I first became aware of LAPD Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph a few years back, when two Christian documentary filmmakers featured his amazing work on Skid Row. I literally was blown away by this strong Christian man's love for a community that is in desperate need of genuine love. Since then, our paths have crossed a few times, but it was only recently that I connected with Deon Joseph on Facebook. His candid and emotionally honest accounts of his day-to-day life working with the Skid Row community are encouraging and heartbreaking... often at the same time.
About a week before Christmas, a time on Skid Row where faith-based groups ascend into Skid Row by the droves, Deon posted an update that messed me up. It was pretty much a "play-by-play" account of a war zone of madness created by faith-based groups, who have good intentions, but are completely unaware of the reality of their actions. My heart broke for Officer Joseph and for the people on Skid Row.
NO ONE IS SAYING STOP GIVING!
Whenever a community is pushed against a wall and has to pass laws to get faith based organizations to work together, my social media channels go off. People tweet news links to me and email me stories expecting me to be outraged, but although I am not for punishing people who want to do good -- I have seen the harm churches can do to a homeless community. Since most faith-based groups are very territorial and refuse to work with their communities, regulating public feedings become the only solution to a very serious problem. About a year ago I wrote a post: Why You Should Support Regulating the Public Feeding of Homeless People , which opened some eyes and upset others. Please hear me...no one is saying stop helping people or stop giving out food. What we are trying to say is WORK WITH OTHERS TO HAVE MORE IMPACT IN ENDING HOMELESSNESS!
The Missions based on Skid Row feed 9,000 meals every day. They work together as a coordinated effort to make sure no one goes hungry on Skid Row. In the two decades I have been visiting Skid Row, I have yet to meet a single person who is in need of food, and as as Officer Joseph points out, you don't see anyone in this interview running around naked and in need of clothes. Yet 20 - 30 churches come down to Skid Row every day randomly feeding people and creating a mess. They are creating far more harm than good.
THERE ARE LOTS OF WAYS CHURCHES CAN HELP!
Partner with homeless services: During this interview Deon said LA Mission is in need of bread and Union Rescue Mission is in need of peanut butter and jelly. That's just two of many ways your church or bowling team can help and have real impact.
Come clean up the streets: Deon mentioned the Los Angeles Dream Center as a good example of a faith-based group that helps clean up the streets. If your church wants to help but really does not know what to do, contact the Dream Center and I am sure they'd be happy to train your staff.
Provide tangible social interaction to people in housing: Good news is lots of people are being placed into housing. They need positive interactions with good people. Yes, you have to leave your bible in your car, but if you're "fishing for souls" on Skid Row, you should note that pretty much everyone has already said the sinners prayer dozens of times. It's time to start being an answer to prayers instead of trying to get people to say a prayer.
Seniors need food: The one area we will see growing food insecurity is seniors. They may have their rent paid, but very little money for anything else. Throughout Los Angeles there are seniors in need of food.
The Downtown Clergy Council released this position paper that has a lot more background on this conversation and goes into more detail on ways to help: How to Make the Influence of the Service Community Stronger than the Influence of the Streets!
IF CHURCHES WOULD WORK TOGETHER, THERE WOULD BE NO NEED TO REGULATE!
I am so very saddened whenever this conversation comes up by the amount of energy faith-based organizations will put into a message of fear, instead of simply reaching out to other churches to work together. The simple solution for all is to communicate and coordinate, but most churches are very territorial. When a law has to be passed to get churches to work together, it really says a lot about the church world today. Oh, please note, there are amazing churches out there actually working with the community and partnering with homeless services for more impact. My point is no community should ever get to the point where public feeding has to be regulated, and if it does, it our fault as Christians that it got that far.
All food is regulated. Sidewalk cafés have to have a permit, hot dog vendors have to be licensed, restaurants are zoned -- all for public safety! Why faith-based groups start ranting about about regulation really says more about them than the regulation itself.
WE NEED A LEADER TO CHAMPION COOPERATION!
All it would take is one strong leader to champion all the faith-based organizations to start working together. In my perfect world, churches would rise up and show the people of Los Angeles we can coordinate for more impact to help the hurting of our city. Instead of arguing about regulations, let's show the world regulations are not needed. There are a lot of ways faith based churches can really make our city better -- lots of ways! The point is let's work smarter, help each other, and do what is best for the community.
Here is a short quote from Deon's Facebook update just before Christmas:
After two hours, the event came to a merciful end. I watched the majority of the recipients of this good will dump out or try to sell the items for drug money as they ambled down the street. In the background another minister was singing "Jesus is on the Main Line" with fervor on the mic, while all hell was breaking loose from their donations.
"Let's not be a church of ignorance to our own actions and let's work with others to help end homelessness in Los Angeles." ~ Mark Horvath