Pastor Jami Fecher at Gift of Grace Lutheran Church, which has been at the center of the SHARE homeless shelter controversy for two weeks, asked us to publish this letter to the community. We’ve posted it in its entirety:
Dear Wallingford Neighbors,
There has been some anxiety generated in Wallingford by the decision of Gift of Grace Lutheran Church to host a SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) coed shelter for 15 or fewer homeless persons, which opened September 15th. The reason Gift of Grace made this decision is because, to us, it is an act of love, which our faith in Christ demands of us, and because we consider it trustworthy stewardship of the property God has entrusted to us. God has called this congregation to serve the Wallingford neighborhood since the ministry moved here in the late 1940’s. We have not always been good at it, or faithful. But God is faithful to us, and by grace we have been allowed to continue.
There are many ways to serve the neighborhood. We offer several ways to which any and all are invited and welcomed: public worship and opportunities for learning and celebration. And for those who have no interest in our religious life we created GraceFeast: a weekly, non-religious, free meal at noon on Sunday intended to encourage neighbors to engage with each other over fresh, homemade food. This congregation is constantly discerning ways we might serve the neighborhood. Given the number of homeless persons in our neighborhood and the opportunity SHARE provided us to host a covenanted community of homeless persons, we decided it was within our means to provide a safe, clean, warm place to sleep.
This is not a radical move. Our five nearest Lutheran neighbors host or have hosted SHARE shelters. It is consistent with the stated identity and mission of the 5,000,000, member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA’s social statement on our economic life has articulated it like this: “we commit ourselves as a church and urge members to:
* provide counsel, food, clothing, shelter, and money for people in need, in ways that respect their dignity;
* develop mutual, face-to-face, empowering relationships between people who have enough and people living in poverty, especially through congregational and synodical partnerships;
* advocate for public and private policies that effectively address the causes of poverty;
* generously support organizations and community-based efforts that enable low-income people to obtain more sufficient, sustainable livelihoods;
* continue working to eradicate racism and sexism.” (A Social Statement on Economic Life: Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All p. 15 Adopted by a more than two-thirds majority vote (872-124) as a social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by its sixth Churchwide Assembly on August 20, 1999, in Denver, Colorado.) http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Economic-Life.aspx
We are aware that some Wallingford neighbors felt anxiety and considered our decision heavy-handed because they were not consulted prior to our making the decision. We intended no disrespect, alarm, disturbance or annoyance. We have long been the home to 12 step groups that make a fairly significant impact on our near neighbors because of traffic, parking and noise. For one year we have hosted GraceFeast, which brings approximately 60 guests (many of them homeless) into and around the church property. Although we never asked for neighborhood input, our near neighbors have graciously tolerated and perhaps even welcomed the activity our church generates. We are convinced that the 15 people living in our building will make little negative impact on our neighbors. They arrive at 7 PM, go inside, and leave at 7 AM. They agree not to loiter in the neighborhood. If, God forbid, they do cause a problem, the problem will be immediately solved or the shelter will be closed.
Some of the alarm was generated because Huckleberry Forest Preschool rents the basement of the building Monday through Friday from 8 AM-5 PM, with the children coming at around 9 AM and leaving around 1 PM. We are aware of at least three other preschools that co-exist harmoniously with a SHARE shelter in the same building. Nevertheless the main alarm came from the fact that the parents of Huckleberry Preschool students were not alerted that the shelter was coming. We are saddened by their shock which was the result of having the news sprung on them only a week before the shelter’s opening when some of the parents received the notice from SHARE about the shelter’s opening, inviting them to an informational meeting the coming Sunday. Although it is not the place of Gift of Grace to interfere with the business relationship between the owners of Huckleberry Forest Preschool and their clients, we did make conscientious provision in our lease with the preschool that required the preschool owners to obtain a signed waiver from each client alerting them to our dynamic ministry that includes homeless persons and any risks that might be involved.
We are even more saddened that the preschool has since given notice that it will be leaving as the result of this unintended conflict. For our part, Gift of Grace thinks Huckleberry Forest Preschool is a topnotch school that we would recommend to anyone. We appreciate having them in this community and we fervently hope they will reconsider the move.
