MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Yes We Can! feeds and houses the homeless

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Pastor Sherman D. Manning never wanted a traditional church.

He didn’t want “the responsibility or the headache.”

“When I started out as an evangelist, the easiest thing to do was to stand in the pulpit and preach, then go back to the hotel and go to the next city,” said Manning, a divorced father of two. “Pastoring a church, you have to pay bills, organize, deal with all the headache that comes with it. It’s a monumental task. You have to be called to do it. That’s not what I wanted to do.”

What Manning, 49, wanted to do was help people. It was an aspiration that began at an early age when he initially decided he wanted to be a pastor.

“I was in the backyard playing Batman and Robin with my brother when I felt a pulling to preach,” Manning said. “That Sunday we went to my church and talked to the pastor. He watched me for four years. He ordained me at age 12.”

Manning’s call to the ministry started at the age of 8 in his hometown of Atlanta. He was licensed to preach at 13 and ordained at 17. That’s when he began to travel the country as an evangelist.

Today Manning is living his heart’s desire.

In 2016, he launched the Yes We Can! Worship Center and began to help people.

The center houses people in need and feeds hundreds of hot catered meals to the homeless and the formerly incarcerated on Skid Row every Friday night at 7 p.m.

“We initially got our money from a lawyer on my board of directors,” Manning said. “I have a lot of lawyers who believe in the work we do and they donate. They sow. People like Tom Mesereau, John Isen, and Peter Andrist donate to our cause.”

The money is used to provide housing through a variety of programs throughout the city.

“We have a service on Friday and then we feed people,” Manning said. “The work we do for the homeless is in the trenches. All the people I want to minister to are sleeping on the streets. My office is on Skid Row, which is a microcosm of society at large. They all know me.”

The 2022 homeless count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority revealed 41,980 unhoused people in the city of Los Angeles, up 1.7% from 2020. In the county, there were 69,144 unhoused people, an increase of 4.1%.

The 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, a real-time snapshot of homelessness in Los Angeles County that helps determine the distribution of funding and services to the unhoused, took place Jan. 24-26.

The Yes We Can! Worship Center has housed 387 persons since its launch.

“The best source I’ve had is HOPICS (Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care Services),” said Manning. “Also Home At Last.”

Within the next two years, Manning said he will have Yes We Can!’s own facility.

“We want an emergency housing residential facility in South L.A. that can house at least 100 people,” Manning said. “I want it to be an apartment complex. I also want to help people with their job skills and resumes. I want a full-service operation. We will offer seminars, workshops, Bible study and groups and services that transform the thinking and mental processes of our clients.”

The focus of the facility is to motivate people to do better.

“We don’t want people laying around in a shelter all day,” Manning said. “In ours, you have to be up at 6 a.m., out the door by 8 a.m. and you won’t be allowed back in until after 5 p.m. We want to encourage people to go and get a job. I’m trying to teach everyone to be self-sufficient.”

When it comes to getting people off the streets, Manning said it’s imperative that people “understand your audience.”

“Mayor Karen Bass has her work cut out for her,” said Manning, who has consulted with experts across the country in developing a program and a plan that aims to virtually empty Skid Row. “It’s important that she understands what’s going on with the homeless. I’m hopeful. Some people on the street want to be housed and some don’t. It’s what I call a ‘post-traumatic street disorder.’”

Bass declared a state of emergency over homelessness as her first official act as mayor.

“The biggest mistake she can make is to play games with pastors who just want money and don’t give a doggone about homeless people,” Manning said. “She needs to work with the people who are actually doing the work.”

On Feb. 3, Manning and the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles, under the leadership of President Pastor K.W. Tullos, will hold a National Homelessness Prayer Vigil for Mayor Bass at 7 p.m. at the Yes We Can! Worship Center, to declare a “spiritual state of emergency.”

“Mayor Bass is going to need help from heaven in order to bring leadership, accountability, and action to reduce homelessness and end street encampments in Los Angeles dramatically,” Manning said.

Manning, who hosts a podcast focusing on lawyers and issues that pertain to the homeless, said when an outsider comes into the Skid Row environment there is paranoia.

“It’s like walking into gang turf,” he said. “It’s the underbelly of the homelessness of the city. Everything takes place there. It’s the most dangerous place in America. 

“There are homicides, rapes, and sexual assaults. It’s a foreign world. You won’t be successful unless you know how to penetrate that foreign world.”

Yes We Can! Worship Center is a multi-cultural religious organization serving disadvantaged communities throughout Los Angeles.

Beneficiaries of the nonprofit programs include the homeless, the formerly incarcerated and the elderly. The organization assists seniors in applying for jobs. It also assists individuals in adjusting to life outside of prison.

Manning spent 10 years in prison for what he calls “a wrongful conviction.”  

“When I got out of prison, I spent six weeks sleeping in the back of my car,” Manning said. “It changed me. My mom died while I was in prison and my dad was on his deathbed in Atlanta when I got out. I couldn’t believe that in the city of Angels, with all this prosperity, I couldn’t find somebody to give me a chance.”

Manning said he got closer to God in prison than he had ever been.

“God told me in prison what He was going to do for me when I got out,” Manning said. “You just know when you’re called. I know through the evidence of his handiwork. There is a leading in my spirit and soul. God got me out of poverty. Since that day, I’ve been housing people. I won’t stop until I get them housed. House, feed, and preach is what God told me to do.”

Yes We Can! Worship Center works with various nonprofits including Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System, McCoy Church, and even Cedric the Entertainer, who has endorsed the center’s advocacy and programs.

“I wanted to help, not just preach and sing songs,” said Manning, who starts each day at 6 a.m. and continues through midnight. “I wanted to feed people and house them. Now, I do it every day of my life. I have a church full of poor people. I am serving the community.”

Manning has a lot on his plate but said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“People ask how I do it,” he said. “It’s God.”

 

Yes We Can! Worship Center is located at 10306 Avalon Blvd, L.A. 90003. The Center is open Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  For more information, call 213-858-2608 or visit yeswecanworshipcenter.org.

 

“Making a Difference” is a Wave feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to dwanlass@wavetv.net.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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