One of the biggest challenges faced by any community when addressing homelessness is where to locate homeless support services organizations and agencies.
While, some may feel sympathetic to the homeless and agree there is a need to help them, no one seems to be willing to have the facilities placed in their neighborhoods.
Reasons range far and wide for folks being opposed to the building or expanding of homeless services facilities. However, it all comes down to the perception of how it will impact the surrounding area.
Admittedly, I am a staunch proponent of the need for a community to offer services which actually help the homeless get off the streets and therefore – by extension – the necessity to increase services. All the same, I can clearly understand the reasoning of folks wanting those services located somewhere other than in their neighborhood.
Folks don’t want homeless persons just hanging about their property or near schools. They worry that crime will increase; that the streets will become unsafe; that it will reduce their property values; or just "sully" the overall image of their neighborhoods.
And, their concerns are justifiable – but only to a certain degree.
It is just a fact of life that there are those homeless who are belligerent and offensive in their behavior.
Fortunately, they represent a minority of the homeless.
Unfortunately, however, they are also the ones who further reinforce the homeless stereotypes within the minds of many Americans.
Consequently, people are rather reluctant about having agencies and organizations providing services to the homeless in close proximity to where they live or work.
For example –
A news report from KPHO-TV 5 in Phoenix, mentioned that the Crossroads United Methodist Church was notified late last month by the City that they would no longer be allowed to serve meals or hold worship services for the homeless on the churches lawn.
The church has been holding the weekly event every Saturday beginning in January.
After receiving complaints from some of the neighbors, the city determined that the church was in violation of zoning ordinances, which prohibit "charity dining halls" in a residentially zoned area.
The neighborhood’s Manager For Neighborhood Preservation with the city, Patrick Ravenstein said,
"We certainly appreciate churches and community organizations that help out the community in any way possible. There are just certain activities that are relegated to certain zoning districts."
According to the article, one person stated that the neighborhood didn’t want the church to abandon its outreach program to the homeless altogether – but they did want it "… moved to another location."
Normally, after reading such an article, I’d be busy pointing out the NIMBY mindset. And, I would be saying something to the effect that NIMBY-ism doesn’t provide solutions to homelessness.
However, this particular story ends with a surprising and – in my opinion – positive twist.
As it turns out, the church is going to be allowed to continue its homeless outreach work right on church property. Furthermore, there were no lawsuits brought into play.
A couple of days ago, KPHO-TV 5 released an "update" report.
Its headline: Church To Keep Feeding Homeless
The opening sentence couldn’t have conveyed the message more clearly:
"A Phoenix church will continue to feed the homeless every Saturday morning after an agreement was reached with neighbors and city officials."
The church’s pastor, Dottie Escobedo-Frank said,
"Neighbors just had some very legitimate concerns. And we addressed those concerns. We told them we want to be neighbors with them to keep them safe, too."
According the article, the church will work in concert with city officials and law enforcement to ensure that the homeless do not loiter in the neighborhood after the Saturday morning events and that there will not be trash left behind.
To me, it is inspiring that the City of Phoenix, the neighborhood and the church were able to "come to the table" and find an equitable balance between the safety and well-being of the community (as well as their concerns) and still provide services for the area’s homeless.
A viable solution was found because of one word: compromise.
To be sure, the agreement reached between the church, its neighbors and the City of Phoenix may seem to some as inconsequential in the "grand scheme of things."
But, that first small step may lead to other, much larger actions which might have a significant impact at reducing the numbers of homeless in Phoenix.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that such will be the case.