A meeting was held today at the Mosaic Coffeehouse, led by Pastor Jami Fecher from Gift of Grace, who invited the community to participate in an interactive discussion concerning the SHARE shelter. He encouraged everyone in attendance to “engage with intentional good will,” and to be able to hear and understand one another. Attendees of the 90-minute meeting included neighbors of the church, Gift of Grace congregation members, and preschool parents, among others. Woody Pidcock, a member of the Gift of Grace congregation, served as moderator for the meeting. Pastor Fecher clarified that Woody was not present to share his opinions, but to serve as moderator and to “help call on people and to keep things going in an orderly fashion.”
Neighbors—some of which were also parents of children who attend Huckleberry Forest—asked why they weren’t involved in the decision-making process to house the shelter at the church, and why a meeting [like today’s] couldn’t have been held six months to a year ago. Another neighbor addressed issues of broken trust, but was hopeful that “we can make something more out of this,” though, he indicated, it would take a lot of work by the neighborhood and the church. One woman remarked that her community had “changed overnight” and that many people share her concern for “fear of the unknown.” She wondered how SHARE was willing to work with the community to ensure accountability.
A neighbor who identified himself as Mark said that he was glad he was there for the discussion and hoped the community can work together to make SHARE a better organization. He explained his previous experience in working with homeless shelters in Washington, D.C., and said that ID checking is a common practice in other cities as the first step in breaking the cycle of homelessness.
Mark mentioned that in Maryland, a homeless person could get a letter from the sheriff’s office that indicates they have no criminal record; then, they can get a library card; then they can get a photo ID, and then, a job. Once they get a job, they can get housing. He was concerned that he saw no evidence that breaking this cycle was a part of SHARE’s mission. “It really makes me angry to see an organization of this size to be this bad at what [they] do.”
Pastor Jami said, “I have a hope that the Lutheran Pastors [who] are the hosts of shelters will get together to improve the processes. I have good reason to believe that’s going to happen.” He also hoped that the SHARE shelter would be an asset to the community and “especially the community right around the church.” Furthermore, he expects that SHARE will “abide by their agreement and keep things clean around the church.”
Rich Gamble, pastor of Keystone Church in Tangletown shared his experience in working with Nickelsville last year, when they phoned him looking for emergency shelter. A decision to help the tent city was put to a vote by the congregation and then brought to the preschool, which was supportive of Nickelsville being onsite for a month. Karen, a preschool mother at the Wallingford Co-op Preschool during that time added that “decisions were made quickly and there were obvious concerns, but the communications were made clear about the boundaries and the month went smooth. As a parent, the safety of my child was never an issue. I’m actually happy this is happening and I hope [it] to be as successful.”
Ana, who introduced herself as a part of the steering committee at the Gift of Grace addressed the question as to why the neighborhood hadn’t been informed earlier saying, “The reason may be completely naïve, I didn’t even think, ‘Oh I should ask the neighbors’. It didn’t even cross my mind. I wish it would have, but it didn’t.”
Mark, the neighbor who spoke earlier, proposed to spend the last 15 minutes of the meeting coming up with a pragmatic approach to the issue. He proposed an identification process for the members living in the shelter and “we determine within a reasonable amount of time—maybe a month—that we demand IDs of some portion of that population.” He suggested maybe of the 15 people in that shelter, over time, 13 of them have ID. “If there are 7 guys who are there night after night, they should have IDs. Otherwise, it’s a hideout.”
“I don’t care if there are level 2 sex offenders staying in the shelter. I just want to have them to have to register,” he added, “because that’s the community standard, and the community standard’s been violated.”
He said he had talked to neighborhood police officer, Loren Street, to be a part of the group as well and asked that neighbors, members of the church and SHARE to get involved.
The next meeting will be held on October 23, from 10:30-12:00 p.m. at the Mosaic Coffee House.