There's been some talk circulating in Greensboro about the need for a homeless day shelter in the past couple days. Of course, people have been talking about this for awhile. Staff writer Amy Kingsley wrote about a discussion between Liz Seymour, who, like me, is active with Food Not Bombs Greensboro, and the Greensboro Public Library in February 2006. Establishing day centers in Greensboro and High Point is also a "strategy" of Guilford County's ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness.
I think it's fair to say there's a lack of political will to get the job done at this point.
The most recent ripple of conversation was initiated with Mayor Yvonne Johnson's visit with homeless diners at the the downtown central library on Monday. Food Not Bombs serves meals at the library every Monday, and is collaborating with the library and advocate Cara Michele Forrest to create programmed events called the Winter Series. The mayor visited as part of "government official" night.
Seymour reiterated the need for a day shelter with Johnson, and after the mayor left we talked in more detail about the increasing scarcity of places where homeless people can congregate during the day and what to do to address this challenge.
According to Forrest, St. Mary's House is the last remaining place where homeless people can legally congregate in the UNCG/Tate Street area. Other churches have locked their doors during the day, and filed notices of intent with the Greensboro Police Department, allowing the police to come onto the property and arrest people for illegal activities, including for trespassing. Now, for complicated reasons, St. Mary's House, on whose steering committee is serve, is contemplating following suit.
Alongside St. Mary's House, the Beloved Community Center hospitality house on Arlington Street also serves as a geographical anchor for the homeless community. Although I know of no plans by the Beloved Community Center to discontinue services to the homeless, the gentrification brought on by the burgeoning Southside neighborhood must surely create some pressures.
The third leg of this trend of increasing displacement of homeless people is the anti-loitering ordinance passed by the Greensboro City Council last year. Forrest, who is a friend, tells me there have been at least a couple crackdowns on the stretch of South Eugene Street between Urban Ministry and the Salvation Army, although enforcement has been sporadic. The Rev. Kevin Matthews, my pastor at St. Mary's House, says police similarly cracked down on Tate Street over the Christmas break. And on Monday I talked to a homeless man who said police asked him to move along when he was merely sitting on the wall at St. Mary's House. If the man wasn't breaking any laws, as he says was the case, he should not have been asked to leave since no letter of intent has been filed with the police.
Here's a little background on St. Mary's House's historical role as a center of hospitality for homeless people in the Tate Street area, and its recent decision to shift emphasis back to its primary mission as a campus ministry.
First the history, as articulated by Matthews in St. Mary's September/October 2007 newsletter:
"[In the late 1960s and early '70s] St. Mary's House took on the challenge of the influx of young people in the Tate Street area (once referred to as Hippie Hill, but, alas, no more). St. Mary's House was well placed as an informal center to provide ministry to these young people, who were, of course, in the same age group as the students. Indeed, many of them were college dropouts, or students on summer break from here and elsewhere. Somewhere in the midst of this, we became St. Mary's House Episcopal/Anglican Campus and Community Center (what a mouthful!) in order to reflect this emphasis on serving the people living here, often on the streets."
Last summer, Matthews decided to drop the phrase "community center" and shorten the title to "St. Mary's House Episcopal Ministry."
"If the nature of homeless ministry on Tate Street is changed or has already changed, it is still clear that there are students, faculty, and staff at our area campuses who are seeking answers, seeking aid, and seeking community," he writes. "In other words, they are seeking Christ. Unless that changes, our founding mission should remain our primary one."
As secretary, I brought the discussion about the need for a homeless day center to the St. Mary's House steering committee last night. Without taking formal action, the committee assured me that St. Mary's House would like to participate in any coalition that emerges to pursue this goal.
Matthews also discussed his hesitation to follow through on his plan to file a notice of intent with the police.
"St Mary’s House has served the homeless community for many years, and if we file the notice of intent we know that we would essentially give them no place to be," he told me this morning.
Without singling out St. Mary's House, Forrest took this concern to the Greensboro City Council last night (yes, I managed to attend two meetings in one evening).
"Our homeless folks are having less and less places to be, including Tate Street and the UNCG area," she told council members. "We understand the concern of business owners, but when we keep asking them to move on without giving them a place to be, we ask them to do the impossible. We do desperately need a day shelter in Greensboro. That's one of the items on the 10-year plan to end homelessness, but we need to put our heads together to get it done."