The Tennessean published a story today on Amos House’s efforts to encourage churches to remove their trespass waivers, which allow law enforcement to arrest anyone on church property after hours. (Read the article HERE.) Thanks to both the determination and open-mindedness from all parties involved thus far, we’re hopeful the dialogue will continue in a fruitful direction. In the end, if this campaign requires anything, it’s a group effort: if you’re a church leader interested in joining the conversation, if you’re a church member interested in speaking with your own church leaders about trespassing waivers, or if you want to get involved in some other way, contact us at email@example.com.
Archive for August, 2010
Here is an amazing re-working of the 23rd Psalm by Lynda Baker who is currently homeless and is a relatively new member of Mercy Community Church in Atlanta.
The System is my shepherd,
I lack everything that I need.
The System makes me to lie down
On the concrete.
The System tells me I’m not good enough
For its water.
The System slowly destroys my soul.
Yea, though I daily walk through the System’s wastelands,
The System still tries to destroy me.
Their constant hounding and no sleep
Do not comfort me.
The System doesn’t do anything for me,
My cup is surely dry.
Surely hatred and intolerance shall follow me
All the days of my life in the System.
And I shall dwell in the house of lack forever.
At 1:00 a.m. on August 13th, Amos House members Brett Flener and Jeannie Alexander, along with two other individuals involved in urban ministry, were arrested for claiming sanctuary on the steps of Downtown Presbyterian Church. Seven individuals in all had stopped at DPC to rest, read scripture and pray. At approximately 1:00 a.m. metro police officers pulled up in front of the church to inform the Amos House group that they would have to leave because they were trespassing. Amos House members responded that they were seeking rest and sanctuary at the house of God where all are welcome. At that point the four members named above refused to leave the steps of the church and were arrested and held overnight at the Criminal Justice Center.
This action commences Amos House’s Sanctuary campaign wherein we call upon downtown churches to revoke their trespass waivers. These waivers allow the police to arrest our homeless brothers and sisters who seek the peace, security, and sanctuary of sleeping on downtown church steps at night. One question only must be answered by downtown churches who have filed these trespass waivers: Is your church a house of God or a house of man? If your church is a house of God then it is a place of sanctuary as churches have been for almost 2,000 years, and at the very least you are called to offer the smallest mercy in allowing the poor to sleep on your steps. You simply cannot invite a poor man into your church at noon, feed and clothe him, and then have him arrested because he comes back to what should be a holy place of sanctuary to seek the safety of sleeping on your steps at night. Even the rich man let Lazarus lie at the gate.
Our Sanctuary Campaign will continue until downtown churches with trespass waivers have revoked those waivers and the poor may once again find peace and sanctuary on the steps of the house of God. We are eager to work with downtown churches and seek relationship and partnership not confrontation. But if such churches refuse to see Christ in our brothers and sisters on the street and continue to inflict the violence of arrest upon the poorest and most vulnerable of our society, then we will use our own bodies as a living sacrifice by continuing to sleep on church steps and being arrested. If you too believe that churches are sanctuary and houses of mercy then we welcome you to join us in this campaign. For more information contact Amos House at firstname.lastname@example.org Jeannie Alexander at email@example.com or Brett Flener at firstname.lastname@example.org
Updates will be posted.
For months Amos House members have been calling upon downtown churches to revoke their trespass waivers. Below is an excerpt from the article “Enter the Gates and Weep: the Foolishness of Mercy” coauthored by Jeannie Alexander and Lindsey Krinks, published in the April 2010 edition of The Contributor. This article speaks directly to the theological implications of churches filing trespass waivers:
[We] weep for the churches of Nashville and their lost opportunity to embrace the living Christ. If we are the body of Christ why then do we not feed the stranger, and bind his feet, and love him as the precious child of God that he is? How often have we scorned an encounter with the living Christ, an encounter where we could have found in the body and eyes of the beaten, the broken, and the damned, the God whom we claim to serve? “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Mt 23:37) You stone those who are sent to you, and you are not willing!
