Betty Bitgood and her late husband started Hope of Glory Ministries in 1996, inspired by a group in Phoenix called Church on the Street. With support from their pastor, they fed homeless people living in Santa Rita Park—until the city and county deemed it illegal to feed hungry people there. Bitgood now serves meals at a church near the Veterans Affairs medical center on South Sixth Avenue. Bitgood said she wants to open what she and her volunteers call the Hope Center, which would provide a range of services to people in need. For more information, visit tucsonhope.org, or call 471-1720.
How did you become interested in this work?
My husband and I met some people from the Church on the Street in Phoenix. That year was the first time the Super Bowl was held in Phoenix, and the city shipped all of their homeless people to Tucson. The church came down and started feeding people at Santa Rita Park. We just started seeing what they were doing, and I thought we should help out. We started helping with the meals and started having meals one Sunday a month. We started as Church of the Street, but that wasn't my choice, since we were under my pastor at that time.
When did Hope of Glory start?
In 1996, and then we formally got our 501(c)(3) in 1999. Our pastor was still supporting us, especially when we had to get supplies and stuff. We were given a little van and started accumulating supplies and served in the park, until the city and county decided that wasn't a good idea.
Some homeless ministries require clients to participate in religious activities.
We're biblically based and stick with Bible teachings, but that covers a lot of denominations right there. We have many people from different faiths who come and have helped us over the years. But no matter what, we serve anyone who comes to our door. We don't require that they participate, but we feel the way we behave is also part of how we minister.
Where are you located now?
The church we were at changed hands, and the pastor there had a heart for the homeless, but he wanted to do things his way. They turned their space into a summer-sun and women's winter shelter, and they feed countless meals. It's a big hub for the homeless, which is a good thing. But we ended up at a Hispanic church—Centro Cristiano Esperanza (125 W. Veterans Blvd.)—and that's where we're serving now.
How do you get your food?
We do use the Food Bank, but we have several other sources we've been gleaning from over the years—pizza from Pizza Hut, sweets from Starbucks, bread from Fry's. We get other people to donate meals, and we have one volunteer who does our Thursday meals. We serve meals three times a week.
Do you want to build your own facility?
Yes, we need another shelter here in Tucson. There is a huge need that I have seen ever since I started this. Now I get so many phone calls. People out there are desperate and are so scared, getting ready to get kicked out of their house, or living out of their car. We want to do it big, and our vision has never gotten smaller. My volunteers and I don't want to do anything less than 3,600 square feet. We want a shelter space for families, men, women, some cottage industry, a day care, a place where people can get (Department of Health Services aid) and Social Security without running around town.
Does it feel like we don't have enough homeless services?
They are limited in size, and as far as on-site services, those are not available. And as far as families being housed together, there is so little of that. The only (housing facility like that) I know of is run by Primavera. Families need to be kept together. At other shelters, they are split up, and then there is the issue of: "Are they married?" If they come in with children, and they are a family, I don't care if they are not married.
How many people do you serve?
In 2011, we served about 8,000 meals. On a weekly basis, we see anywhere from 40 to 60 people depending on the time of the month, and that's three times a week. That's close to 120 to 180 people a week, and, of course, they are the same people. Out of those, it's probably 30 percent who are chronically homeless, and 10 percent marginally homeless. The rest are neighbors.