Small Lyndale congregation provides mighty help for homeless

Everyone is in transition. We move through life from birth to death, starting with big eyes blinking in wonder at the world to an ending with wrinkles, wisdom and eyes that have seen it all and then some.

Heather Hampton is somewhere in between, with a less existentialist transition to deal with every day. The 32-year-old and her three kids are moving from homelessness to owning a home with lots of grass and a sense of security.

Right now, she's living in one of the 26 apartments at ZOOM House, 3244 Blaisdell Ave., an affordable housing development run by Zion Lutheran Church, which sits next door at 128 W. 33rd St.

ZOOM, which stands for Zion Originated Outreach Ministry, has half of its apartments set aside as transitional units for homeless single parents with kids.

The building has also gone through transitions. Back in 1997, when Zion bought the property with help from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, it was a crime-riddled apartment house where the police were called over 700 times in two years. Today, it offers a clean, safe home to Hampton and her family.

One of the most amazing aspects of ZOOM House is that its benefactor, Zion Lutheran, is a small congregation with only about 150 members. By digging deep in their pockets and by working hard on weekends and weeknights, they've managed to not only provide 26 units of affordable housing, but to make half of them available to single parents without homes making that transition from the streets.

Even though Zion Lutheran's small congregation continues to dig and work, they're asking Southwest to join them for an evening of food and entertainment at a fundraising effort designed to keep their helping hands full of help for the homeless.

The benefit for ZOOM House will be held at one of Zion Lutheran's partners in their homeless ministry -- Christ the King Lutheran Church, 1900 NW 7th St., New Brighton -- on Friday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $25 ($15 of which is tax deductible). The event will feature hors d'oeuvres, a dessert buffet, a silent auction and performances by The Black Dolphin Band and the Metropolitan Boys Choir.

The love network

Someday soon, Hampton, who has lived at ZOOM for a year, hopes to take her children back to the suburbs where she feels more at home.

She and her three kids, 11, 9 and 4 years old, were living in a Minneapolis homeless shelter for four months last year. (Hampton has two other children. She's currently fighting for custody of them.)

Hampton said her kids are resilient and happy and coped well with life in the shelter.

"You just got to do what you got to do," she said. "It was more of a headache for me than it was for them."

She took the youngest to daycare and the older two to school and she worked as a bill collector during the day. When she heard about ZOOM, she filled out an application, talked to staff and was accepted.

Applicants must have a job, said Rev. Alexandra George, executive director of ZOOM House and pastor of Zion Lutheran. They also must pay 30 percent of their income for the apartment that they can live in for up to two years and participate in programs teaching them about finances, nutrition and parenting.

Zion Lutheran has a network of eight churches in its "Adopt a Unit" program, including St. John's Lutheran Church, 4842 Nicollet Ave. in Tangletown.

St. John's has adopted Hampton's unit, which means that they help her with spiritual guidance if she asks for it, take her and her children for outings and they even provide one of the most precious gifts a parent can receive: babysitting.

And when Hampton leaves ZOOM, volunteers from St. John's will clean and paint her apartment and prepare a welcome for the new tenant that will include towels, sheets, dishes, blankets and other basic household necessities that a homeless person might be likely to lack.

Mickey Dunham, a 22-year member of St. John's and a ZOOM House volunteer, said she's found her time at the housing complex rewarding.

"It's a great project," she said. "You talk to these people and they go on and on about how important this program is to them; how necessary it is. And how, otherwise, they'd be sleeping on the street."

Hampton said that when she leaves ZOOM, which she figures will be in a year or so, she'll miss the people who run it and the people who live there.

"I'll kind of hate to leave," she said. "They've been very helpful."

You can get more information about ZOOM House or order tickets for the benefit by calling 825-2825 or online at www.thezoomhouse.org.