Maple Grove resident Richard Bahr always found himself doing work in the homeless community. For about five years, he says he’s been “working with a group that [he] operate[s] with [his] friend, serving breakfast out of a shelter in Minneapolis.”
At the same time, Richard’s wife, Carla, says she knew she was “supposed to be serving” somehow, but wasn’t sure where her efforts would lead her. She started working with children and, later, the elderly. “I admired what Richard was doing,” Carla says. “I really wanted that for myself, so I just asked him one weekend if there was a way that we could formalize what he was doing.”
That was the first step in creating what eventually turned into Threshold to New Life, an organization created to help those experiencing homelessness. With Threshold, the Bahrs’ main focus is to help people obtain stable housing. “Rather than just simply taking care of the financial gap, we provide a matching grant. So whatever the grant is, we match what the client or case manager can raise, so it engages the client, so they can be part of the solution,” Richard says. Threshold’s goal is to “help restore people, not just provide them relief … Our goal is helping people be who they’re intended to be.”
Outside of Threshold, some people will find permanent housing but end up having to go back to shelters. “We found that we could step in and for [a] very small amount of money, we could provide a matching grant and keep them in their housing,” Richard says.
Once the Bahrs helped secure stable housing for those in need, more and more people were being referred to Threshold. Richard says they obtained or maintained housing for 54 cases in 2015. That number rose to 324 cases last year. In a recent survey of 2018 clients, over 90 percent of them were able to maintain their permanent housing.
The efforts inspired Richard to write Those People, the True Character of the Homeless. “There was an unusual amount of people who were gracious and kind, who had very robust faith, that were loving and generous. And it struck me as so odd that I felt like those stories needed to be told,” Richard says. The book also challenges the paradigm of what some people think of the homeless. (All of the proceeds from the book go to Threshold.)
“I’ve had more than one homeless person tell me how hurtful it is to spend one’s entire day with people trying not to make eye contact with you,” Richard writes in his book. “As for the rest of us, we receive eye contact often. We are looked at in the eye by a family member before we leave for work, by the barista at our regular coffee shop, by our coworkers ... So imagine that every time you attempted to initiate eye contact, the other person would systematically and intentionally look away from you. What kind of a message does that send? It is cruel and harmful. It reinforces the shame that many homeless feel about themselves—that they are less than human, not an equivalent member of the race or society, undeserving of grace or love, and have no value.”
For people interested in helping the homeless, Richard encourages them to volunteer, including at shelters. He says that people can contact him through his website. “We can go to breakfast,” he says. “I mean literally go to breakfast and help serve.” Serving breakfast at the Salvation Army acts as a great opportunity to make volunteer connections—just like the Bahrs did.