“We were trying to tell the churches we've got problems here,” said Matt Phillips, a Pacific Beach resident who started an online petition drive to encourage churches to stop feeding the homeless. Phillips believes such “handouts,” in his view, are counterproductive, enabling the homeless to continue being dissolute without encouraging them to change.
Phillips said he's decided to continue his change.org petition drive, which netted 400 supporters for ending PB church feeds in a matter of weeks.
“The best way to ensure churches change their policies is to continue the petition and increase signatures,” said Phillips. “The petition is an open channel for the community to talk to churches and be heard.”
Brian Curry, a past president of PB Planning Group, a participant in the 90-minute meeting between 16 or so participants, including churches and community reps, characterized it as a solid beginning.
“I've been working on this for about four months trying to get the churches together with community leaders and concerned residents: We do have an issue with people living near those churches being concerned about drugs, trash and (associated) crime,” said Curry. “It's positive that the churches are hearing from the community about what's bugging them. A lot of the residents have felt like they were not being heard and were being ignored.”
“I would agree with Brian that it was a very preliminary meeting, just a chance to hear each other,” said Pastor David Nagler, of Christ Lutheran Church at 4761 Cass St. “That was very helpful.”
The pastor described one moment during the group discussion when the energy in the room shifted.
“That was when one of the church leaders said, ‘We want the neighbors who are sharing their stories about what happened in their yards with people who are on the street … We want you to know that we believe that what you are telling us is true, that you feel unsafe in your neighborhood, or there are trash problems or things that you want to have dealt with.’”
But Phillips was not entirely happy with the inaugural PB community-church meeting. “My objective was to get churches to be willing to adopt stricter policies for (meal) recipients. The only thing that came out of it was suggestions for best practices.”
However, Phillips conceded, “For the first time, we actually began talks. The community deserves to hear that.”
Phillips said his hope moving forward is “about progress. We want the churches to slowly but surely come on board (with discussions to reign-in homeless feeds).”
Nagler was “encouraged” by the initial face-to-face, church-community meeting.
“There was no sense of people digging in their heels,” Nagler said, adding both sides are well intentioned and want to do what's best for the community.
“Our neighbors who are complaining are caring people, and they care about people who are down on their luck. They would like to see something happen. That is hopeful. There wasn't any sense in the air of 'We don't care what you say.' None of that energy was in the room.”
A second community-church meeting to discuss homeless meals is scheduled for some time in November.