NYC Churches Ordered Not To Shelter Homeless

Posted by Kendall Harmon

City officials have ordered 22 New York churches to stop providing beds to homeless people.

With temperatures well below freezing early Saturday, the churches must obey a city rule requiring faith-based shelters to be open at least five days a week -- or not at all.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General

15 Comments
Posted November 23, 2008 at 7:16 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Kendall Harmon wrote:

On Saturday morning in New York City it was 25 degrees and windy and I had a lot of clothes on and I was REALLY COLD. Something about this is just nuts, right out of Catch 22 or something.

November 23, 8:25 pm | [comment link]
2. TomRightmyer wrote:

Part of the problem is supervision.  Some homeless people don’t find the supervision at city shelters adequate. Stuff is stolen; drugs are sold; the weak are abused.  Some find the church shelters which are manned by volunteers inadequate on similar grounds. There are other issues involved as well, but safety is one present issue.

November 23, 8:32 pm | [comment link]
3. Br. Michael wrote:

Kendall, you are right.  It is nuts.  They have some reason that is logical to them, but this is nuts.

November 23, 8:34 pm | [comment link]
4. Br. Michael wrote:

Tom, then let the churches make the decision.  I know that we don’t like to think of such things, but sometimes government does not always know best and the government does not always have to fix mistakes.

November 23, 8:39 pm | [comment link]
5. John316 wrote:

The last time that I saw this type of situation it was because surrounding property owners in the church neighborhood did not want homeless folks loitering around the neighborhood.

If there are enough beds in shelters then it might be that this is a zoning situation in the same way that neighbors wouldn’t want a motel to suddenly spring up on the block.

Just a guess.

November 23, 10:10 pm | [comment link]
6. Marion wrote:

A little history here.  I was in NYC when there was a severe shortage of beds for the homeless and Ed Koch who was mayor at that time got on TV and challenged the churches and houses of worship to open their doors to the homeless.  Many, many churches answered this challenge and established shelters, some no more than a few cots in the church itself (if my memory serves me).  But what it did was ease the overcrowding and often offered a safe place to spend the night.  The city shelters, especially the mens shelter, at that time was extremely unsafe and I would doubt that it is particularly safe today.

The church I was at Grace NYC, responded to that call and established a shelter for 6 men over the age of 40 and I along with many others volunteered there for years.  It really did provide a safe haven for those who were very vulnerable.

It is possible that there are some reasons which were not in that article which we may find to be a good reason for taking this action.  However, if it is some management, red tape issue which is driving this change in policy, it is one of the most disappointing moves I have seen from NYC in recent times.  I still consider Ed Koch’s challenge at that time to be on of the most astute political moves and Christian challenges (he is Jewish) to what is a secular city, that I have had the privilege to be involved with. (in my small way)

I pray they work this out as there is almost certainly going to be a sizable increase in the homeless in NYC given the present economic situation we are in.  They may need every bed they can find.

November 24, 12:50 am | [comment link]
7. Irenaeus wrote:

These orders sound heartless and misguided, all the more so in cold weather. Perhaps there’s a plausible reason, but it’s not at all apparent.

Consider the case of a church that has the resources (e.g., staff or volunteers) to run a shelter a few nights a week but not 5-7. The city and the homeless are still better off than they would be without the shelter. Moreover, a volunteer-run shelter open 3 nights a week will probably be more caring, less impersonal, less institutional than a more “professionalized” shelter open every night.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Surrounding property owners in the church neighborhood did not want homeless folks loitering around the neighborhood —-John316

Requiring shelters to operate 5-7 nights a week means that a given shelter has more of an effect on the neighborhood than if it were open only a few nights a week—-and is thus more likely to elicit opposition.

If you have a network of small church-run shelters each open a few nights a week, you avoid excessively imposing on a particular block or neighborhood.

November 24, 1:17 am | [comment link]
8. John316 wrote:

More information from the ABC affiliate:

On Saturday, the city Department of Homeless Services said there is plenty of space at shelters to accept all those who have been sleeping in the churches. The shelters include four new faith-based sites where the number of beds combined with availability amounts to a greater total number of nights for people to stay, said Homeless Services spokeswoman Heather J. Janik.
There are now about 250 beds in churches, mosques and synagogues. They’re close to drop-in centers where people receive other services including food, Janik said.

November 24, 7:03 am | [comment link]
9. stjohnsrector wrote:

Here in Detroit we have a program called The One Night Initiative.
Coordinated through a local shelter and a former member of city council, they ask Churches to host people once a winter.  The Red Cross lends out cots, and the parish over the years has purchased or had donated bedding (sheets, blankets, pillows) which we use.  It is a great rallying ministry for us.  We host 20 men, feed them dinner and breakfast, and let them use our showers (a luxury for many on the streets).  We try to have enough clean underwear donated, and other items of clothes too.  And the women’s group packs them a lunch.
It is a lot of work and if we had to do it more than once or twice a winter we wouldn’t have the volunteers to do it, nor the space, which is used by lots of other church and community groups.
But there are a LOT of churches in Detroit.

November 24, 9:04 am | [comment link]
10. Summersnow wrote:

Our church is a part of a co-operative of churches that rotate opening their doors to the homeless one night a week.  It works really well, and enables churches that otherwise may not be able to open their doors nightly to the homeless.

November 24, 9:59 am | [comment link]
11. Cennydd wrote:

New York City needs to be reminded that it is far better for churches to house the homeless seven days and nights a week in cold weather than to let them freeze to death on city streets or in doorways for TWO days and nights.  Better to take care of the immediate problem IMMEDIATELY and handle the legal niceties later.

November 24, 1:26 pm | [comment link]
12. Terry Tee wrote:

Here in our area of London UK the churches have banded together.  Each opens its facilities one night a week, in rotation;  so there are seven locations.  These churches and others finance a charity which provides the equipment, transport and paid staff supervision through the night.  There are also of course lots of volunteers to cook, set up beds, offer hospitality etc.  I note that even although it is well run and supervised even this scheme would have fallen foul of NY law.  Many people who come to our church shelters would not go to a government one.

November 24, 5:40 pm | [comment link]
13. Priest on the Prairie wrote:

As rector of a downtown parish I have a lot of dealings with homeless folk.  Many of them will not go to large shelters, for any number of reasons, and will risk life and limb avoiding said places.

It may be time for some of the brave and noble ministers of those churches to utilize a little civil disobedience and “clothe the naked, feed the hungry” and do all those other things that we heard about in last Sunday’s Gospel reading without thinking of the consequences that The World might impose.  Better to hear, “well done, thou good and faithful servant” on judgement day than “well done, thou good and faithful civil servant” at the present.

November 25, 6:53 pm | [comment link]
14. MEEPer wrote:

Perhaps for dereliction to flourish, it is only necessary for those of faith to do nothing.

Perhaps we need only reflect upon Matthew 22:21 (“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s…) and 25:37 (“Lord when did we see you hungry…) to realize that the statutory obligation of the government to meet the challenge of the homeless with an institutional response does not absolve the church from its scriptural obligation to provide a faith-based response.

Debating the merits of the issue would seem a little reminiscent of Matthew 21:23-27. By what authority do we do these things? By the obligations imposed upon us at baptism:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help…

November 30, 10:08 pm | [comment link]
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