The Rev. LaTaska Nelson felt like she was receiving a call from God one morning after her daily devotional in 2022. But the voice on the other end of the line wasn’t the Lord’s.
It was the Rev. Joseph Daniels.
Both ministers unknowingly had been praying for the same goal: Daniels’ prayer was to find money to bring Nelson into his housing ministry, and Nelson prayed to find more housing-focused work in her ministry.
“I was saying, ‘Lord, if You want me to continue to do ministry, I need to find some more work, some funding, extra jobs,’” she said with a laugh.
So, Nelson joined Emory Beacon of Light as its interim executive director in 2022.
Emory Beacon of Light, first founded in 1996, is the housing arm of Emory Fellowship UMC in Brightwood in Washington. It has 99 apartment units, providing 100 percent affordable housing units in the neighborhood.
But months into the job, Nelson was faced with how the ministry could provide housing for migrants being bussed to Washington, D.C. In April 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending migrants to sanctuary cities across the United States to emphasize the impact of the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the border. More than 100,000 migrants have been sent to various cities, such as Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia.
More than 12,500 migrants have arrived in Washington, D.C. since the Texas program began. Of those, more than 1,000 families have settled in the Washington region.
Emory Beacon of Light took on some of the load, working to help provide migrants in Washington with adequate housing, furnishings and other resources. Nelson and the Rev. Emma Escobar, the coordinator for the Conference’s Hispanic/Latino Ministries, worked to partner with other D.C.-based organizations working to house migrants being bussed from Texas.
Nelson pointed out that the church had the Tuckerman House, which could house a migrant family in each of its four rooms. Through partnerships and volunteers, the ministry was able to update the house with necessary repairs in order for people to make it their home. Radical Hospitality partnered with Emory Beacon of Light Ministries to house migrant families arriving in Washington.
Emory Beacon of Light began housing families at Tuckerman House in June 2023. The partnerships, Nelson said, have been so consequential for the effort.
“The value of partnership, the value of being able to partner with someone that can help us move the vision, I think is a great thing,” Nelson said. “You have to embrace that call, and sometimes while embracing that call, you can't do it all. Understand you can't do it all.”
Besides Radical Hospitality, various other partners also help with the effort, including the Mid-Atlantic Food Resilience and Access Coalition, Capital Area Food Bank, Spaces in Action, and BelovedCommunity.
Nelson emphasized the partnerships made through the transitional housing program for migrants is bringing together the strengths of different communities, organizations and people. Nelson highlighted that, while Emory Beacon of Light had property available, partners were able to connect with migrants that otherwise might not have been connected with the church.
“We have property, you have the people. Now, how do we join together and come together so that there's a greater good,” she asked.
But the need continues to grow.
Washington migrant family shelters stopped accepting new families in April 2023, which means women and children are being put out in the streets with many living in the cars of families in the shelters, Escobar said. This fall, the city government began evicting families from the shelters with little to no planning or support to help them successfully transition.
Now, the work has shifted to a more resource-intensive effort. The Conference is seeking to raise $45,000 to help sustain resettlement work for the next year. Some of those funds will go toward transitional housing, which Emory Beacon of Light has served as a major part of the effort. Donations can be be at https://www.bwcumc.org/migrantcrisisdonations.
Funds will also go toward a tienda — or store — for migrants to shop for basic necessities at Capitol Hill UMC in Washington, D.C.