We speak… to all churches in Nashville; for the love of your God, transform, repent, turn around, all of you churches who have signed or are considering signing such bans, repent! That church property does not belong to you, do not be fooled by the lies of the Deceiver; that church property belongs to the living God, and there is not one material thing contained in that church or on its grounds that your God values more than a single human life. Do not be as the Sanhedrin, turning to empire to do your dirty work for you. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” (Mk 7:6, 7)
We Seek Sanctuary
Carol is a single mother with a 24-year-old son, Jesse. Jesse has a developmental disorder which affects his ability to function as an independent adult, yet doesn’t qualify him to receive disability benefits. In the fall of 2009, Carol lost her job, fell behind on her bills, and was evicted from her home. Because of Jesse’s age, he couldn’t stay in the Women’s Mission with his mother, yet he couldn’t function alone in the Men’s Mission due to his disorder. After wading through program after program and being told that they “didn’t meet criteria” or that they would have to split up in order to receive services, Carol and Jesse heard about Tent City and moved into a tent where they could live together while navigating Nashville’s social services system.
Lori and Rich have been together for three years and are devoted to their dogs. When they became homeless, staying at traditional shelters was not an option for them. Their lives, homes, and jobs had crumbled in around them and they had no stability or security, save in the reassurance of their relationship and the unconditional love of their pets. So rather than living 2.5 miles apart in the Men’s and Women’s Mission and giving up their dogs, they chose to camp in Tent City. After all, in Tent City, they could keep their family together, have a place to store their belongings, and work with outreach workers to begin rebuilding their lives.
Eli has paranoid schizophrenia and a criminal background and dreams of having his own apartment. For now, however, he is just trying to stay on his meds and out of jail. Crowded environments like shelters, group homes, and soup kitchens agitate his paranoia so he tries to strike a balance between keeping to himself and avoiding complete isolation. After trying to live in a variety of shelters and ending up in crisis centers, he decided to try camping. He established a quaint, quiet camp on the edge of Tent City and continued living day to day.
People like Carol, Jesse, Lori, Rich, and Eli fall through the cracks of Nashville’s existing homeless shelters and transitional housing programs. Without a safe place to go, they will spiral further into their despair and receive citations (and therefore court fees and a record) for non-criminal offenses such as sleeping on park benches (“trespassing”) with their belongings and pets at their sides (“obstructing the passageway”). In a city with an estimated homeless population of 4,000 but only about 1,500 beds at shelters and other transitional housing facilities, thousands are left with only two options: be invisible or be arrested.
* * *
In 2008, Mayor Karl Dean stopped Metro from bulldozing Tent City and asked the Homelessness Commission to oversee the camp and assist its residents in accessing permanent housing. For two years, they have worked toward that goal in hopes of eliminating the need for a tent city, but in May of this year, flood waters destroyed the camp displacing approximately 140 residents and over a dozen pets. Even after the waters receded, residents were not allowed back because the area was deemed a “health and safety hazard” by Metro.
So where are the residents now? Many are camping illegally downtown, over 25 have obtained permanent housing, and others fluctuate between couch surfing, staying at cheap hotels, and living in make-shift transitional housing facilities provided by local churches. Currently, several former residents are living in Hobson United Methodist’s parsonage in East Nashville. The set-up at Hobson is based on community houses of hospitality like The Open Door Community in Atlanta. There are house rules, house meetings, a curfew, volunteer hours, and chores. Every night, one to two outreach workers or volunteers spend the night at the house to build community and accountability with the residents. While this model is working well, it only accommodates a small number of people.
Since the beginning of July, Metro representatives from the Mayor’s Office, Homelessness Commission, and Chamber of Commerce acknowledged the need to fill the gap in services exacerbated by the closing of Tent City and offered to partner with advocates and faith-based groups like Amos House Community and Otter Creek Church to work toward solutions. The ambitious goal is to have a permanent site for an alternative to tent city by the beginning of October. This site would be a structured, transitional housing site that can meet the needs of those who fall through the cracks of the existing system.
Models for the proposed site are grounded in providing hospitality to the stranger and meeting basic needs like shelter, food, clothing, and sanitation concerns so that residents can address the reasons they became homeless and begin to rebuild their lives with support from service providers and community mentors. For the last year and a half, advocates in Nashville have been researching models of existing officially sanctioned encampments around the nation, particularly Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Habitat on Wheels Village in Austin, TX.
While part of the short term strategy to alleviate homelessness in Nashville involves creating alternative shelters and transitional housing facilities, the big picture strategy involves creating enough accessible and affordable permanent housing for all of Nashville’s citizens. With enough housing, every advocate in town would be thrilled to no longer worry themselves with replacing tent cities, but despite Nashville’s Strategic Plan to End Chronic Homelessness which was implemented in 2005, the city is still a long way off.
Until a permanent site is secured for the residents of Tent City, advocates are asking for space in another church or gathering place where 20-40 additional residents can stay while they are working on obtaining permanent housing. If you are interested in volunteering or have resources that might be helpful, please e-mail email@example.com.