Finally, some neighbors are suspicious of or disapprove of SHARE as an organization and are troubled that a SHARE shelter is now in this neighborhood. Our experience with SHARE has been positive. The reports we have received from the other Lutheran churches involved with SHARE has been positive. We are not so naive as to believe SHARE is without faults. We have heard accusations of corruption, strong-arm tactics, and failure to properly (in the view of some) screen participants. The primary interest of Gift of Grace is not in SHARE as an organization, but showing hospitality to the 15 persons living in our building. However, because of our relationship with these 15 persons we are growing a relationship with SHARE as an organization. We hope they will allow us to influence them just as we expect these 15 persons living in our building to influence and enrich our community.
Although there has been some acrimony generated as the result of our decision to host this shelter, many powerful questions about what it means to be community together have arisen: questions about accountability, about the fairness of the non-tax status of churches, about how best to care for the impoverished and how best to protect the property of those who have worked hard to earn it. Some of the conflicting needs and desires of our community have been exposed. Now might be a good time for this community to engage the enormous deposit of talent, intelligence, education and goodwill residing in the hearts of the people of this neighborhood in fruitful dialogue about our life together. We have the resources. The question is, do we have the will?
Some neighbors have begun a loosely formed team to figure out how best to help shelter residents who want one to get an ID. There was the hope that this might lead to dialogue with SHARE, the organization, around some of the concerns about their screening and public relations strategy. There is also the likelihood of a conversation among the Lutheran pastors of congregations that host SHARE to compare notes and perhaps engage with SHARE about any concerns including the issues mentioned above. Focusing attention on SHARE, however, does not help us, the Wallingford neighborhood residents, directly address the more important issues that are about us: in what way are we accountable to each other as neighbors? How do we have fruitful public conversation? How does the homeless population figure into our self-understanding as a neighborhood? We hope we can begin to consider these questions at the second open public forum Gift of Grace has called, set for October 23, 2010, 10:30 AM- noon, at Mosaic Coffee House on the corner of 44th NE and 2nd NE. You are invited.
Yours in community,
The Steering Team of Gift of Grace Lutheran Church on behalf of the congregation:
Ana Parke, Vivian Little, Laurin Gaudinier, Rev. Benjamin (Jami) Fecher
Previous posts on the SHARE shelter at Gift of Grace:
SHARE shelter meeting looks back and ahead (Sept. 18)
Preschool in SHARE shelter controversy moving (Sept. 18)
Gift of Grace pastor sets community meeting (Sept. 16)
Homeless arrive for first night of SHARE shelter (Sept. 15)
SHARE shelter opens tonight, see video (Sept. 15)
Homeless shelter to open Wednesday (Sept. 12)
There are a group of Wallingford neighbors who are interested in participating in the community effort to work more closely with each other and with the church. Contact Kimberly at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is collecting a list of folks who would like to be involved.
Holy blown out of proportion batman! Would the folks who are against a church helping the homeless like some cheese with their whine?
Hey Batman, head over to the Wallyhood blog if you'd like to do a little research. The issues are complex here, especially concerning the preschool.
But I guess you could always take the easy way out and make assumptions without thinking. It does leave more time in your life to watch cheesy 60's sitcoms.
haha, it is difficult to read past statements such as “God has called this congregation to serve the Wallingford neighborhood since the ministry moved here in the late 1940’s.” I think Wallingford has made it to at least 1995, maybe just the early 80s, god people. The evidence is not in favor of your deity.
Exactly – if all I ever did was worry about what my neighbors were up to then I wouldn't have time for my cheesy 60's sitcoms.
There might be a multitude of issues, but most are utter nonsense. Like this sex offender mania. 68% of children are abused by their family members and 90% by adults they know (*childhelp.org). Before you think some stranger off the street is going to abuse your child perhaps you should instead focus on knowing what's going on in your own family?
I don't like religion anymore than all the other venomous posters on the couple of blogs in the neighborhood. We're just using that to deflect the fact that we're scared of homeless. When really – we should be scared about our own circle of trust. Much weight can be given to the old statement that you should get your own house in order before critizing your neighbors.
Most parents are aware of the risk. That does not mean they should not seek accountability from a group (SHARE) that has, on multiple occasions, brought level 3 sex offenders into a neighborhood, after swearing on a stack of bibles that they screen them out.
