I have written about our ministry with the homeless on various occasions here on this blog. It has been a journey filled with lots of learning (for me) and education (of the congregation and for those we serve). Sometimes, I am very proud of our ministry. I am proud of those who have found community in our midst. I smile and think of Allen, who had been on the streets for 17 years when I first met him. Allen claimed he loved the outdoors and didn't ever want to live inside again. For 6 months (after I arrived), he slept on our property. Only a few short weeks after I arrived, he began attending worship and came faithfully every Sunday after. He joined the church and was a regular liturgist.
I am proud of those who have been able to use our ministry as a stepping stone to finding long term housing. I smile when I think of Ed, Katie, Carlos, and Allen knowing they sleep on a bed with shelter over their heads each night.
I am proud of those who have sought sobriety because, in part, of our ministries. I celebrate with Carlos who now has nearly 2 years sober.
I am proud of the connection we have with those we serve so that they aren't left alone when they are sick and hospitalized, or even when they die. I have been to the ER countless times to share in prayer with these brothers and sisters, and been part of saying goodbye when 4 of them have died. I was glad they did not die alone.
I am proud of the ways our members have faced their fears and confronted their stereotypes, for the ways we have stopped dealing with "the homeless" and started dealing with individuals...Alan, Cuca, Jimmy, Wade, and many, many more.
I am glad that an occasional meal bag has converted into weekly hot breakfast with the opportunity to make a sack lunch, prayer before their meal, clean clothes and shoes, Bible study, and worship.
I am so grateful to be a part of this ministry and to learn to live and change in the midst of it.
And, even, in the midst of all that triumph, there is frustration and failure.
It was over a year ago that the trustees decided we could no longer allow individuals to sleep on our property (it was a year and a half ago we had to limit day time access so folks weren't just sleeping on the grounds--we really felt that if we were trying to help them get to a better place in life, napping day in and day out on our property, was not going to get them there). We issued notice and told folks they couldn't stay. Night after night and morning after morning we would tell people to leave because they were camping out. Sometimes we called the police, sometimes we didn't.
And, truth be told, we sort of have a love hate relationship with the PD. They haven't always been very helpful. In fact, they sort of hold (or live?) an all-or-nothing policy. When we first began allowing folks to stay, the area commander told me in no uncertain terms, he didn't support what we were doing. And, basically, if we allowed them to stay at any time, then they were prohibited from asking them to leave at any time. In other words, if we made any allowances, they would not help. As our policies have changed, we have tried to have the police help us, and unfortunately they have not. On various occasions, I have received reports back of what certain (homeless) individuals have said that I said and have had to shake my head that the police would believe such things. In the same breath an officer will say, "you can't trust anything CM says" and then follow it up with, "we can't kick her off the property because she said Pastor Debbie hired her to be security." It seems odd that someone who "can't be believed" is allowed to make up all kinds of things about what permissions I have granted.
It's frustrating, to say the least.
Well, after a year of "battle" with 3 individuals who refuse to heed church instruction, who cuss out church members, who refuse to comply with the police, who break into our buildings, who lie about our policy, who steal from our church, we decided we had to get hard core. We filed a no trespassing order...one that says that anyone on the property without permission will be arrested on felony charges.
That feels awful to me. I don't want the church to have to say "No trespassing, get out of here." But I also don't want the absence of such a rule to imply "sure, come on over, break into a building, stay, we don't care, oh yeah, and don't bother listening to our people or the police" and that seems to be the message these 3 individuals hear.
My biggest hope is that the police don't continue to play the all-or-nothing game arresting anyone on the property. They all know who the problem characters are, because they present a problem to the police too.
Please pray for us as we continue on this journey and try and do what is most faithful along the way.