“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” – Genesis 4
Pastor Patrick McNeal truly is his brothers’ keeper.
A few years ago, he was working at his church on Oak Street, which had doubled as a warming center for homeless men in the winter. As the days grew warm, the center closed and Patrick had to turn away a homeless man who was seeking shelter. As the man walked slowly away, he turned and, looking back at Patrick, asked, “Where am I supposed to go?” Without an answer, Patrick decided on the spot that he wanted to open a year-round shelter for homeless men. “I felt I was called to do something,” he said, and so began his journey to open My Brother’s Keeper of Genesee County. McNeal is the founder and executive director of the 25-bed facility, which is managed by a professional staff, supported by dedicated volunteers and donors, and focused on meeting the needs of homeless men in Flint. “This is where I am supposed to be,” says Pastor Patrick. “It’s in my heart to do good here.”
Born and raised in Flint, Pastor Patrick graduated from Northwestern High School, earned a Bachelor’s Degree at Davenport University, a Master’s Degree in Education Leadership at Eastern Michigan University, and a Master’s of Divinity at Regent University in Virginia. He and his wife Gloria have been married for 22 years and have eight children. He says he didn’t always feel a calling to serve others. “It wasn’t originally a call to service, but rather, a calling to not be a problem,” he laughed. “I just wanted to live right and stay out of trouble.”
After working at Kettering University for 17 years, Patrick left the job to devote his full effort to helping homeless men. He created the articles of incorporation and bylaws for his new organization on Oak Street, along with the paperwork necessary to become a nonprofit operation. “I wrote my first grant and was funded by the city of Flint to open the warming center,” Patrick recalled. But that wasn’t enough. Because the facility was only open during the winter months and the homeless had nowhere to go during the summer, Patrick took a step of faith and opened MBK, a year-round shelter, in 2007. “It’s always been a labor of love for me,” he humbly said.
Pastor Patrick lives by the wise words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” With that in mind, the vision of MBK is to help end homelessness in Genesee County by taking action. The programs at the shelter give homeless men opportunities to make transitions and move on in their lives. MBK uses a socialization model of faith, family, employment and education. “We are a homeless shelter, yes,” says Patrick, “but that means so much more than just a meal.” Emergency shelter is provided for 25-30 men, where they are furnished with a warm meal, personal hygiene time, and a place to sleep. The doors open at 5:30pm and stay open until 7am. Job readiness classes are offered and the average stay is between 30-45 days. “We offer them help to end their homeless plight,” Patrick says. MBK addresses self-sufficiency and the barriers created by homelessness, helping guests obtain and maintain housing. “Homelessness is a mental condition,” says Pastor Patrick, “and we have to help them want to change. We’re successful when we get a man to change the way he thinks.”
Patrick, who is very proud of the services offered to homeless veterans, sadly reports that there are many in the area who are in need. MBK assists by housing up to 20 veterans. “They live here. This is their home until they find permanent housing,” says Patrick. “Our veterans become family.” MBK helps veterans connect with the Veterans Administration and also helps them get the benefits to which they are entitled. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and MBK helps them address their medical problems, as well as any substance abuse. “They learn to live healthy, substance-free lifestyles,” says Patrick. He remembers one veteran, Matt, who was in pretty bad shape when he walked through the doors of MBK. “Matt did what he needed to do and he found a home,” Patrick said. Because of his service-related injuries, Matt was entitled to full benefits. Shortly after he got out on his own, Matt came back to MBK and invited Patrick to dinner to see his new home. “I proudly accepted that dinner engagement,” Patrick laughed.
Many local churches, businesses and concerned community members help MBK with financial assistance, food and clothing donations, and by volunteering their time. “If it wasn’t for the people who care, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing,” Patrick said humbly. “Children come and donate their allowance or give a donation instead of receiving gifts at Christmas time. It’s very powerful.” MBK is also home to a church, Living Grace Community Fellowship, a separate entity of which Patrick is the pastor. Worship is held on Sundays and bible study is convened on Tuesdays. While the homeless are invited to attend services, it’s not required. “You can’t mandate change,” he says.
Patrick believes that MBK can and has transformed the lives of many homeless men in Genesee County. “They become a solution, not a problem,” he says of the men with a smile. “We care about them and they learn to care in return. They become members of our community again.”
PHOTOS BY AUTUMN D. RUMMEL
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