Category Archives: homeless

Coming Together

Winter Outreach and Christ Church Cathedral hosted an event about homelessness in Downtown St Louis last night. I was invited as one of the panelists. I found it very positive and helpful. I was seated right next to Brad Waldrop, a property owner who is one of over 150 of those behind the petition to remove my church’s (New Life Evangelistic Center) hotel permit to shelter the homeless. The hearing on September 24 with the STL Board of Public Service was not brought up at all. Instead we talked about coming together in new and positive ways.

http://cccdean.blogspot.com/2013/09/homelessness-in-st-louis-perspectives.html?spref=fb

Here is an audio file of the panelist remarks at Christ Church Cathedral last night:

http://cccstl.podbean.com/2013/09/18/downtown-hall-meeting-homelessness-in-st-louis-perspectives-and-solutions/

Here are further thoughts, sorry they’re all in caps like I’m shouting.

INSTEAD OF EXCUSES WHY WE CAN’T. . .

INSTEAD OF PATTING OURSELVES ON THE BACK. . .

INSTEAD OF CUTTING SERVICES TO FOLLOW FEDERAL GRANT FUNDING. . .

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHO WE ARE

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT WILL WORK

LET’S TALK ABOUT AN END TO CRIMINALIZATION, HARRASSMENT, FUDGING NUMBERS, DISCRIMINATION, AND WHAT SOMEONE OR SOME OTHER GROUP NEEDS TO DO.

THERE IS SO MUCH WE CAN BEGIN DOING THAT ENDS THE WAR ON THE IMPOVERISHED AND THAT FOCUSES ON HUMANIZING AND EMPOWERING PEOPLE.

WE ALL KNOW THE EXCUSES. WE ALL KNOW THE PROBLEMS. LET’S GET TO FUNDING TRANSPORTATION, HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS, SMALLER ROTATING SHELTERS, AND LET’S STOP THINKING IT’S SOMEONE ELSE’S JOB. NO ONE WANTS THE LIABILITY OF SERVING PEOPLE FOR FREE. THERE IS NO GUARANTEED RETURN IN THE INVESTMENT OF FREE HOSPITALITY. THE ONLY GUARANTEE IS TROUBLE. WHEN YOU START YOUR INVESTMENTS WITH THE THOUGHT OF RETURN YOU’LL NEVER RISK THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU YOURSELF BELONG TO HUMANITY. RISK THE POSSIBILITY THAT OTHERS NEED PROTECTION, UNDERSTANDING, REST, AND DIGNITY JUST AS YOU DO.

PEOPLE WITHOUT MONEY THESE DAYS LACK SO MUCH MORE THAN BUYING POWER. THEY LACK PROTECTION. THEY LACK THE MEANS TO SURVIVE. FINALLY, THEY BECOME CRIMINALIZED FOR SLEEPING OR BEING IN PUBLIC PLACES AT NIGHT. ST LOUIS HAS NO LAWS BANNING CAMPING OR SITTING OR SLEEPING IN PUBLIC. BUT JUST YOU TRY IT.

THE ANSWER IS TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT HOW MANY HERE ARE IN THIS SPOT OR EASILY COULD BE. THE ANSWER IS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY BECAUSE WE’RE TIRED OF MAKING EXCUSES.

EVERY STRANGER HAS A GIFT TO BRING. EVERY HUMAN HAS SOMETHING TO SHARE BY BEING ALIVE. PEOPLE ARE NOT PROBLEMS, THEY ARE WORLDS.

Dueteronomy 10:17b-19

“[God] who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

SINCE CHILDHOOD I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO WELCOME STRANGERS. THERE IS NOTHING STRANGER THAN A HUMAN BEING. WE SPEAK AND ACT IN WAYS THAT MAKE NO SENSE. BUT WE ARE REMINDED THAT WE ALL AT ONE TIME BEEN A STRANGER SOMEWHERE, ALIEN, VULNERABLE, AND THAT FOR THIS REASON WELCOMING AND SECURING OTHERS IS OUR TRUST.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ALONE IN THE WOODS AND FOUND A MARKER THAT KEPT YOU FROM GETTING LOST? IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THERE, BUT IT WAS. AND YOU WERE GRATEFUL. IF YOU WERE EVER GRATEFUL FOR SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE WHO GAVE YOU CONFIDENCE THAT YOU WERE NOT ALONE IN THE WORLD, UNDERSTAND THAT YOU CAN ALSO DO THIS FOR OTHERS. WHY SHOULD YOU? BECAUSE YOU ARE HERE. WHAT SORT OF COMMUNITY DO YOU WANT?

