Thursday, December 4, 2008

Updated: Homeless Get No Reconciliation at Epworth United Methodist Church, Chicago

UPDATE: Alderman Mary Ann Smith's efficient staff was kind enough to quickly provide The Bench with the correct link to the "Edgewater/Uptown Homeless Discussion" group at Yahoo! Click here to join the group. The Bench front page... CHICAGO - Alderman Mary Ann Smith, 48th Ward, included an update on the demise of the R.E.S.T. homeless shelter for men at the Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater (full text below.) Housed in the church's gymnasium at 5253 N. Kenmore Avenue, the shelter was Edgewater's only such refuge for men with no safe and warm place to sleep and get a meal. Ald. Smith is too polite to tell you this: Rev. Joseph A. Johnson, Pastor of Epworth United, has been working overtime to boot the homeless men out. Johnson is allegedly more interested in padding his congregation with nearby condo dwellers than in carrying out the mission of his supposedly Christian church. The sign out front calls Epworth "A Reconciling Congregation." What it is that the good pastor thinks he's reconciling is a mystery to mere mortals. One wonders how he will reconcile kicking homeless men to the street will be reconciled when St. Peter asks him why he should be admitted to Heaven. Standing right behind Johnson will be the four aldermen who flatly refused Smith's pleas to assist in finding another location for the R.E.S.T. shelter. They are: Joe Moore (49th Ward), Eugene Schulter (47th Ward), Helen Shiller (46th Ward) and Patrick O’Connor (40th Ward). The full text of Ald. Smith's update: Neighborhood Loses Shelter Beds The plan to relocate the R.E.S.T. men's shelter, which had been located at Epworth Baptist Church, to the former Pasteur Restaurant building has fallen through. Inner Voice, the not-for-profit agency that administers the management contracts with R.E.S.T. and other homeless shelter providers for the City of Chicago, evaluated the site at 5525 N. Broadway and decided the location would not be suitable for a temporary shelter. Alderman Smith's office explored every viable option suggested in the 48th Ward. Because of their concern for the people who would be displaced, and despite the financial challenges involved with housing the shelter, Epworth Church shelter has compassionately agreed to allow the shelter to remain housed in their facility location until January 2, 2009. Although there are discussions underway regarding other possible sites for the shelter, these locations are not in the 48th Ward. Whatever the outcome, the potential loss of shelter beds will have consequences for both the homeless and the community. As a neighborhood, there may be more men sleeping in our parks, alleys and vestibules. For the homeless, the result of being without shelter during a Chicago winter can be disastrous. The challenges this presents will be met in three ways: 1. Over the next few weeks, the City's Department of Human Services (DHS) will expand the number of beds at other locations. A van will be stationed at Peoples Church on Lawrence at Sheridan. This is a location where, for years, men who need a place to sleep for the night have gone to be assigned to a bed. When the shelter at PeoplesChurch is at capacity, the van will transport men to other facilities -- if they are willing to go. They will be strongly encouraged to do so. 2. DHS also is committed to having staff repeatedly visit the homeless who are sleeping outdoors during the winter to try to convince them to accept help and go to an indoor shelter. 3. Alderman Smith's office will work to ensure that relevant laws, such as the 11 p.m. park closing, are enforced and to have boxes, mattresses and clutter removed from the alleys. This is not heartless; it is essential. If the options of sleeping in a cardboard box in an alley or under a tree in the park are not available, the homeless may be more willing to accept the invitation to go to an indoor shelter and get the help and resources available from DHS and other agencies. At the November 48th Ward Zoning and Planning Committee meeting, delegates and guests spoke about the need to provide for the homeless and how this is a long-term problem that must be addressed with realistic, compassionate long-term solutions. Alderman Smith's office has begun working with advocacy and constituent groups to develop such solutions and will report back to the community through Zoning and Planning and via this newsletter. If you would like to be part of this working group, please e-mail Doug Fraser, chief of staff, In addition, we have created a Yahoo Groups forum to enable people to express their opinions about the issue, and connect those who have the ideas and energy to work toward solutions on a local level. You can join the group here. [UPDATE: Alderman Smith's efficient staff was kind enough to quickly provide The Bench with the correct link to the Edgewater/Uptown Homeless Discussion group at Yahoo!] You can also contact the good Rev. Joseph A. Johnson here: Epworth United Methodist Church 5253 N. Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 561-6422 RELATED: Shelter's Fate Hangs In Balance (News-Star) The Bench: UPDATED: Homeless Shelter On Endangered List The Bench: R.E.S.T. STOPPED: CHICAGO ALDERMEN DENY HOMELESS SHELTER