Someone found my blog looking for “larry rice homeless vets Springfield” so I figured I’d give them something worth finding. KOLR 10-TV in Springfield, MO recently did a story about the New Life Evangelistic Center acquiring Springfield’s federal building. In the story they quoted Mary Lilly Smith as a representative for the city of Springfield as saying that Larry Rice’s ministry has a history of mismanagement. Her examples, rapes in Joplin and Springfield, were inaccurate. The case in Joplin was dropped as a false accusation. I’d like to point out that Mary Lilly Smith works as Springfield’s Economic Development Director. In this capacity she represents the interests of Springfield’s business community. How then does she speak for the city in relation to social services or human services?
I’ll tell you. Springfield Missouri, in keeping with many American cities, has a plan for the homeless. It doesn’t involve getting them jobs. It does involve showing them the highway. They have a vested interest in building the real estate market and the business district, and part of this is keeping the homeless hidden. In Springfield they want the homeless hidden on Commercial Street. Something new is happening in Springfield though. Their City Manager is retiring. And they claim that they want to be inclusive in their selection of a new City Manager. If you want a say in who the city selects, get down there and pick someone who might represent all of Springfield’s citizens. Someone who might care about human beings more than money and property.
I have been noting with interest the ways in which Real Estate developers in particular have become a progressive reactionary political force with the homeless and poor as targets in their cross-hairs. I think it’s because they fear with the recent downturn in the market that they have a lot to lose. Let’s set the record straight. Homeless and or low income people do not necessarily cause property values to fall. Other communities, such as this one in Philadelphia, have held very constructive conversations about property values. From just a simple web search I learned of two organizations that offer education on this topic: The Corporation for Supportive Housing and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. I encourage you to move past this whole “property values” argument into constructive dialog about services for low income and homeless people. The hostility directed against Larry Rice and the New Life Evangelistic Center tells us much more about St. Louis and Springfield’s economic fear and very little about their desire to help people.
This fear is understandable in this day and age. Money puts us in the position of needing to keep it. The poor hold a mirror to our society about its deepest unfulfilled longings. They remind us of our mortality, our fragile egos, and our fear of sharing this world with people not like us. It’s much easier to feel guilty about the poor than it is to actually try and get close to them. One blogger in St. Louis dedicated nine entries to photographing, scanning, and hourly posting in an effort to keep his neighborhood “free” from ownership by a homeless service provider. I can’t help but think that this man could have spent all that time and energy creatively engaging his fear instead of serving it.