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Why Churches can not care for the poor alone

Most people understand why churches cannot do all the work for caring for the poor themselves. But there seems to be a growing number of Evangelicals who want to strip the government of things like food stamps and disability altogether and make churches do the job. Here’s my response:

You seem to believe that cuts should be made in government programs for the poor and more investment made in charitable organizations and churches. Tax dollars should be spent not for the poor but on other things, and then tithes should be given for the benefit of the poor. Well, firstly that idea assumes that government has no real responsibility for the poor. Secondly, it assumes that churches and charitable organizations can easily fill in the gap in needed services.

In my limited experience I see that neither government, nor churches, nor charitable entities of whatever stripe have enough in funds to fill in the cracks in the current social safety net system. People who argue that the system works just fine must have a pretty twisted view of what “just fine” is. As one media/political liaison for a local large church/charity said recently, “This is America and if the service is free you just have to expect to wait for it. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is.” So what she was saying is: tell them to go ahead and sleep under that tree each night and pray they don’t get raped and keep checking into the 211 hotline until they get a bed. My response to this: If I had a loved one who broke down anywhere in America, my daughter for instance, and there wasn’t anywhere for her to stay the night, I would be sick until I knew that she was safe. The “wait for service” line doesn’t work for me. No one should have to sleep outside.

Why should no one have to sleep outside? Simply because the laws in this country make it so that being displaced makes you a criminal. Property laws are such that anyone can be reported to the police and arrested for “trespassing”, “loitering”, and “disturbing the peace” because they are in proximity to a business or residence where neighbors are suspicious.

So here’s what I’m saying: any government that makes the laws such that not having money makes you suspicious, should also provide for people without money so that they can at least exist. That is why things like food stamps, SSI and SSDI, HUD housing,and other assistance are so necessary. When you work among the poor, you begin to realize that so many of them must live on some kind of government assistance simply because they are at a disadvantage in employment and housing. The correctional system, the Veteran Administration, Family Services, Department of Mental Health: all of these entities have way more people as dependents reentering society than our churches and charities can manage. The answer is not to just let these people sink or swim. They have had both hands tied behind their backs and we’re living in a new America where employment has changed.

So what is the answer? There is no one solution. There are many solutions. Cutting food stamps is certainly not a solution. I will say that many churches do not by-in-large believe we’re in a crisis. They don’t seem to get that there are really poor people in this country. Or at least they believe it doesn’t effect them. I think churches need to start teaching the early church practice of the Christ room, where strangers are taken in to church members homes and cared for. But I work enough with pastors and church people to know that they do far more dreaming and talking than actual giving. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

Housing has got to become for affordable and so must transportation. People who are members in a local church should begin to face how difficult it is for people with minimum wage jobs to get by. We should all find it immoral that anyone be encouraged to go into debt in order to grow their credit. Unless we all start living more sensibly and simply each of us are a part of the problem, not the solution.

What can churches do? Spiritual formation involves discipline, and disciplined people is something our country needs. In so far as we teach the Fear of the Lord, the Wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit, the Word of God itself, and we live by it, the injustice in our society will become more and more unconscionable. We can’t let the market decide what humans are worth, we have to go back to God’s Word.

Two things I think Evangelicals should care about are a National Housing Trust Fund and the expansion state to state of Medicaid in anticipation of the Affordable Care Act. That so many are opposed to these means I’m moving against the stream. What else is new?

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Assurances

In response to Joe Holleman’s article at Stltoday.com, I’d like to officially give the city of St. Louis the assurance that no one will ever again sleep around 1411 Locust St. in downtown so that they may remove the barricades. With all the power at my command to control human behavior, to make individuals do the next right thing, to control the police department and family services, to insure that hospital social workers don’t refer the very sick to our door. . . . it is done. Go ahead and take down the barricades. Do it because the city’s Transition In Place program will place all these people. Do it because they can come to city homeless services to pick up their keys to their new apartments and not one more shelter bed is needed in the city of St. Louis.

