Need to pack the City Commission on Monday!!!! Jan 14, 5:30pm
---------- Forwarded Message ----------
Today's Home Van Newsletter is a preview of a Speaking Out column I have sent to
the Gainesville Sun. Please feel free to forward it to friends and local email lists.
It is difficult not to be angry these days when one is working on the front lines of homelessness
and hunger - at the Gainesville City Commission, the Alachua County Commission, at Tallahassee,
at the federal government and maybe even at God. When a homeless man says he wants to walk out into traffic
because he can't panhandle a few dollars to get batteries for his radio, and he's a lonely old guy whose too old
and too sick to get a job - when rickety old cars pull up near the Home Van and elderly people (most of them
African-American) stand in line for a sandwich, so rigid with humiliation they won't even make eye contact with us,
when children are living in cars in January, when other children have been seen foraging in dumpsters behind
school cafeterias, when Home Van volunteers find a small, fragile woman with a terminal illness living under
a highway overpass - how can we not be angry? We don't understand why the Hampton Inn gets a donation
of $802,000. We don't understand million-dollar tax breaks to people who are building condos.
These projects create temporary construction work and a few minimum wage jobs after they're up.
The woods around Gainesville are numerous with people who work such jobs.
Poor and homeless people have taken blow after blow from the city this year: The panhandling ordinance,
the reign of terror out at Tent City, the long, bruising battle to keep Fire of God's mission going. And now
a threat against the Interfaith Hospitality Network, small church food pantries, and related services to the
poor that are operated by churches. On Monday January 14 the City Commission will consider a proposed change
to the City's land use code that would require religious communities located in single family neighborhoods to go
through a special use permitting process in order to provide food or shelter to homeless persons. Currently, churches
and other religious communities in single family neighborhoods can shelter or feed up to 20 persons with a
permit issued by the City Manager. This current permitting process, which is relatively simple and inexpensive,
has allowed ministries like the Interfaith Hospitality Network to develop and grow over the last 10 years.
The new proposal would mean that any churches in single family zones that want to get involved in IHN,
or that want to develop their own food or shelter ministries to the homeless, would have to go through the
special use permitting process, complete with public hearings and an application fee of $938.00 for regular
applications. This proposed change is not required by law.
To attack the Interfaith Hospitality Network and other services to homeless people operated by churches is an attack on the
First Amendment, which states Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof... Every major religion in the world requires its followers to feed the hungry,
shelter the homeless and bring comfort to the poor. Religious freedom, separation of Church and State, and the
U.S. Constitution are being attacked by our local City Commission. If there was ever a time to stand up and
be counted in this war against the poor people of our community, it is now.
We may be told by certain city commissioners that this new ordinance is necessary to "protect neighborhoods."
Do neighborhoods need to be protected against the poor and homeless people who are served by these churches?
I have lived in a low-crime neighborhood that is within walking distance of two homeless shelters for the past 21 years,
without incident. Neighborhoods often feel they need such protection because they have fallen prey to a national,
state and local campaign to demonize poor and homeless people that has been going on for years, fueled by the
greed of developers and supported by politicians who depend on their campaign contributions. This is a time-honored tactic.
Demonizing very poor people and then passing laws to protect the public against them is a strategy that has been
used against Jewish people, Irish-, Japanese-, and African Americans, and Native Americans. It is the strategy being used in Gainesville today to reduce services to homeless and hungry people in our community.
I don't know the answer to poverty and homelessness in Gainesville, but I do know that we need to turn a really big spotlight
on it. We need to build widespread community support for addressing poverty in Gainesville. We need to protect and
expand services to poor and homeless people. We need public forums on this topic, big articles in the Gainesville Sun,
and Speaking Out columns from many citizens and from Commissioners.
We need a Homeless People's Appreciation Day, where homeless people are publicly praised for their amazing courage,
and for all the work they do as day laborers and minimum wage workers, in service to us who have comfortable homes.
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