As Columbus city leaders and local homeless advocates try to move public feedings of the poor from a downtown park into shelters, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson held a news conference Friday urging the community to unite in the effort.
“It could be that our kind hand is unintentionally becoming a hand of harm,” said Tomlinson, flanked by those supporting the effort.
At Tomlinson’s urging, the Columbus Water Works gave notice to those who feed the needy in a public park between Second Avenue and Veterans Parkway that no one would be permitted to feed there starting today.
Tomlinson said Friday the Water Works and the city would take no legal measures to halt the feedings that over six or seven years have been hosted by faith-based groups on Saturdays. Those who work with the homeless will be in the park today to steer anyone feeding the homeless to other places.
At 11:30 Saturday, the Phenix City First Assembly of God plans a hot dog and hamburger cookout at SafeHouse, a homeless ministry in Rose Hill United Methodist Church, 2101 Hamilton Road, said Neil Richardson, executive director of Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries. The cookout had been planned for the park, Richardson said.
“Here is the beautiful thing, we’re not asking churches and ministry groups to give up what God called them to do,” Richardson said. “We’re asking them to just move the venue.”
SafeHouse has a commercial kitchen Richardson has offered to faith-based groups to feed the needy.
“You can still have your ministry and still have your identity, but you can do it here, where we are all working together,” Richardson said.
Christie Bevis is the executive director of Home for Good, a local alliance that grew from a task force on homelessness that Mayor Jim Wetherington started and Tomlinson continued. Tomlinson said bringing faith-based organizations into the fold will help establish a communitywide system to address the problem.
“We feel like partnering with the community at large, especially the faith community, not only helps engage our homeless community but also helps identify those most in need,” Bevis said. “It will allow us to do a better job not only in housing, but also in support services.”
Home for Good focuses on using federal vouchers to move people off the streets and into housing. Part of a national initiative, it has put almost 50 homeless veterans in housing in the past year. The goal is get 86 homeless veterans off the street by the end of this year.
Home for Good hopes to get 89 chronic homeless people into housing by the end of next year. So far it has moved about 20 into housing.
“There is more than just feeding to end homelessness,” Richardson said. “We have got to be able to get the end game in sight, which is to house people. That means we have got to be able to deal with medical and mental health issues, clothing, transportation, job interview skills and budget management.”
Tomlinson said communities have been addressing homelessness the same way for decades, and it’s time to take a different approach.
“We have to work with all of the service providers, including all of the faith-based ministries, because when we are out feeding it is a real opportunity to create relationships of trust to provide information and education about the ways we can do things that are not threatening to the individuals,” Tomlinson said. “What we are asking all ministries to do is come with us, join with your resources and your faith-based passion and help us in this grand collaboration to truly change the dynamic of homelessness.”
Three meals a day have been provided by agencies near the park. SafeHouse is three blocks east; the Salvation Army is adjacent to the park; and the Valley Rescue Mission is about a half-mile north. SafeHouse serves breakfast and lunch every day; the Valley Rescue Mission serves dinner Monday through Friday and a bag lunch on the weekends; and the Salvation Army serves dinner every day.