Last week I mentioned that we needed to regroup on our approach the homeless and that we would be sitting down for longer term solutions and to figure out an approach to working with our concerned neighbor. Well, the day after that post I received a call from the city homeless guy we were going to work with and he said the mayor's office is now involved.
Awesome! To be honest, I started cracking up. It literally made my day. I haven't even been here a year and I've already had the mayor's office notified about our ministries (and apparently the misdeed of caring for those in need). The city guy said he was given leeway to work with us, but had to do it right away or it would move out of his hands. I said that was fine and moved our homeless team meeting up a week to this Monday. I asked church folks about a good time and figured 7pm would work and sent out a confirmation email.
Well, then I got an email back from the city guy and he can't do 7pm and he interpreted my email to mean that I think we are in an us vs them position. (Which I don't). He also said there has been more than one complaint (sort of saw that one coming), and that there are health and safety code violations that need to be addressed. That email did not make my day.
I knew that eventually working with the homeless would become something bigger...an advocacy issue...I guess I just didn't figure it would be now.
The truth is I started to cry when I got that email. I cried because I had been misunderstood. I cried because this ministry is hard and taxing. I cried because I don't want to fight. I am tired and busy and have 100 things on my plate and the last thing I want to do is fight the city, or the mayor, or the NIMBY folks around us.
But then as I thought about it (and kept crying) I thought, "It would be easier to make them leave. It would be easier not to have sanitation issues. It would be easier not to deal with their stuff that is piled around the church. It would be easier not to deal with parishioner complaints about why "they" are still here. All of that would be easier. But it would not be more faithful."
If we kick them off of our property, there is still no place for them to go. Yes, there are shelters here, but they fill up and there is not enough space for everyone. So, you think there are health and safety violations with them sleeping around the church? How about when they defecate and urinate behind local restaurants? When they get more violent staking out territory because it's a fight for the good spot every night?
Even if this ceased to be our issue, it doesn't cease to be an issue. There is still a real need and a very complex web of problems. There is no complete answer. There is no perfect answer.
As a church we aren't trying to be defiant. We aren't trying to be rebellious. We are trying to care for those in need, doing what we can with what we have. We try to deal with trash and bathroom issues. We try and hold them to a standard of behavior and involvement with the church. We try and treat them with care and dignity and respect.
And to simply say, "Sorry this got way too sticky and complicated for us" may be honest, but it is not faithful.
Nevertheless, I still don't want to fight (not that I won't just that I don't want to). I don't want to deal with citations from the city, or the police, or the mayor's office, or whomever thinks it's a brilliant idea to offer citations for caring for those in need.
I have a feeling tomorrow's meeting is going to be hard, and that things might just get very hard. Please pray for us as we make decisions and have tough conversations and try and continue to be faithful in our response.