What the Jesus People Do - San Francisco Edition

This past weekend Robin, the boys and I camped at Sierra Friends Center for College Park Quarterly Meeting's fall session. The ground was a bit hard, and we only had thin rollup mats under our sleeping bags. The hardest part was the cold on Friday night. On Saturday night, we got some blankets from a friend who had extra in the room she was staying in.

Lying awake on Friday night, I imagined how much harder concrete is, and how damp it is outside in San Francisco with only a blanket and no tent. How much harder it is to sleep at night. And how much harder it is to be homeless than just choosing to camp for two nights.

So today the San Francisco Chronicle ran this article about St. Boniface Church, the Franciscan parish in the Tenderloin District:
Church program for homeless cuts its hours

Robin used to work there. At a recent session looking at stewardship of the Meeting's resources, a Friend in our meeting confessed she sends more of her money to an unnamed Catholic church -- which I'm pretty sure is St. Boniface -- rather than our Meeting because the church "walks the walk."

See the photo essay with the Chronicle story, particularly. Some of the images are from about two years ago. The one that gets me is this one, because it looks like people lined up in coffins. If I weren't at work with three other people, I'd be weeping right now.

Maybe I need to remember to work harder every day to get affordable housing built. It's a long, slow, and challenging process to change opinions of elected leaders and voters. What else could I do to help, sooner? Am I too comfortable in my work environment? Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Update (later 10/15/06): There was a story in the Seattle Times about the situation at University Friends Meeting here. Sounds like it was a challenging situation. San Francisco Monthly Meeting deals with similar issues. The Times had an interesting sidebar with "Quaker facts."


Martin Kelley said...

Hi Chris,
Sounds like you're just where you need to be trying to get to the root of the affordable housing crisis out there. But there is something powerful about the direct service the church is providing. It's certainly where Jesus would be. It was hard for me to look at the pictures just knowing how fragile the safety net can look when life throws a zinger at you.

kathy said...

Thanks for this Chris. How great is it that the folks on the pews have an advocate in you - someone who has the resources to navigate mounds of red tape, stand up to city hall, and maneuver through the legal jargon in order to get affordable housing built in the long run. Maybe the pew they sleep on tonight will be a bed tomorrow because of your efforts. That's no small thing.

Chris M. said...

Thanks for the consolations, Friends.

Kathy, I just read your post about the potlucks and the scruffy man and meant to leave a comment but wasn't sure what to say. Thanks for reading over here.

So: Yes, and... I'm mindful right now because I got an email a few days ago from a local advocate asking what had happened to the 10-year plan to end homelessness, that there were still lots of people in shelters and he wasn't hearing anything about the plan. (It is still in process, and rather out of view, and a bit slowly, IMHO.) I do wonder if we get a little too comfortable and easy with "the system" (see Kirk's Street Corner Society blog for his rewording of the Lord's Prayer). Ah, bureaucracy!

So, I want to lift up these queries for myself, not to beat myself up, just to challenge myself to do my best to live up to the measure of Light I'm given.

kathy said...

Chris, you're asking great questions for all of us to reflect on. It's so easy for me to get lost in piles of reports and administrative duties and forget that I go to work every day to have a positive impact someone's life. I also get discouraged when people's dysfunction interrupts my plans to help them! :) Asking what else I can do at work will be my question for today.

quakerboy said...

When Steve and I visited the San Francisco Meeting, a transgendered homeless woman who was reared Quaker attended that First day as well.

She gave vocal ministry twice (gasp). Once she talked about how she found herself homeless and how being homeless, well, sucked.

The second time she rose she said how frightened she was to be homeless. She gave several examples of how dangerous it was for her.

After the Meeting, folks gathered around her to see what could be done to help. More than anything that happened at Meeting that day, this moved us very deeply.

Steve is a Social Worker, in fact he is Asst. Director of Social Services here. He comes in contact with this sort of thing every day. Most of the time, he has said, churches give the person a few bucks and send them on their way. What amazed him, was that people were actually hugging this woman and hurting with her.

Perhaps the SFO Meeting could do more. But on that First day an angel in the form of a homeless transgendered person gave us a glimpse of what being a Quaker is really all about.

So...thank you Chris for your post. And you would be more up on how your Meeting deals with Social issues, but what we saw at San Francisco Friends Meeting still brings us to tears and warms our hearts. It's easy to give someone money. What's not so easy is to enter into the pain with another child of God.


Rob said...

hey Chris,

Have you been listening to Gregg's sermons via podcast? He and others are doing a series on how Jesus People live. Check it out.

take care,


forrest said...

It is virtually impossible to let homeless people stay anywhere without rules. And it is virtually impossible to enforce such rules without either a) an inhuman degree of supervision or b) their own cooperation.

Did this Seattle group of Friends ever get in touch with Real Change, the excellent street newspaper in that city? I think any of their (largely ex-homeless) staff might have had useful advice, or at least told them who to ask. Starting with the people in their own camp. Was this, in short, help given in solidarity or in "charity", on the assumption of not needing to get too close or learn anything new? (I can't fault this meeting too severely; we don't do nearly so well down here, but so many wonderful efforts I hear about founder on the assumption that the givers "know what the givees need" without asking.)

One useful thing I hope that Quakers would have to give that a group of homeless people might find useful: oversight and help in organizing their own camp. Without some recognized leadership, members of a homeless camp have little recourse against other members who get out of hand. (They can't call in "the authorities" like homed people because the police, if they came at all, would likely just drive away everyone.) People from a group that owns the land have an authority that should be recognized, with minimal resort to police or other violence, so long as they were willing to help the group maintain its own order.

A large charitable organization here serves a daily meal supervised by a force of overbearing and intimidating security guards. Fights and guard violence (last I heard) were common. Friends of mine, serving an illegal food line in the park, would have several hundred from the same population together, with one tough (but not authoritarian or violent) formerly homeless supervisor, with virtually no fights. (The only one I saw in the years I was helping: One man hit another in the chest and walked away.) The understanding was that they would keep their own order or the servers would go away.

It is not only during the night, by the way, that homeless people have "no place they are entitled to be." Anywhere they go, there is the sense that "Being homeless means that anything you do is illegal." I agree that letting people hang around during the day with nothing to do could be a bad idea, at least for people whose idea of "something to do" is "Let's have a beer." If there were something constructive they might do for their stay and perhaps a little spending money?