Thursday, March 18, 2010

Church of the No Trespassing Sign

Last night I was at an inner city church. We had some time before we served dinner to the homeless, so I talked to some of the members. They've been having a recurrence of the disputes that they sometimes have with the residents of the high end condos that sprung up during the housing boom. Those residents hate the homeless, and some of the residents seem to think that if the church stopped helping them, the homeless would go away.

I was incredulous at first. These folks bought inner city condos. Some of them bought condos that were made possible because low and moderate income housing was demolished. What did they think their inner city experience would be? Something different than the real estate developer told them, to be sure.

I'm always a bit suspicious of churches where I don't see the poor and the destitute, or worse, where I see no trespassing signs. I belonged to one of those churches once. The argument about the no trespassing sign was one of the early signs that I needed to leave. Once I suggested that we serve a pancake breakfast and post signs to let people know we were doing that. One fellow church council member said, "How would we keep the homeless people away?"

I said, "Why would we keep the homeless away?"

It was a doomed church-parishioner match. I see that now.

I also know that churches have to walk a fine line. The inner city church members I spoke to last night told me that the church allows four of the homeless men to camp out on the little porch by the church office door. It's covered, fairly sheltered, but still, it's hard concrete and no bathroom. I wonder how those men feel, huddled against the church door, thinking of the better space denied to them just beyond the door.

I think of the nation's churches, vacant for so much of the week. I think of all the abandoned strip malls, all the vacant houses across the nation. I wish that I could come up with an elegant plan that would be so flawless that we'd all adopt it, and the homeless would truly have an option that would let them come out of the elements.

1 comment:

Dale said...

It's frustrating because -- unlike so many of the world's problems -- making it so that all of America's homeless have a warm place to sleep and a couple good meals a day is easily soluble, and not even terribly expensive, as these sorts of things go. More food than that is being thrown away every day, and there's plenty of heated space lying empty every night.

I guess the main reason it doesn't happen is that any local solution will tend to draw more homeless to the locality, so the apparent effect of beginning to solve the problem is to make it look worse. And underneath that, of course, is the basic problem of looking at the poor as a sort of vermin that you want to drive away, rather than as your brothers and sisters fallen on hard times.

Which I understand: collect large numbers of desperate people into one place, and they do seem like an infestation. I've lived places where you can't sleep at night for the shrieking and shouting, and people are pissing and shitting in all the doorways, including your own, and it's not fun.

It's easy to lose track of the fact that the only reason you yourself aren't shouting and pissing in doorways at night is that you've got a bathroom and a warm place to sleep and a community to hold you.