Needless to say, I will not be joining it. And I want to be clear about why … and also about the opportunities I see for us as a Cathedral truly to make a difference toward ending homelessness.
1) The city’s closing of the encampments and relocating of the residents is a good thing.
2) Movements for change run off the rails when they treat potential allies as enemies.
3) Well-conceived band-aid measures are necessary, but until we take a systems approach, urban poverty and homelessness will persist.
First on the encampments. This is the easy one.
Last year, Kathleen Wilder of The Bridge, Greg Vogelweid of St. Patrick’s Center and Stephanie Perry (then of St. Patrick’s Center, now with Children’s Hospital) and I set out three principles that would guide us as we worked together to try to end homelessness and urban poverty in St. Louis. We agreed we would insist on and promote only solutions that were in line with these principles.
1) We dream of creating a city that makes happy God’s heart.
2) We seek and embrace solutions that promote the safety, dignity, and quality of life for all people.
3) We refuse to defend the rights of people to demean themselves and others.
The encampments are dangerous – a public health and safety hazard. People living outside in filth and subject to assault and robbery is neither safe nor dignified. I realize that it is some of the residents’ preference to live in the encampments, but I refuse to spend my energy defending the rights of people to demean themselves and others.
The City of St. Louis has taken a census of those living in the camps. The people are not being evicted but are being relocated into safe housing. They are being given funds to provide for their basic needs and help with setting up their new homes and connected with resources to help them stay there.
The city’s relocation efforts are not perfect. Just putting people in a home does not begin to solve all their problems. But it is an important piece … and the encampments are not only not a workable solution, they are an active detriment to the health and safety of the people who live there.
In fact, we should not only refrain from protesting the relocation, we should actively support it.
That is why I invite you to join me in making a personal donation to the Encampment Relocation Fund that will help with transition expenses for people being relocated by making a check out to:
Encampment Relocation Fund
C/O United Way of Greater St. Louis
910 N. 10th St.,
St. Louis, MO 63101
or by calling (314) 657-1702.
But even more disturbing is that this protest and the rhetoric behind it are just more of the same. The biggest stumbling block toward ending homelessness in St. Louis is our inability to work together.
In this instance, the primary players are familiar foes – the City of St. Louis and New Life Evangelistic Center. I’ve spent lots of time with representatives of both these groups. And the truth is, both really care about and are providing necessary services for homeless people. The truth is, we would be in big trouble if the efforts of either one simply disappeared. And the truth is we should be working together to make all of those efforts unnecessary.
Working together. And not just as the City and NLEC … but the City and the County … the business community and the faith community.
As Americans, it’s known as citizenship – working together for the common good. I call it discipleship.
Even if the relocation of those in the encampments was a bad idea (which it isn’t), the answer is not shouting and shaming. That just deepens the chasms between us. The answer is the answer of Gandhi and Mandela and Tutu and King … of treating even your active enemies as future friends. Of seeking loving conversion of hearts.
It is following the counsel Paul gave to the Philippians, “in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
There is a time for protest. But the protests of Gandhi and Mandela and Tutu and King did not demonize the proponents of the policies they were trying to change and always sought first to work with them. That is not the case here nor has it been anything close to the history of our struggle with homelessness in St. Louis. And unless that changes, there is little hope anything else will.
Finally, we do need to provide band-aid measures that give compassionate care to those who are currently homeless. It’s why we have our Miss Carol’s Breakfast Program on Saturday mornings. It’s why we support The Bridge both financially and with volunteers for their Sunday lunch program. It’s why when City Director of Homeless Services Bill Siedhoff asked me yesterday if we would allow a portapotty to be put on the NE corner of 13th and Olive to try to alleviate the annual warm weather public health problem of outdoor urination and defecation (of which our own buildings are often a target), my answer was, “If you think it might help … absolutely.”
But none of these things do anything to end homelessness. That’s why I was intruiged and grateful to be invited to be a part of a new group forming to look at how systems theory can be used in looking at promoting lasting change for urban poverty and homelessness. We are a priest, a social worker, a homeless activist, a lawyer, developer and a banker. We are a self-described partnership of the two groups that traditionally battle each other … the NIMBYs and the bleeding hearts … and we’re seeing how we can work together to promote solutions that address the multiple causes of urban poverty and homelessness and that don’t just shift the problem around.
It’s a big job, but there is hope. Click here to read a report of a community effort in Battle Creek, MI, that successfully used a Systems Dynamics model in their efforts related to homelessness. Other systems models, like the Harlem Children’s Zone model that Grace Hill Settlement House is exploring for their neighborhood have shown great promise in sustaining community-based change.
I believe this is the path toward that city that makes glad God’s heart of which we dream.
Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
This is the intersection of the historic role of the Cathedral as a community gathering place for all people and our Gospel and historical mandate to see, meet and care for Christ in the poorest of the poor. It is an approach that is in line with the mission of the church to “reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” It is also an opportunity for us truly to be a Cathedral in terms of leading an entire community toward sustainable change and not just being another shouting voice.
What do you think?
Do you think I should have been a part of the protest? What do you think of the city’s relocation of those living in the encampments? What do you think the role of the Cathedral should be? Should I have said yes to the portapotty? What else can you or we be doing?