"Nobody wants to shit on the street."
That was just one blunt reaction at a wide-ranging town hall meeting on homelessness Tuesday night, exactly seven days before the fate of the emergency homeless shelter at New Life Evangelistic Center goes before the city's Board of Public Service. A diverse crowd of 170 gathered to at Christ Church Cathedral to try to come up with innovative solutions to homelessness.
Though the intent was to have a very general conversation, New Life's impending hearing was not far from the mind of panelist Reverend Chris Rice, who works with his father Reverend Larry Rice at the center.
"We're ready. We've had to make ourselves ready," he told Daily RFT of next week's hearings.
In his remarks on the panel, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed did not address whether or not he'd be supporting New Life in any way at next week's Board of Public Service hearing. And though she also never referred to New Life by name, Megan Heeney, another panelist who works as social worker with Karen House, said she was "concerned about a series of actions that have taken place recently that appear to be systemic segregation of the folks that are homeless from the rest of the population." She went on to specifically list a number of the city's failures, such as too few shelters, too few emergency services among them.
Amanda Andrus, owner of the Gelateria Tavolini downtown, spoke about the difficulty in balancing her desire to help the less fortunate with the practicalities of running a business. For example: What's the right thing to do when it becomes apparent to her - and the entire store -- that the homeless man warming himself with a cup of coffee has definitely gone a very, very long time without bathing? Do you ask him to leave? Is that right?
In a break out session, the following suggestions were raised as a means of combating homelessness in new and innovative ways:
- Create a "buddy system" between homeless individuals and businesses to form relationships and ties to community resources.
- Organize networks of smaller, more manageable shelters.
- Address transportation needs of the homeless.
- Increase emergency shelter space, especially during the winter.
- Look for more unrestricted funding from both private businesses and government sources.
While these represent long-term solutions, things could change drastically for New Life's residents in the very near future. The first hearing will take place September 24 at 1:45 p.m. in Room 208 at City Hall. Check out the notice the Rices received from the city below: