Almost a year ago, the City tried to stop us, and people like us, from sharing food with vulnerable people. And we asked you to help us get the City’s attention, and you did. And as a result of that attention, a task force was formed of concerned citizens, and that task force made recommendations to the City, which they enacted.
And one of the results was the creation of the Oak City Outreach Center, where groups like ours can share food and extend hospitality on the weekends, when nothing else is open. The City committed $150,000 to make the Center happen, and it’s funded at $60,000 a year to keep it going. Or, put another way, in five years they will spend half a million dollars to fund the Oak City Outreach Center.
And that sorta blows my mind.
The City went from trying to arrest people who were doing something to spending almost half a million dollars to encourage people to do that same thing, and the decision to change their mind happened in less than two months.
Why would they do that?
From the very beginning, more than seven years ago, I committed to not only do this work relationally, but to do it in public. I have blogged about it from day one, and with our blog, our social media presence, and our newsletters, we try hard to stoke the imaginations of those who watch us. We want to bear witness to the goodness of God to our friends who are marginalized, but we also bear witness that another world is possible, to our friends who have lots of margin and who live in the world as it is and wish for the world as it should be.
In short, part of our work is to give you new ways to think about community, and relationships, and our responsibilities for each other. So, last August, when we wrote about the incident in Moore Square, it wasn’t to get our name in the paper or a fundraising ploy, but to hold a mirror up to the City and to say, “You are better than this. We are better than this.”
And it worked.
The reason the City went from trying to arrest people who were sharing food to spending money to encourage people to share food is because the City realized that its actions were not in alignment with the image it had of itself.
And when a person, an organization, a city, realizes that, then things can change.
So, because of your work reminding the City just who they are, tomorrow groups like ours will share food at the new Oak City Outreach Center for the first time. And people who had nowhere to go now have a place to go. And that place will have air conditioning and bathrooms and tables and chairs and people will be treated with dignity and respect.
Because we brought it to your attention. Because you spoke out. Because the City did the right thing. Because lots of us have sat in task force meetings to work out the details. Because we did this together. Because all of us are smarter than any of us.
Because the opposite of homeless isn’t housed, it’s community. And because community works.
The Rev. Hugh Hollowell is director of Love Wins Ministries. Contact him via email at email@example.com. This op-ed was originally posted on the Love Wins Ministries website, lovewinsministries.org.