In a significantly smaller and less contentious meeting than last Sunday’s in the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church space, community members, Pastor Jami Fecher, and representatives from his congregation gathered at Mosaic Coffeehouse to discuss the SHARE homeless shelter that opened at Gift of Grace on Wednesday.
Fecher opened the meeting of two dozen people, saying he was “tired and sad.” He continued, “In our community are conflicting needs and desires” and encouraged neighbors to “hear the thoughts of other neighbors and understand them and see how might proceed from here.”
Woody Pidcock, a longtime Wallingford resident and new member of the Gift of Grace congregation, moderated the meeting. Fecher said Pidcock was “not here to share his opinion in any way, but to facilitate us sharing our opinion.”
A week after the fiery meeting last Sunday, emotions had cooled a bit, perhaps because few Huckleberry Preschool parents attended and neither owner was present. The preschool, housed in the church’s basement, has announced that it will move.
Many participants wanted to know the process the church went through to decide to house the SHARE shelter, because the organization has been controversial in the past.
One parent, Peter, spoke first to the pastor, saying, “This isn’t what social justice looks like. It didn’t need to be this way at all. You could have required the SHARE do background checks, leafletted beyond 500 feet. You weren’t required to do this, but you could have.”
A member of the church steering committee on the shelter, Ana, said that they brought the proposal to open the shelter before the congregation in August and “it didn’t even cross my mind to ask the neighbors,” she said, clearly emotional. “I wish it would have, but it didn’t.” The steering committee consulted with other church communities about SHARE and heard mostly positive things.
A couple of participants said they’d heard that SHARE counseled churches not to notify the neighborhood when a new shelter is coming in. Fecher said that wasn’t the case with his church. He explained: “It’s hard to know what the community wants and needs to be notified about. I’m sad that the community hasn’t heard the invitation to join the ministry, through GraceFeast, which is non-religious. It’s hard to know what needs to be communicated in such a way. The preschool makes a bigger negative impact because of the traffic, and the AA group causes more disruption. It never occurred to me to host a meeting. In my vision, you have 15 guys who show up at 7 p.m. and go inside and leave at 7 a.m., that looks like a no-impact situation.”
Many people were concerned about SHARE’s policy not to conduct background checks and focused on the issue of identification, which SHARE representatives last week said is difficult because many homeless people have no ID.
Frustrated that so much talk was focused on what had already happened, neighbor Mark said, “We stink at looking forward. Can we come up with a pragmatic approach to move forward?” He had earlier talked about the need to get identification for the shelter residents after researching homeless programs in other cities. “I saw that many cities make checking ID as the first step. I’m concerned this isn’t important to SHARE’s mission. We can help make SHARE a better organization.” With proper identification, he said, “I don’t care if there’s a level 2 sex offender next door, I just want him registered because that’s the community standard.”
Mark said he’d spearhead a team of people from SHARE, the church and the community to move SHARE toward getting IDs from more of the homeless it helps. He gathered volunteers’ names and promised to get more information to the community soon.
No SHARE representatives attended the meeting, as far as we could tell.
Pastor Fecher added that he hoped Lutheran pastors who are hosts of SHARE shelters will “get together and use whatever influence we have to improve SHARE’s process. I have good reason to believe that’s going to happen.”
Laura, who lives across the street from from church, said, “I feel like my community changed overnight. It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s hard and a little scary. I used to let my kids play in the front yard, but now I feel like I don’t know. How is SHARE going to be willing to work with the city and communities and assure that they’re trying to break this cycle and have some accountability?”
Along the same lines, church neighbor Jennifer said, “there is trust broken between church and neighborhood. Church needs to be proactive about how we’re going to get though our challenges. Who is accountable over there? I want to know to what extent they’re doing whatever they’re doing.”
