Norman community members and faith-based leaders encouraged empathy, community care and collaborative solutions at a Thursday “Peace and Prayer” event focused on showing love and compassion for those without homes.

April Heiple, Food and Shelter executive director, along with 12 representatives of Norman faith groups, spoke to the crowd about avoiding judgement and starting a conversation about community-driven solutions to homelessness.

Heiple highlighted what she said is the fulfilling nature of working to assist those with little means.

“We all do this because we have a common vision that every person in this community, and around the state and country, deserve food to eat and a safe bed to sleep in every night,” Heiple said. “Norman can’t be its strongest and can’t be complete as long as there are people still sleeping outside every night.”

Heiple said when she’s asked why she works at Food and Shelter, she says she “gets paid to love people and give opportunities to people who haven’t had them.”

She said homelessness is not something that can be solved overnight.

“It’s a complicated problem and it will take each of us believing in a solution to take the steps forward, and I’m not so silly to believe we can solve this by love alone,” Heiple said. “Actually, I think we could solve this problem by love alone if we all loved a little bit more, but that’s just me.”

David Spain, First Christian Church of Norman senior minister, spoke on the division of insider and outsider, mentioning a sign near the city limits that welcomes people to Norman’s “inclusive community.”

“Like most slogans, they are some part reality and some part aspiration, but the hope of any responsible and caring person is to narrow the distance from aspiration to reality,” Spain said.

Spain said when Hebrew ancestors dedicated the temple, Solomon, who was not often given to humility, understood what he built did not belong to him and could not contain the grandeur of God. He prayed for humility, honesty and a future for Israel before using the most important word of all in the prayer — “likewise.”

“Solomon recognized with God, the division of insider and outsider no longer holds sway,” Spain said. “Tonight we come to say as a people of faith that Solomon’s grand prayer included all people and not just some. So may it be that this city be dedicated for all people, whether you sleep on silk sheets and down pillows, or you sleep with nowhere to lay your head.”

Mitch Randall, CEO of Good Faith Media, said over the years, Norman has worked through many challenges, with residents coming together to find common sense solutions to complex issues.

He said abundant life is not achieved through the acquisition of wealth and land, but through human kindness.

“When I lift up my neighbor, I am very much lifting up myself,” Randall said. “This is why Jesus said love your neighbor as you love yourself. Instead of knocking down makeshift homes, let’s pull resources together to build more communities filled with affordable housing.”

Randall said Norman is a diverse family filled with a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and beliefs, but as neighbors, no one should be excluded.

“Through our city government, social service agencies, healthcare facilities, police and fire departments and faith-based ministries and churches, we can become a beacon of light for those wandering in the vast darkness of insecurity,” Randall said.

Andy Jacobs, minister at West Wind Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, said when one accepts the suffering of another as their own, they can discover the empathy necessary for compassionate action.

“We are all descendants of the fortunate and the unfortunate,” Jacobs said. “We were all meant to be more than we are, and are still less than we hope to become.”

Gene King spoke last on behalf of those who are without homes, focusing on the stigma that can surround them before offering a suggestion through the lense of experience.

“If we want to solve this, it will have to be through coordination,” King said. “I would love to see [the Norman Police Department] here and hospital staff, and maybe next time I will get to see that.”

Heiple said at the end of the night that leaders’ goal of positivity and inspiring hearts and minds was accomplished.

“I saw many of our partners here that do this work alongside us, and some of our friends who live outside, and hopefully they got to feel some of that love,” Heiple said.

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.

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