This is not an official opinion from the Ministry Center; the views expressed are my own.
I admit it is hard for me to be objective about this issue.
I not only work at the Ministry Center, but I have also spent extensive time working with the homeless in New Orleans.
I know how easy it is for us to dismiss these suffering individuals; how easy it is for us to give them things so they will leave us alone.
Homelessness and poverty is a complicated, multi-faceted issue and anyone who claims to have a simple solution is not being honest with themselves.
However, we have to do something; more than that, we have to begin to see the homeless and impoverished as people with dignity.
There is a common complaint that the homeless do not want to work; that they are lazy.
Or those in poverty are just “feeding of the breast” of the government.
Let me say, a small percentage of the poor and homeless are lazy and taking advantage of the system.
But this is not true of the majority.
Without permanent addresses, without employers willing to take them on, the homeless and impoverished cannot get jobs.
As a result, many of them risk heat stroke or frost bite to try to panhandle out on the highway (which by the way is not illegal in Faulkner Country).
To me that shows a willingness to work and to take care of themselves.
In Faulkner County, one has to make $10 + dollars per hour to be able survive (as a single person).
The minimum wage in Arkansas is currently 8.00 dollars per hour (will go up fifty cents in January).
Doing one thing is not going to solve the problem, and we don’t think we are going to solve homelessness even here in Faulkner County.
But I believe an adage I heard from Andy Stanley, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”
In our case it is, “Do for some what we wish we could do for everyone.”
The opposition has some valid concerns about security, crime rates, letting people just roam in the community.
We held two public forums to try to address many of their concerns.
In the end we just agree to disagree.
They believe we will bring down the neighbor; we believe we will help to bring it up.
The only way to find out is to move forward.
The City of Conway will vote on our conditional use permit on July 28th; it is likely that they will vote in our favor.
But even if we get permission, we still have a long way to go before we are ready to house.
I think that many will feel better once they see what pains we are taking to make sure that our crisis housing program helps those who come here and protects the community.
Regardless, the impoverished and homeless are here on our doorstep; they have been pushed out of Little Rock and drawn to the prosperity of Faulkner County.
If we do not do something about the need for crisis housing, then we will have a much bigger problem in the days to come.
We love our city and we love the poor, homeless, and addicted; Christ loves them both as well.
So, if you live in Conway, I urge you to post your support for the Ministry Center on your social media; send positive comments or notes to your councilmen/councilwomen.
Also, do not think poorly of the people who are not sure about what we are trying to do; they are human beings with real fears and concerns, many are business men/women who add a great deal to our community.
Instead, pray that God will change hearts and convince minds; this all requires his blessing and power anyway.
Grace and Peace
As of last night the Conway City Council failed to even entertain a motion of giving the Ministry Center a conditional lease permit. While many were sympathetic and acknowledged the need for crisis housing, there were too many questions and concerns that they did not have answers to. There was also pressure from local merchants and residents to keep crisis housing away from the neighborhood. Unfortunately, this is a lost cause considering they are already present and living out in the woods and other nearby areas; they are still around in daytime near their stores whether they want them to be or not.
It is terribly sad that we cannot share the revitalization of downtown with all of our citizens. Like so many other gentrification projects, the poor and homeless are being pushed out into “leper colonies” where there is no infrastructure, no opportunities for employment, and the almost certainty of high crime rates. This just reinforces the incorrect stereotype in politically conservative people’s minds that the homeless are lazy, prone to criminal activity, and only out buy to beer, cigarettes, and other drugs off our generosity. To me, this is insidious and it continues anun-Christian, Darwinian notion that only those who have money and resources deserve to be in our urban areas.
Shame on us, and shame on what we have allowed to happen.
The homeless are people made in the image of God; not street litter to be thrown in a dumpster.