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Barricades, Downtown, and Disorientation

There are still metal barriers on the streets around NLEC at 1411 Locust St. We are encouraging concerned people to contact the Mayor at City Hall and ask that they be removed. In case you have not been following the story, in September the city places metal barricades on Locust Street , 15 Street and St. Charles Ave. in Downtown West in St. Louis city in an effort to keep homeless men, women, and children from sleeping on these streets. How long would these stay up? Until all of the forty or so people accepted services. So. . . . How’s that going exactly? It’s anyone’s guess. Ask people in the neighborhood about the barricades and they’ll answer with another question, “Would it be better for two year olds to be sleeping on the sidewalk?”

 

When I bring up, again and again, the lack of access to shelter beds and the lack of capacity available in the region, I am smiled at, the eyes roll, and I’m assured that the city is working on it. “Once the Hearth Act is fully implemented and all parties involved are onboard, you’ll notice the difference.” Wonderful. In the meantime volunteers will continue saving lives during the coldest nights of the year so that the city can take the credit and claim the system works just fine. How many more people have to be visibly homeless on the street before downtown admits there is not enough shelter available? There is no answer, and they promise there never will be. Everything is fine.

 

So are barricades really the answer? I KNOW they are not. They weren’t prior to September, and they are not in November, and they won’t be in January. But I’d like to look at this in context with the larger picture of the use of barricades in downtown. If you live or work in downtown you get used to having to walk or drive around construction, parades, or temporary events. This morning as I tried to navigate to 14th and Locust on a Saturday, I drove as far west as Jefferson Avenue only to be stopped by barricades and people with yellow jackets directing traffic. The only available route is Tucker to Washington Avenue. Redirecting traffic seems to have become a passion for city planners in downtown. But, with so much changing all the time, between road construction, new development, and weekend events, what is the effect on new people or people who do not often frequent the area? One word: disorientation.

 

The barriers in front of 1411 Locust St. are indicative of the disorientation that is the downtown St. Louis experience. “Don’t walk here, walk in the street. Don’t park here, keep moving. Park anyway, get your car towed.” Disorientation defines poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the twenty-first century. It also defines what poor people become used to from the St. Louis Metro region. “You can’t get there from here.” No income, no money, no transportation, no shelter, no friends or relatives. . . . take whatever you can get and ignore the rest. When you’re poor you don’t stop caring what people think, you just kind of stuff it and put it away with the other anxieties for awhile. You look for kindness wherever you can find it, and you do your best to survive.

 

Barricades make perfect sense to city planners when they use them every weekend anyway for events. They make sense when you don’t work or live on Locust St. They make sense when you don’t include the people who live and work there into planning. Downtown is the region’s playground. It’s the place to come to concerts, drink, eat, gamble, and catch all sorts of entertainment. It’s the place to run marathons, cater lots of food, be seen, and then drive away from. All of this activity involves lots of barricades. Does anyone do anything else in downtown? Does anyone care about anything else in downtown? At this point I think city planners believe that if we do, we’re patient and can put up with it. Barricades are the tax that everyone pays. Grin and bear it.

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A little satire

20120903-191655.jpg

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Homeless people are not problems

It is frustrating to me that homeless people are looked at as problems here in the Midwest. This afternoon I taped segments with five different people in NLEC’s Thirty Day program. Two white men, Two Black Men, and one Black woman. Every single person interviewed had a positive attitude. Every person is either working a job or is willing to work. All five are not from downtown St. Louis. One man was brought by the police from St. Charles, MO. One person had been living with family for two years. One man works from 5pm to 1am and then rises at 5am to volunteer here in our building.
Everyone has a different story. A preacher was among them. He said that he’d been a minister for decades before drinking and drugs ended his marriage and left him homeless. He seemed ashamed of himself, but then I asked him how long he’d been sober. Three weeks. I reminded him that it was by God’s grace that he was sober today, and I thanked him for his sobriety today. His story is a testimony to an addict out there who says he can’t stay sober even one day.
Homeless people are not problems in downtown St. Louis. Each person has a story if someone would just take the time to get to know them. I work at NLEC as a pastor because I believe in the grace of God to restore families, and to set free people who’ve been bound by selfishness for years. I believe the Metro St. Louis area needs this ministry. We don’t charge any of our clients for the services they receive.
And yet the homeless get talked about in the area like they are social pariahs. They get talked about like they’re trash, an eyesore, crime magnets, etc. One guy told me today that he never believed he’d be one of “those people” who come to Larry Rice. And that’s how it is. As George Carlin said, the poor get used by society to scare the middle class to keep working. “Don’t worry it’ll never be you.” One guy told me, “If I only had back the money garnered by my employer and given to United Way I wouldn’t have to be here.” And so it goes.

