Greg Schiller is a resident of Elgin, IL, and has a passion for the homeless. He has been working for almost six years with the Elgin homeless in variety of capacities, including church ministry, nonprofit organizations and privately. Last week, Schiller was ordered by authorities to stop hosting "slumber parties" in his basement for the homeless during nights of extreme cold, and if he failed to comply, his home would be condemned. Schiller had been inviting on average a dozen homeless individuals, all of whom he knew personally and considered friends, into his basement on nights when overnight shelters and warming centers were not available to them, and would otherwise have slept outside in the cold. The city discovered this practice and insisted that city safety codes were being violated, and ordered the slumber parties to end; Schiller has complied and stopped. Schiller's story has been told to NBC5 news Chicago, Chicago's Morning Answer on AM 560, On the Story with Erica Hill of the HLN network, and the New York Times, among other outlets. Below is the interview with Greg Schiller, speaking to Joe Misek from the Walking With A Limp blog.
Joe: Homeless ministry has been your main focus in your service to Christ for many years now. Can you share some of your journey that led you to find this particular calling?
Greg: In Farmington, New Mexico, I was asked to serve with the Front Line Mission, an organization that houses and feeds the homeless. From there, I went on to be a volunteer senior pastor at Farmington's Life Care Center, a Judeo-Christian nursing home; I was there for a year. God called me to Elgin, IL through five different individuals (who did not know each other) who all came to me separately with the same prophetic message: go to Illinois and be a part of street outreach there. The last person to come to me with this message was my mentor and senior pastor. I sold everything I had and came to Illinois, and through various circumstances, I landed in Elgin. Within a week of my arrival, homeless ministry found me, with an invite to be a prayer intercessor during a local outreach at a church.
Joe: What were the circumstances under which you started opening your home to the homeless during the winter season? Why could they not access other overnight shelter services?
Greg: The people I was opening my home to could not get into homeless shelters due to various restrictions, and the local warming center only opens when the temperature is 15 degrees or below. I received a call in December of 2016 from a homeless man that the wind chill would be close to zero, even though the standing temperature would be slightly above 15, and he and other fellow homeless individuals would have nowhere to go. That night, I took in 15 people, men and women, and I have done it ever since when the wind chills would dip below 15 degrees.
Joe: What did the city tell you concerning code violations? How did you feel about how they enforced the codes?
Greg: The city said that because of the height and size of the windows, the height of the ceilings from the floor, and lack of a second exit in the basement, it was a safety issue in case of a fire. I stayed awake all night with them as they slept to ensure safety. They were talking about the hypothetical house fire that could kill someone, and I have been talking about the definite risk of the homeless dying while sleeping outside in these temperatures. I was hoping that the city would be more gracious and forgiving, given the emergency circumstances, but I understand that they did what they had to do.
Joe: Why are you going public with your story?
Greg: There is a large gap in services in the city of Elgin, and subsequently, about 30 individuals are left in the street every winter on some nights. My intention is to bring attention to the issue! Hopefully, it will encourage the city to take steps to help these people and bridge this gap. The homeless are people, and no one deserves to die in the streets, in the cold.
Joe: What type of services would be the ideal situation for the homeless in the city of Elgin?
Greg: Number one, a Christ-based shelter that doesn't turn away anyone, in any case, regardless of past or present issues with the individual. Number two, case management, easy access to available community resources such as medical services, psychiatric services and addiction recovery.
Joe: Is there a Biblical story that stands out the most to you that inspires you to continue ministering to the poor and homeless in your neighborhood?
Greg: The entire 25th chapter of Matthew! But in the entire written history of Jesus, He was always with the poor. He was always with the downtrodden, the diseased, the poor, the sinners. The "least of these" were His constant companions. And it is that which keeps me focused on service to the poor and homeless.
Joe: In your opinion, how do you hope Christians individually reading this story respond? How could local churches respond?
Greg: My response is really simple: get out of the church building and do something. If we allow the Holy Spirit to lead, I believe the Holy Spirit will lead us to a place to serve. Be a living sacrifice, as taught in Romans 12:1, because "this is our true act of worship". I am really hoping for two things: first, that awareness of this issue would be raised. And second, that somebody would be inspired to act. We all have different spiritual gifts, and I believe the Holy Spirit will lead us to use these gifts in acts of service. As for local churches, I would say just to get involved in local outreaches and services that already exist. And if a church sees a gap in what care is available for the poor, start something new!
Joe Misek is a 37-year-old husband, father, blogger, musician and seminary graduate. Prior to pursuing vocational ministry, I worked for 15 years with people with disabilities. I blog about faith, family, life. My writing interests are in exploring new ways to articulate the timeless truths of our faith in an ever-changing world.