Pat has been homeless, living in her car since her husband ditched her to be on the street on her own. She is sometimes scared, being a woman in her late 40s, but she is gentle and amazingly strong, given her circumstance. We have allowed her to sleep on the church property for the last few months. She doesn’t always sleep in our parking lot, but she does for a few nights a week.
We have had some trouble with neighbors in the past with our homeless hanging around after hours. But they don’t usually cause problems. There’s the occasional yelling match, or people hanging around to bug our janitor as he works late at night, but they are peaceful and they don’t make a lot of noise. Often they are cleaning up, or catching a few zees before they are forced to move on.
But our homeowning neighbors aren’t so happy with the visitors at night. Last year when we allowed a man to crash at our place in his truck for a month, a neighbor called the police three times. The neighbor said that he was noisy in the middle of the night and was defecating in the bushed. The police checked with our “security pastor”, who said that this report wasn’t true. So the police went to the neighbor and informed him that filing a false report was a felony and the calls stopped coming.
Perhaps some of the police don’t want people sleeping on the church property. But in our city it is legal for people to sleep in their vehicles in a church parking lot. We screen people and only give permission to people who will be peaceful and quiet and won’t disturb the neighbors.
Unfortunately, some neighbors are disturbed because the homeless exist. Recently I had a neighbor call me anonymously and leave a voicemail, “I know who you are harboring on your property”… as if we were keeping a criminal. The only one he could be talking about is Pat, who isn’t a criminal and couldn’t possibly be confused for a criminal. A neighbor (same one? different one?) at about midnight a week ago, stood behind our church with his dog and screamed across the property (disturbing all the other neighbors), “Get off the property! You don’t belong here! I’ll call the cops!” One of our folks on the property approached him, and he just said he was calling the cops and walked away. The police did come, but they didn’t come onto the property. They just drove around, saw that all was at peace and left.
Last night was the worst so far. A neighbor that others recognized with a dog and two friends came over to our property at 2 in the morning and went to the car Pat was saying in. They hit their palms on the hood of the car, screaming, “Get up! Time to go! Get out of here! You don’t belong here!” Pat bolted upright and shook with fear. She turned the car on to leave, but the three had the car surrounded, still pounding on it, so that she couldn’t back up. She did back up gingerly, they moved out of the way and she found another place to stay last night.
When I saw Pat today, she was still visibly shaken, horrified. I told her that when she stayed again, that she should stay over by Pastor Jeff’s RV, where the neighbors won’t bother her because they wouldn’t want to disturb the pastor.
I recall the abuse and scorn and hate-speech the African American civil rights activists had to endure in order to be allowed to exist. In the midst of a time when the police are harassing the homeless outside of church properties, we need to make a stand to protect people. This is just the beginning.