As a single male, you may not be concerned about that, but then again, you are not the typical target of a sex offender who has been labeled as highly likely to reoffend. These offenders need a place to stay, but putting them in neighborhoods, with nothing to do during the day, is a very risky endeavor that very likely violates the terms of their probation. SHARE has been criticized extensively for failing to properly perform sex offender and active warrant checks, and bitterly fights efforts to impose outside oversight of the process. That is why there have been multiple failures in the past with their checks. And why they are pissing off neighborhoods.
There are so many other transparent groups besides SHARE that are actively trying to provide housing and services for the many and varied homeless population, each with their own specific needs. SHARE has courted controversy and caused divisions within neighborhoods and churches every time they set up their shelters with no notification and no accountability. Why Gift of Grace, and the Lutheran church, is not partnering with one of these other, well established groups that neighborhoods can and do actively embrace is beyond me.
What a self-serving, guilt tripping post by GOG. I wonder who wrote it. If it is their mission to “provide shelter for those in need” why does SHARE need to be involved. Why doesn’t the church work directly with the homeless in Wallingford rather that get into a contract with SHARE that busses in the homeless from downtown Seattle and increases the homeless in Wallingford. Is it because the contract they have with SHARE puts all the liability issues of the homeless shelter on SHARE (a judgment proof entity) and not the Lutheran churches? Or is it perhaps that GOG is receiving money from SHARE to house the homeless?
If it is their mission to “develop mutual, face-to-face, empowering relationships between people who have enough and people living in poverty” why isn’t someone from GOG staying with and monitoring the residents of the homeless shelter on a nightly basis?
The statement “Focusing attention on Share, however, does not help us, the Wallingford neighborhood residents, directly address the more important issues that are about us: in what way are we accountable to each other as neighbors?” really crosses the line — Did it even cross GOG and SHARE’s collective minds to take into account the neighborhood when they reached an agreement to house a homeless shelter at GOG?
Batman, How about GoG's own waiver they tried to get the preschool to sign? Sounds like GoG was pretty scared of taking in some “random stranger off the street.”
And here's a couple of links to recent articles to back up my concerns:
And finally, I guess I'll repost what I posted in this blog a couple of weeks ago in response to your naive comment that as a general rule, the homeless are no more dangerous than the friend or relative next door:
“To all you bleeding hearts who love to make ridiculous claims such as:
“As for the “danger” from the homeless themselves, the chance of someone meaning harm to children is probably roughly the same as the “stranger danger” in the general population–meaning extremely low.”
Do you really believe that bums, sorry, “homeless',” don't have a much higher incidence of criminal records, drug and alcohol problems, and mental illness than the general population? Then why are they homeless? Wait, don't tell me; they're simply “down on their luck.” So these offramp guys I've recognized seen for years have been unlucky this whole time?
But hey, you're so bighearted and sure that they are no physical threat, how about you put it to the test. Tonight, take a stroll through a Wallingford neighborhood. And then go take a stroll through one of the “jungles” under I-5 . Then tell us where you felt safer. “
Homeless aren't just the mentally disturbed or alcholic maniacs you see under I-5.
Most homeless are families. The majority are children. The rest aren't ever seen by us as we walk through our streets that feel safer than the jungle of I-5.
To judge “homeless” by what you see on the street corner is about as accurate as to judge all of us “housed” by the standards of what we see in the news. In which case – we homeowners are all a bunch of raving pot-growing, meth-producing, spouse abusing maniacs who can't pay our mortgage so we kill our entire family.
You are describing the situationally homeless in your second paragraph. They are not the ones most likely to use the SHARE neighborhood shelters, but are far more likely to use social services provided by other, less controversial groups, such as Common Ground. This is a damn shame, IMHO, because I think that it is this group that benefits the most from integrating into neighborhoods, and are usually in control enough to be reasonable neighbors.
The chronically homeless that you describe in your first paragraph usually cannot abide by even the SHARE rules, and are more likely found outside, as you describe.
SHARE serves a category you do not include – the marginally together, but chronically homeless, as well as the homeless lifestyle advocates. Neither group usually has the wherewithal or desire to do what they need to do to end their situation. Hence the chronic homeless label applies to them as well. Though I would not call them scary as a group, I would definitely call them unpredictable, sometimes on the lam, and more manipulative than church do-gooders think (though less than the naysayers think.)
