A month and a half ago, a policeman in his car drove onto the park behind our church, where we serve the homeless. He spoke to a number of homeless people, and then spoke for 45 minutes to our co-pastor, Jeff. The policeman was dissatisfied, so he asked to talk to “someone with greater authority,” so he told him to go to the church and talk to me. I was going to open in about ten minutes and was very busy, but it was polite to give him a bit of my time. This was our conversation:
PD: You are letting people stay in the park.
Me: No, the park is public and they can stay there.
PD: You should tell them to move.
Me: I will absolutely tell them to move. As soon as there is a legal option for them to sleep somewhere else.
PD: They could go to Dignity Villiage (a local, legal tent city).
Me: DV has a year-long waiting list.
PD: Why are we getting so many complaints about them stealing, breaking into cars?
Me: I’m not sure. Do you know the neighborhood stats for stealing?
PD: I don’t know them offhand, but I could get them…
Me: That’s okay, I know them because I look at them every month. Our neighborhood with all the homeless people has pretty average theft. But two neighborhoods down, the theft rate is much higher. So the homeless aren’t causing the thefts.
PD: Why do the citizens keep complaining about…
Me: (Interrupting) The homeless are citizens.
PD: Why are the hard-working…
Me: The homeless work hard to survive.
PD: Why do the residents…
Me: The homeless are residents.
PD: They don’t have an address…
Me: Yes they do. Here. This church. The homeless are also tax payers. The homeless are our neighbors.
PD: You can play with semantics…
Me: I’m not playing withe semantics. You are trying to separate the homeless from the rest of the community and I’m telling you that there is no difference from the homeless and the rest of our community. The homeless are people.
PD: Then why do I get so many complaints? What about the trash?
Me: Our homeless make the trash and they also clean up the trash. The reason you get so many complaints is because the neighbors in houses don’t like them camping in their neighborhood. But until they have a legal place to sleep this won’t stop. This isn’t our ministry’s problem, it is ALL of our problem, the whole community. A group of us are getting together in Gresham trying to do something about it. We would love to have you or a representative of the police department meet with us to try to come up with solutions so we could get places for people to sleep in our community. Would you like to come?
PD: We are very busy doing our jobs….
Me: (Yeah, like spending an hour berating us for helping the homeless) I know what you mean. I spend 60 hours a week doing mine. Well, we need to open. I’d love to talk to you more if you set an appointment.