City staff looking at ways to assist those who will lose housing in Coliseum Inn sale

In early August, I met with Andy Scott, director of the City’s department of Housing and Community Development, and members of his staff, to discuss how the City’s plans to buy the Coliseum Inn would affect the low-income and homeless people who stay there.  Street outreach teams from NightWatch and DayWatch regularly visit the Coliseum Inn, and I feared that when the motel closed, most of the residents would have no place else to go.  Our homeless shelters and housing programs are full.  Our city lacks affordable housing.  I assume that if the hundreds of people at the Coliseum Inn had someplace else to live, they’d probably already be living there.

The motel’s clientele includes the working poor and homeless families with infants and young children.  But the Coliseum Inn also shelters some of the hardest to serve people in our local homeless population — drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, ex-cons.  Many of my friends have stayed there over the years.  I’m sure that some are there now.  They work day labor, panhandle or use disability income to stay in the motel as long as they can, and when the money runs out, it’s back to the street until they have money again.

At the meeting with the HCD staff, we brainstormed ways to help.  It will be easier for some folks than for others.  I got a call from a City staffer today who told me that the sale had been finalized and it would be in the news today.  I reiterated my offer for our outreach team members to assist in meeting with residents and assessing their needs.  I also mentioned an idea that I’ve talked about with friends from the HIVE.  It’s not something that I’d necessarily expect the City to be thrilled about right away, but I think it could work here.

All of the City staff that I’ve spoken with about the Coliseum Inn sale have expressed concern about the residents, and are pursuing ways to assist them.  I very much appreciate their hearts for our homeless and low-income neighbors.

P.S.  Although I am concerned about where our friends and neighbors will go when the motel closes, I do not necessarily oppose the sale and closure of the property.  The Coliseum Inn is a very sad and oppressive place.**  And it just saps my spirit to walk the halls there.  So much hurt…  I want these folks to have a different place to live, a different life.  A new start.

My hope is that those who are excited about the revitalization of the High Point Road corridor will be not just equally, but even more excited about the possibility of revitalizing the lives of the wounded people who have been a part of this area for years.  People matter more than property.  Let’s be a city that cares.  And I don’t just mean City — government.  I mean city.  All of us.  Community.

**I don’t mean that as a slam against the owners and management.  They are providing affordable housing to people who would otherwise have none.  There are a lot of people with tragic lives at the Coliseum Inn, and it’s just a very sad place.

UPDATE, 11/18/2008: I never heard back from the City after my initial (and only) meeting with HCD about the Coliseum Inn sale and the need for housing for displaced residents.  City Council votes on this issue tonight.  More here.

State suspends admissions at Guilford County treatment center

From Guilford Center news release,* 08/20/2008:

The Guilford Center received notification on August 15, 2008 from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR), Mental Health Licensure and Certification Section, that the Guilford County Substance Abuse Treatment Center at 5209 West Wendover Avenue, High Point, had been issued two Type A Administrative Penalties for violation of North Carolina General Statutes related to Medication Requirements and Facility Design and Equipment, and a Type B violation related to staff issues. These findings resulted from an onsite Annual Survey completed on June 19, 2008…

» continue reading news release

The County’s new drug and alcohol treatment center opened in June. At the time that Bridgeway opened, Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kirk Perkins said, “This treatment center is a key component in the Guilford County Substance Abuse System of Excellence, an integrative, system-wide approacn to addressing addictive disorders. It is our hope that Guilford County will become a model for other communities across North Carolina.”

I only know a couple of people who have been at Bridgeway — both outpatient. One did about 30 days and chose to leave before finishing treatment. But he was very pleased with the program and the staff. Another person is still in the outpatient program and is completely satisfied. I haven’t heard anything negative about Bridgeway, and that’s actually unusual. (Usually somebody has something bad to say about everybody.) My understanding is that all of Bridgeway’s programs have been full since they opened. (Different programs opened at different times.)

It’s definitely frustrating to hear that admissions have been suspended, but frankly, none of the addicts I know (and there are a lot of them) have been open to going to treatment lately anyway.** I don’t know what it is, but nobody even wants to have the discussion.

*I received this via email earlier this morning and replied to ask if it was public information. I haven’t heard back yet (I received an email after posting, saying “yes,” it’s public info), but the News & Record now has a story up, so I guess it’s OK to post it.