I draw strength from the stories of people here at this church. They stay positive, and they trust God, no matter how bad things seem. I dropped off a grandmother and her two granddaughters at the Greyhound bus station yesterday. They came to St. Louis two weeks ago for a short trip that turned into a nightmare. But they made the best of it in our shelter. She asked me, “Why does fear come to me so easily?” and “It seems like things went from bad to worse and are not going to get any better.” I tried to assure her that life is not all bad all the time. But truthfully, I don’t know what I’d do in her position. How does she stay strong for the grand kids? We prayed together, and I drew strength from her faith.
Because God makes a way for all these people, I believe it is wrong when churches don’t trust God enough not to welcome people without income into their families of faith. It is wrong that St. Charles Police bring men into downtown St. Louis. It is wrong that the MO Balance of Continuum, all these years after the promise to end chronic homelessness, still think its fine to rely on the city for its rural regions.
If the gospel is really for the whole person, then what kind of believers are we to not welcome strangers without income into our faith community?

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Guest Post: “Who are the Real Criminals?” by Larry Rice

[Here is a guest post by my dad, Larry Rice, an advocate for fair housing rights and the right of the homeless to form an organized tent city. He was recently arrested in the Botanical Heights Neighborhood for attempting to use private property leased by his church, NLEC, to worship and allow the homeless to sleep. The city came and condemned the property and then told him to leave within a few hours. When he and three others refused, they were arrested, charged with a misdemeanor, and released the next day. The ACLU of Eastern Missouri publicly condemned the city’s actions, saying it was an abuse of power on the basis of what might be done in the future. ]

Who are the real criminals? It is not those who have had their tents and structures bulldozed along the riverfront and are now forced to violate the law as they sleep in the parks after 10pm or in the alleys, the storefronts or on the sidewalks.

Who are the real criminals? It is not those who have their land condemned within hours after trying to put their tents on lots they had legally leased at Vandeventer and North of Highway 44.

Who are the real criminals? They are not those seeking to have the city of St. Louis provide one acre of ground where they may legally reside while members of the Board of Alderman can provide one hundred acres of ground to just one developer who is also give the right of eminent domain to take the homes of the poor and elderly.

Who are the real criminals? They are not those who panhandle a few dollars at the intersections but those who in return for tax abatements get political contributions and remain in power without term limits as they continue to pass laws that make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Who are the real criminals? They are not those who “occupy a premise” illegally condemned because they want to worship God in word and deed on ground He has given them to use for His glory. The real criminals are those who will not obey the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act that declares federal surplus property like the Abram Building on Market is to be used to provide shelter and affordable housing for the homeless. Instead of following the law they will steal it from the homeless and then put the Director of Human Service’s office in that building from which he can control the Continuum of Care and federal dollars for the homeless in order that his boss the mayor may remain in office forever.

Who are the real criminals? It is not the homeless who are living in their cars or like vagabonds going from shelter to shelter because of gentrification policies that have randomly destroyed the low income housing provided by private landlords for over a generation now. The real criminals are those who lie to the homeless and tell them if they leave their tents at Vandeventer and North 44 and get on their bus and go to the shelter they will be getting housing vouchers only to be denied such the next day and told to call the Housing Resource Center. It’s a fact, this Housing Resource Center, because of over crowding in the shelters turn away more homeless people every day then they place.

Who are the real criminals? We will let Jesus Christ determine that as He promised in Matt. 25:31-46 when he said “as often as you have done it to the least of these even so you have done it unto me.” In the mean time, we will continue to fight for a civil rights issue, the right to housing, so that veterans, the elderly, the unemployed and the homeless of all walks of life will have the freedom to have a place to lay their heads at night even if it is a tent.

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