community would be in if we didn’t exist.
That's a lot of full bellies. That’s a lot of people who weren’t sleeping on a park bench, who weren’t out panhandling, who weren’t doing anything nefarious just trying to survive, and that doesn't even count for the voucher program we have, or the food we give away from our food bank on Monroe Street to the general public, or the counseling that goes on here, there’s a lot of hours of mental health care that’s done pro bono.
And those things just add up exponentially.”