Homelessness and the federal building

Sunday, May 17, 2009

As I read the paper, listen to the news and converse with the citizens of Cape Girardeau, I have a growing concern about the use of the federal building on Broadway and the response of our community to the homeless.

As the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, president of FISH Volunteers food pantry and member of the Downtown Council of Churches and the Cape Ministerial Alliance, I think the issue of homelessness is important. Our Lord and Savior clearly said, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40) "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

The churches of this community, the folks of the Cape Girardeau area who believe in Jesus Christ, and those who command compassion for people have created, built and maintain a significant array of ministry. Within that large array of ministry is a focus upon the homeless. That focus embraces the United Way, the Salvation Army, Mending Hearts, the shelter in Jackson run by Pastor Joyce Hungate and the Room at the Inn, which is a cooperative program with churches and helping agencies. For a community our size, this is an impressive quantity and quality of ministry to the homeless of our area.

I personally believe that these ministries are successfully meeting the needs of the homeless in our area. Therefore, the requirement for an additional 47,000-square-foot building seems excessive and delusional. It seems that only if a person factors in the homeless potential within an additional 20-plus-county region can numbers be amplified to justify a 47,000-square-foot building. It also seems that those numbers can only be gained if each community's response in those 20-plus counties is ignored.

Thus, my first concern in the use of the former federal building on Broadway is for the homeless and our community's multiple array of successful ministries.

My second concern focuses upon the locations of successful ministries to the homeless. It would seem valuable to consult the multitude of successful homeless ministries as to where they are located and the most optimal locale for the most healthy effort. It is that location is critically important for successful endeavors.

To gain insight to the most optimal locations for continued ministry to the homeless or to the expansion of such a ministry, it would seem critically important to discover the areas where the homeless population is most dense, areas where those activities which hamper such a ministry and those areas which would enhance the homeless ministry. Given the above criteria, I doubt the Broadway location is close to the homeless population. I believe the former federal building is even an out-of-the-way location which would hinder a successful ministry to the homeless. The hindrance would be enhanced given the kind of environment around the former federal building. This environment is conducive to commercial and retail growth. I speculate a successful ministry to the homeless would enjoy an environment a bit removed from heavy traffic yet close to public transportation; removed from nearby facilities which offer copious amounts of alcohol (there are more than 15 bars within walking distance); and located in an area conducive to safety, recreation, green space and counseling.

As our community grows and as the economy improves, the issue of homeless will remain. The causes of homelessness are legion. Those who are homeless need respect and Christ-like love. Some who are homeless will be so only temporarily. Others have discovered themselves homeless not because they wish to be, but because a host of issues (alcohol, drugs, emotional health and previous behavior) hinders them from gaining the stability, the resources and roots necessary to establish a home. Yet, all -- even the least of these -- continue to occupy a great deal of this area's energy, compassion and ministry. It is a ministry that does not need a 47,000-square-foot facility on Broadway but does need constant attention.

The attention is constant because we are family. "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40)

The Rev. Paul Kabo Jr. is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Cape Girardeau.

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