**Update, 08/21/08: A homeless friend contacted me yesterday evening. He’s ready for treatment. Obviously, Bridgeway’s not an option at the moment. But I referred him to a case manager friend who can hopefully find him a spot somewhere. So hey, good news amongst the not-so-good news, right? :)

UPDATE, 09/24/2008:  Bridgeway passed inspection and will reopen admissions soon.  More here.

My church struggles with how to love our homeless neighbors

Homeless at Grace
Blankets, clothing and other items left out in the open by homeless people who sleep outside at Grace Community Church are stacked beside the dumpster a few days before it’s scheduled to be emptied, giving them a chance to retrieve their things.

My church, Grace Community on West Lee Street, is struggling with how to answer the question: How do we love our homeless neighbors? Grace is known for serving the poor and homeless. We have a weekly community dinner for the homeless, a financial assistance ministry, a permanent supportive housing ministry (moving people from homelessness to housing), and a yearly Christmas Banquet for our homeless friends. We have members involved in urban mission projects, street outreach ministries, the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, the homeless coalition, the day center initiative, as well as close friendships with homeless and formerly homeless people. But one of the biggest struggles that our church faces is how to love and serve the homeless neighbors who sleep on our church property every night. (It’s not just the sleeping that’s a problem. It’s the mental health and addiction issues, sanitation problems, liability concerns, sex offenders sleeping at a place frequented by children, etc. But that’s another post.)

Shepherding Pastor Will Dungee spoke about it at the end of a recent sermon:

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[Listen to all of the sermon, “Who Is My Neighbor?,” here.]

When he said all that about the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the church about what we should do, I wanted to stand up and read Isaiah 58, which talks about true worship and says, in part, “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.” (My blog gets its name from Isaiah 58.) But I didn’t stand up. I sat there and prayed instead. Because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to read it. And I have a lot of questions and a lot of concerns about our response to our homeless neighbors, but I don’t even pretend to have the answers.

After the service, the first person I saw was Pastor Will, and he immediately asked what I thought of what he’d said about our friends. I told him that I was really struggling with us having this big heated and cooled building that we only fully utilize a couple of times a week, while our friends sleep outside. And then I started crying and I ran to the bathroom. (I know, that sounds so lame. It’s embarrassing for me to write it. I almost never cry. But this has been getting to me for a while, and when Will asked me about it, I just kind of lost it for a minute. But you know what? I want my heart to break for every single thing that breaks God’s heart, so hey, maybe it’s just a God thing that I cried about it.)

I haven’t had a chance to talk to Will since then.  I know that he and our other pastors and elders are struggling with what to do.  I talked to a friend of mine about it.  Here’s how our conversation went:

Audrie: “If we opened up every single church in Greensboro, nobody would be homeless. Nobody would be hungry.”

CM: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if we let homeless people sleep in our church?”

Audrie: “Somebody might smoke crack in the bathroom. Or have sex.”

CM: “And then what? I mean… so…?”

Audrie: “Yeah.”

Audrie: “You can stand up and speak in a meeting in front of the mayor but you won’t stand up in your church?  I think the prompting of the Holy Spirit was there.  What would have happened if you’d responded? You would have stood up and read the passage and sat back down and everybody would have looked at you like you were psycho. Just like they did with Jesus. What’s the difference?”

CM.: “[Sigh.] I know.”

Audrie: “There’s injustice here!  And we’re calling ourselves Christians?  Hello!  Open the doors to the church!”

I used to be bold. She is kicking my butt on boldness these days. I need to pray…

I’m really thankful that my church is struggling with this situation. Some churches don’t struggle with the poor or homeless at all — they don’t have any connection to them or they don’t acknowledge them.  So I think it’s a blessing that we’re where we are as a church, and it’s an honor to be given the opportunity to love and serve our homeless neighbors.  As Pastor Will says, “The bottom line is, we have to love…” And what a gift that is.  Amen.

Please pray for us at Grace as we seek the LORD on what it looks like for us to love our homeless neighbors the way that Jesus wants us to.

UPDATE, 11/10/2008: It looks like our church is going to be an emergency shelter location this winter. I’ll be writing more about this, but I wanted to come back and update this post. I’m so excited about what God is doing at our church, and how He’s growing and using us to serve homeless and hungry people!

UPDATE, 07/18/2009: Our church housed a winter emergency shelter for women from December through April, and plans are already underway for next winter. Church staff and volunteers helped most of the women who stayed at the winter shelter move on to other transitional or permanent housing situations after they left the winter shelter. This was an excellent, growing, challenging experience for our church body, and I continue to pray about the future…