Imagine yourself as a member of a church and being told by local government that you aren’t allowed to do good works in accordance to your faith.
That’s exactly what has happened in Phoenix, AZ.
Since January 2009, the CrossRoads United Methodist Church has been holding a Saturday morning breakfast. However, due to complaints from some of the church’s "neighbors," city officials have ordered the church to cease holding the weekly event – saying that it violates local zoning ordinances which prohibit "charity dining halls" from operating in residential areas.
According to an Associated Press article,
"On Saturday mornings, crowds of homeless gather with other needy people at picnic tables outside a church in an upscale Phoenix neighborhood, listen to sermons and settle in for sausage, pancakes and scrambled eggs."
As I read the article, the one thing I noted is that no one actually has a problem with the church doing its good works. Even Patrick Ravenstein, Phoenix’s area manager for neighborhood preservation, conceded "We’re glad in the city that they’re trying to help out…"
Also, I noted that although the church does feed a number of homeless at these Saturday morning breakfasts, it serves breakfast to "…other needy people" as well.
So, why are neighbors opposed to these Saturday morning breakfasts?
Because of the homeless. That’s why.
The article mentioned that some of the neighbors assert that "… the homeless create blight and pose a danger to them."
To justify their claim, neighbors point to one isolated incident in which one homeless felon was discovered in the neighbor in possession of child pornography. And it was the complaints of that one incident which compelled the church to abandon the breakfasts, citing zoning ordinances.
I’ll admit that I personally would have been extremely angered by something like that had it occurred in a neighborhood in which I lived. And I most definitely would have wanted that person carted off to the local jail. But, I would have also felt the same way had been the next door neighbor who’d been in possession of child pornography.
However, does the obscene behavior of one homeless person justify punishing the rest of the homeless?
Let me put it this way:
Imagine yourself sitting in a restaurant or in a department store. Suddenly, you notice one of the other customers engaging in some type of unsavory or deviant behavior.
Obviously you’d be appalled. You may even go so far as to complain to management about that specific person.
But would you demand that the city order that establishment to shut down its operations altogether?
My best guess is that this situation between the CrossRoads United Methodist Church, its neighbors and the City of Phoenix isn’t really about the Saturday morning breakfasts.
I say this because if, on Saturday mornings, the only folks who were fed were the church’s immediate neighbors and no one else, I am willing to bet that the city would not have received any complaints whatsoever.
I’m also willing to bet that if it were needy families with a place to live and a bit short of food who were fed each Saturday, that none of the neighbors would object to that either.
No. This is about some of the folks who are feed there. Specifically: the homeless.
It is also about prejudices, discrimination, misconceptions, and stereotypes. It is about neighbors fearing a socio-economic condition they don’t really understand.
What is so sad about this situation is that similar "disputes" are taking place with more frequency throughout the nation.
Everyone wants something to be done about homelessness in their community – but only if the homeless are offered services in some neighborhood other than their own.
And because of our NIMBY mindset, we limit the very progress we claim we want.