I do not judge the “homeless” broadly as being evil nor scary, but they are not all angels either. Nor am I under the illusion that the Lutherans seems to be that if we only give them a place to sleep and a job, all with be well with them again. The situationally homeless have and make use of social services from other groups. The far-gone chronically homeless are, well, usually too far gone to do much for other than feed and shelter them away from the rest of us until life kicks them one too many times. I like the drunk hotel idea for this very reason 0 they provide food and shelter and a place to drink yourself into oblivion, but with social services nearby to provide help for the occasional taker, and to reduce overall medical and social costs to the taxpayers. win-win.
But the third group that SHARE dumps on the neighborhood is particularly reluctant to seek social service help due to paranoia, not yet hitting bottom, mild to moderate mental illness, manipulative SOBs who like being homeless, some combo of the above, or whatever. The point is they are marginally functional, avoid social services but still have a lot of problems that need social service help, and are frankly in need of a lot, and I mean a lot of assistance. None of which is nearby, and none of which the two dozen people of the GoG community can possibly offer. Asking the community to help these folks get IDs is all well and good, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
GoG, and the other churches who get pulled into this neighborhood homeless drama, have no effing clue what they get themselves into, then they invariably look to the neighborhoods to help them out of their fix. I have enough troubles of my own, and I resent being drawn into the church's do-good drama at the drop of a hat. I am busy trying not to be homeless myself, and I prefer to choose when and where and who to help out. And a giant eff-off to those who cry “but you must hate the homeless”. No, I hate being manipulated into doing someone else's bidding.
I think the do-gooder church members should spend a little more time at all those Al-Anon meetings they are so fond of hosting, and spend some time reflecting on exactly how much they allow themselves to be manipulated by someone else's drama. This is evident by how poorly thought out almost all these shelters no daytime activities, and certainly no actual access to social service help. SHARE just perpetuates the worst possible of all solutions – they are enablers. And GoG is complicit in the enabling.
Red Blooded Liberal: absolutely brilliantly put…a must read post. Not even sure I can add anything as I find it hard to believe anyone could take issue with such a clear, honest assessment of this situation.
I would only add “The primary interest of Gift of Grace is not in SHARE as an organization, but showing hospitality to the 15 persons living in our building.”
Uh no. GOG if your first priority is not the safety of the children who were going to be there, you are not with any God I am aware of. These people should stop hiding behind their deity, should be sued and stopped immediately.
Did they not think people who send kids to the preschool might be concerned? Or did it not matter as they are serving the Lord??
Edited too much out of the last section. it should read:
This is evident by how poorly thought out almost all these shelters are: no food, no showers, no storage, no phones, no washer/dryers, no daytime activities, or even evening activities, and certainly no actual access to social service help. SHARE just perpetuates the worst possible of all solutions – they are enablers. And GoG is complicit in the enabling.
With God on Our Side
Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.
Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.
Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.
Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.
When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.
I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.
But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.
In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.
From the SHARE web site:
“The true causes of homelessness – rent increases, gentrification, evictions, and the failure of the market to provide affordable housing – aren’t dealt with, measured, or touched”
This is a despicable lie in 2 ways:
1. The idea that the “true” causes of homelessness are rent increases, “gentrification” and such is a provable fallacy
2. Even if the causes stated in #1 were somehow true, the idea that there aren't plenty of initiatives designed to do their best to address these things is absurd.
SHARE need to be held accountable for the vile lies they perpetuate.
2. If one were to accept as truth what they baselessly list as the “true” causes of homelessness, it would be
Why don't you critics lay off Rev. Fecher? He's told us that he's only doing God's calling (“God has called this congregation to serve the Wallingford neighborhood”).
Once again, this situation has led to my complete embarrassment over my neighborhood. Personally I would rather have these homeless in my neighborhood than a bunch of overprotective jerks that are setting horrible examples for their preschool children. Because whether you like it or not they are both a part of your community. Shame on those of you who keep saying, “poor me, why didn't the consult the neighborhood?” The homeless are in your neighborhood anyway. They are your neighbors. This whole negative reaction is highly discriminatory and assumes these shelter residents are second class citizens. I don't allow those kind of behaviors in “my backyard” and I am glad the church has won out on this issue. This open letter was more consideration than anyone deserved after all the shockingly selfish displays I've read about.
