Providing assistance to homeless people is an act that many people have participated in, whether by donating clothing, giving food or handing over a few dollars.
For the past 17 years, 59-year-old Linda Brewer has been providing such assistance to the homeless population in Tacoma, but she has also been providing something more: a few moments of dignity for a population that is often overlooked and ignored.
“It’s a lot about giving dignity to people,” Brewer said. “Just talking to somebody like they have some worth.”
Brewer is a longtime member of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor and has been leading a team of volunteers to provide outreach to Tacoma’s homeless every Friday night for almost 20 years, serving anywhere from 200 and 300 people every visit.
It’s a lot about giving dignity to people. Just talking to somebody like they have some worth.
“We feed them and hand out clothing and have care packages we give,” she explained. “It’s a time of talking and listening to people.”
Held at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, Brewer’s team brings not only food and clothing for those homeless who show up, but also a feeling of connection and community, with live music and an opportunity to connect with other people.
Brewer’s outreach to Tacoma’s homeless is supported by several other Gig Harbor churches, including a group of women from Burley Bible Church who have been providing cheese sticks and homemade cookies every week for the last 10 years and Lakebay Community Church on the Key Peninsula, which contributes donations.
Chapel Hill members also support Brewer either with volunteering efforts, donations or through quarterly Compassion Kit building events that bring church members and community members together.
“It comes from every different direction,” Brewer said. “If they know about it and know where it’s going, then (people) want to help.”
Linda puts a human face on the homeless. She helps the whole person. What she and her team do week after week is provide dignity for people who are often invisible in our society.
Beth Burgess, assistant director of Missions at Chapel Hill
Beth Burgess, assistant director of missions at Chapel Hill, has witnessed Brewer’s outreach for the past five years and the effect her ministry has on both the homeless population and the volunteers who work alongside her.
“Linda puts a human face on the homeless. She helps the whole person,” Burgess said. “What she and her team do week after week is provide dignity for people who are often invisible in our society.”
For Brewer, the outreach is spurred not only from her faith but also from a personal perspective of understanding how, with different circumstances, she too could have been in a similar situation.
“It can happen to anybody,” she explained. “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been a part of this church and they’ve stepped in and helped me in a lot of ways.”
Brewer is the primary caretaker for her husband, Ed, who suffered a traumatic brain injury. She has been caring for him for seven years, and he is able to remain in their home because of the support of her fellow Chapel Hill members.
“Because of their compassion I was able to bring my husband home,” Brewer said. “People have shown me that compassion, and out of gratitude I continue my ministry.”
She continues her work not only in outreach to Tacoma’s homeless, but also in her Nursing Home ministry — which she started with her husband and has continued for the past 12 years — where she serves as a chaplain to Brookdale in Gig Harbor.
“When you’re caring for somebody 24-7, even with care providers, it wears on you,” Brewer said. “For me, to help other people and not be focused on myself helps give me a perspective on things. It would be easy to get stuck on my own problems.”
In her continued outreach to the homeless, Brewer has witnessed the wide range of circumstances and life stories of the people that she and her team reach every week.
“The homeless problem is getting worse because of the lack of affordable housing,” she said. “It’s things like this that keep me going. Someone has to care.”
It is this empathy that Burgess said makes Brewer an inspiration to her community both at Chapel Hill and in Gig Harbor.
“What I really appreciate about Linda is that it is so easy for us out here in Gig Harbor to not see homelessness — it’s not as evident — though we definitely have it. For those of us who don’t go with her, she helps us see the humanity and dignity with what they’re doing,” Burgess said. “They’re really attending to the soul of a person, the heart of a person.”
There’s amazing life stories down there. Their struggles and their victories. There’s people hurting all over...It’s all about giving them dignity.
For Brewer, the people she meets and the life stories she witnesses keep her coming back to provide them a moment of connection and personal dignity.
“There’s amazing life stories down there ... their struggles and their victories,” she said. “There’s people hurting all over. It’s all about giving them dignity.”
The next Compassion Kit build event will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. March 25 at Chapel Hill, with updates on the church’s website and Facebook page.
Anyone interested in joining Brewer in her weekly outreach can call her at 253-857-7566, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or is welcome to show up by 6:45 p.m. any Friday evening at the Tacoma Rescue Mission.