Rich Gamble, Keystone Church pastor, shared his experience with the Nickelsville homeless community that stayed at his church at 51st and Keystone for a month last fall. The group was in a desperate situation — all the belongings from their tent city had been confiscated — and were seeking immediate shelter. He described the small impact the community had on the preschool which is housed in the same building and offered this perspective, having worked in homeless shelters on staff and as clery: “Shelters are always struggling to make it. They’re up against it right now. One of the appeals of SHARE is they do shelters for very low cost. The city is running into major problems with budget. It may be that day centers for the homeless will close soon. As this problem grows, we’re going to have to find a way to deal with it. I wish there was an easy answer.”
Karyn, whose daughter attended the preschool at Keystone Church, also said, “There were no problems. The month went smoothly. The safety of my child was never an issue. My hope is that the communication between the neighborhood, church and shelter can work well and be a success. I’m glad that this is happening.”
The next meeting is scheduled for October 23 and will cover information about whether the shelter is having an impact on the community.
My wife, Karyn(mentioned in the article), and myself thought the meeting went rather well and were very glad we attended. Hearing others' perspectives on the issue was cathartic and helped us have a better attitude about our neighbors. And although some folks definitely had strong opinions, the dialogue was respectful and constructive. I don't know that everyone got the answers they wanted but there was a prevailing feeling of “how do we handle this going forward?”
I think what tipped the balance of the conversation from being contentious to be an actual collaboration between the parties was Marks enlightening input on how helping the homeless get access to legal ID can have a beneficial 2-pronged effect: their legal ID provides the community with a definitive method of tracking who the homeless actually are, AND it's potentially another step toward these folks getting gainful employment. As he pointed out, a lot of these shelters are only providing the short-term necessities of food and shelter(as important as that is!) while missing an opportunity to provide the long-term, and more transformative, tools the homeless can use to hopefully shed the necessity for the service entirely.
For my part, I was a little disappointed, as were others, at the lack of representation by SHARE and by the leadership at the childrens' co-op. Both have a vested interest in this situation playing out well. Not directly engaging when given a chance can give the impression of recalcitrance(or worse: indifference) on their part which neither party can afford.
SHARE's absence in particular, I think rather unfairly, made the folks at Gift of Grace the primary lightning-rod for people's frustrations and left them to answer for what are SHARE's policies. I think SHARE's presence at the next meeting is an absolute must if they want to continue to build trust and gain partners in what many people in our community believe is a wonderful and important service…we just want it done right!
My wife and I thank everyone who took part and we sincerely hope to see all of you at the next meeting!
I think some of the neighbors asked that SHARE not be at this one meeting, as there were some who felt they dominated the previous one. They wanted a chance for direct communication between the church and the neighbors, without the SHARE filter.
I was at this meeting. While I won't straight out call Pastor Jami a liar, I'm very skeptical that he and GoG were simply “naive” about neighbors having issues/concerns with the shelter and that it didn't occur to them to get feedback BEFORE inviting SHARE. What, so they were totally unaware of controversies at other SHARE and Nicklesvilles sites?
And what about the fact that they admit they were worried about the preschool's reaction and had them sign a waiver? Jami didn't think that parents living nearby with young children might have issues as well? This doesn't pass the smell test.
And I very much resent his repeated admonition to join his ministry to have a voice in such matters. First of all, since we weren't made aware of his plans for the shelter months ago, how would we know to join.
Second, not everyone wants to spend their Sundays going to church. I get my spiritual renewal by going into the wilderness. His comment is insulting, and it once again implies that unless you're involved with GoG, we don't care what you think.
Finally, as for the sex offender/background checks, why do I get the feeling that SHARE would resist that even if it was done free of charge for them by SPD or King Co. Sherriff's office?
Who would Jesus lie to?
No more tent cities until the participants try to regain a working job. They loiter for way too long without giving something. When I was in my early twenties, I hung out and camped with this kind of folk. It was fun, I enjoyed it. The theme was have a beer and some smoke, fuck the man.
So it still exists. That's OK. But how about not handing out any gratuities?! I know from personal experience that they are taking you all to the 'cleaners'.
There is info on the lease and waiver on Wallyhood. Also, there is the all important timeline and series of events that put this in the necessary context. It is so bizarre you won't believe it. The GOG pastor comes across as evil. Those interested should check out the discussion on Wallyhood.
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