I define a “shockingly selfish display” as signing a lease with a business that tells you in advance they will not move in if there are plans for a shelter, then bringing in the shelter anyway after you have their money. And after they fixed the place up for you. And then claiming ignorance and shock at their reaction and subsequent decision to move out.
I'm betting that, plus the refusal to do warrant and sex offender checks for the shelter residents, is the real thing bugging people. Other shelters have had problems, and this one is refusing to even talk about them, much less explain to the neighbors what they plan to do to address even the known issues. None of this is exactly inspiring faith.
God does not call on pastors to negotiate in bad faith.
Multipony, it is the CHURCH that is being discriminatory to it's neighbors and assuming we're “second class citizens” undeserving of not only the right to have input into what's going on in our backyards, but to even to be informed about it ahead of time. Furthermore, I'd say the language of the lease GoG tried to get the preschool to sign was pretty insensitive and assumes they are indeed “second class citizens,” would you not agree?:
“…THE CHURCH AND DEMISED PREMISES ARE FREQUENTED BY HOMELESS, DESTITUTE AND VAGRANT PERSONS, WHO ARE ATTRACTED BY THE CHURCH’S VARIOUS PROGRAMS, SERVICES AND CHARITABLE ACTS. LESSEE UNDERSTANDS THAT SUCH PERSONS WILL LIKELY LOITER ON OR ABOUT THE CHURCH PREMISES, OR BE IN PROXIMITY THERETO, FROM TIME TO TIME, AND MAY CAUSE OR CREATE UNTOLD MISCHIEF, DISRUPTIONS, NUISANCES, VIOLENCE OR OTHER HAZARDOUS CIRCUMSTANCES.”
But I'm sure you have more experience in raising preschool children, so I'll take your advice. I'll teach my 2 year old daughter that it's just fine to drink and drug yourself into oblivion with no responsibility and accountability to others. I'll teach her to leave empties and paraphernalia and take a dump wherever it suits her, say in a playground or someone's back alley. I'll teach her that it's fine beg for tax free money from people who actually work for it month after month, year after year, while making no effort herself to find a job. And I'll teach her that it's OK to CREATE UNTOLD MISCHIEF, DISRUPTIONS, NUISANCES, VIOLENCE,as the lease says.
As I've suggested to others, if you seriously think the homeless are so harmless and you want to help, how about you let them sleep in YOUR HOME?
To be fair, we can give your assurance of God's will about as much weight as the pastor's. Which is, none.
Once again, SHARE has been successful at bringing division into a community. So much heat, so little light. Why is the city funding this group?
“As I've suggested to others, if you seriously think the homeless are so harmless and you want to help, how about you let them sleep in YOUR HOME?”
Wow. What a liberal and progressive suggestion. But oooohhh, sounds scary. I don't know, I kind of like to just hide behind my vote for Obama, it makes me look like I do stuff without actually having to engage in my community……Oh wait, I already HAVE let homeless people sleep in my home! As do many others who get to know the person, not the stereotype.
“I'll teach my 2 year old daughter that it's just fine to drink and drug yourself into oblivion with no responsibility and accountability to others. I'll teach her to leave empties and paraphernalia and take a dump wherever it suits her, say in a playground or someone's back alley. I'll teach her that it's fine beg for tax free money from people who actually work for it month after month, year after year, while making no effort herself to find a job. And I'll teach her that it's OK to CREATE UNTOLD MISCHIEF, DISRUPTIONS, NUISANCES, VIOLENCE,as the lease says. “
Congratulations. You are teaching your 2 year old how to be a stereotyping bigot! Awesome!
At least I will always have job security, working with the homeless you're so eager to toss out of your neighborhood and teach your child to jeer at. I am considering sending my daughter to be raised by wolves, which just may be better than her living in this neighborhood.
Um, Hayduke is quoting the liability wavier that the CHURCH wrote-up and wanted the parents to sign. Haven't been following along too closely, I suspect…
Bob, I like “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” better. Could you write-out the lyrics w/ tabs for that song please.
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