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Interfaith Compassion Ministry nears 20 years serving Lafayette County

Interfaith Compassion Ministry has been in Oxford for nearly 20 years, and they’re not stopping any time soon.

A program of the United Way, ICM is a collaborative effort among local churches to provide assistance with meeting basic needs, exclusively in Lafayette County. People come to ICM when they face crisis situations, whether they’re homeless, have substance abuse problems, need legal council or simply need help making ends meet. The organization has served the LOU community since September 1999.

The woman behind ICM is none other than its director, Lena Wiley. When someone is in need, it doesn’t matter what time it is – she’ll be there to help. In terms of helping victims of domestic violence and the homeless, Wiley said “we’re it,” beyond what law enforcement is able to do.

ICM sees 30 to 40 people per month who are either recently evicted or homeless. Most recently, she said, the cases she’s worked with involve the homeless and children.

“We’ve seen more homelessness, more children. A lot of times we have women and children, like last night, who got put out because their electricity was turned off yesterday,” Wiley said. “So we had to put them up and we’re going to get them straightened out this month.”

When a family or individual is put out of their home, Oxford Police Department will call ICM. From there, the ministry has partnered with the Ole Miss Motel to provide those in need with a room for up to three nights.

After that, Wiley said, it’s up to ICM and the more than 30 churches who support the ministry to help those people get back on their feet. Because the ministry is almost exclusively backed by religious organizations, ICM relies heavily on private donations.

According to Ernest Harland, retired veterinarian and weekly volunteer, ICM’s funding this year is lower than normal due to natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. However, he said, there will always be a way to help others, especially when they’re willing to do their part to improve their situation.

“It is so interesting to observe people who have turned their lives completely around and have become useful,” Harland said. “Within oneself, there has to be a desire and recognition that ‘I can do this.’ We have people come in here, and things have happened to them and they’ve really had the rug pulled out from underneath them. I really have empathy for someone like that.”

In the last year alone, ICM provided 668 hot meals, helped 236 homeless individuals, helped 2,557 people pay their rent and helped 2,078 pay their utility bills.

While those numbers may seem substantial, there’s still more to be done. In the future, Wiley said she’d love to see a homeless shelter in Lafayette County, as well as enough funds to get through “emergencies.”

Many things have improved over the last 19 years, but Wiley said there’s still a long way to go in terms of affordable housing in Lafayette County. However, she said she hopes to one day get to a point where all people in the LOU community are in stable environments.

“The economy is worse, the cost of living in Oxford is extremely high. Minimum wage does not pay the rent,” Wiley said. “I can’t really say we have a success rate when it comes to [housing]. If their income doesn’t change, they can’t be successful. I wish it was 100 percent, we could run ourselves out of business.”

Until then, she said, the team will keep working to better the lives of those in need.

Interfaith Compassion Ministry is located at 1918 University Ave. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. For more information, call 662-281-1002.