community means everyone

Last week I met with the Janet Matthews, project director for the First Street Church Project. The FSCP is somewhat infamous around town, in part for it’s reputation of pushing deadlines back. This is not something I would criticize for such an ambitious project. The space, the old church on First and E. Market downtown, is huge, and will house four distinct but inter-acting areas.

Kay’s Kitchen will serve breakfast and be available for community use; the Day Haven will provide a comfortable community space, complete with showers, mailboxes and internet access. The Social Services Annex will house a free clinic, as well as office and meeting space for a variety of social service agencies and non-profits; the Sanctuary is the main hall of the old church and will be a performance venue. A primary focus of the entire project is serving the homeless population in the area, but this is not its exclusive focus. The intent, as Janet expressed to me, is that the FSCP will be a community center, a place where all different segments of society can come together in understanding and mutuality.

Prior to meeting with Janet, my perception was that for a project that intends to be of and for the community there hasn’t been much community involvement. Janet described the ways in which the group of agencies and organizations working on the FSCP are becoming a community, and the service providers council includes a number of people who have extensive experience working with homeless and low-income populations. After meeting with Janet, my perception remains the same. I still don’t see the larger community having much involvement yet.

The organizers could be doing more to facilitate community involvement. At the same time, given such a massive project I can understand the need to focus on just getting the renovations done and the services in place. Also, one of the challenges of social change is that there is a tendency to wait for “them” to do something, whether it’s the government, businesses, or non-profits. If the community were to better organize itself it would be more able to take advantage of opportunities like this.

Another challenge facing this project is the simplified perception that it is a homeless shelter. Even if people understand that it is in fact more versatile and multi-faceted than that, there is still the issue of prejudice. Homeless populations are one of the most marginalized and segregated segments of contemporary society. They are “othered” in a major way, ignoring the fact that most people are not born homeless, nor do they choose it as a lifestyle. I also believe there is subconscious fear in the low-income and middle-class of “becoming one of them.” Anyone can fall prey to our ruthlessly competitive economic system.

As Janet walked me through the building, I was awestruck by the extent of the facilities. Various groups that we are involved in are often looking for places to hold events and meetings. And I can’t tell you how many times in the last few months I’ve heard people talk excitedly about a public kitchen that people could use for processing and preserving their home-grown produce.

Opportunities abound for getting the community into the space and I’m looking forward to participating in this. But the real trick will be in getting people to feel like it’s a place where they can and want to hang out. I have fantasies of hosting listening circles to start addressing the schisms and prejudices against homeless, houseless, and low-income people, which hide the real problems of an unsustainable and unjust economic system. Addressing large, pandemic issues like economic injustice will require an unprecedented level of community involvement. This is something every one of us are capable of, and responsible for generating; especially when we work together!


~ by skybluestar on July 28, 2009.

4 Responses to “community means everyone”

  1. Thank you, Sky. This is the first succinct, well-written piece I’ve seen on the FSCP, telling me its purpose, status, and challenges. Can I suggest that you send it in to the Daily Progress, Hook and C’ville? We need to dispel the “homeless shelter” notion as well as get people talking about the possibilities for the space. Thanks for taking the time to research and to write about it. I’ll be attending the screening of the movie “Fresh” tonight at Vinegar Hill and I know that the proceeds from that are going to benefit Kay’s Kitchen. I’ll mention your blog to people at the pre-screening reception. Thanks again.

  2. I just wanted to address a few points here in this blog. It is well-written, and raises some valid points. However, there are a few that need attention, in my opinion.

    “The organizers could be doing more to facilitate community involvement. At the same time, given such a massive project I can understand the need to focus on just getting the renovations done and the services in place.”

    At this stage of the game, more community involvement might actually be stymieing — a sort of “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation, if you’ll forgive the pun. Kay’s Kitchen will be a community kitchen. The Day Haven, a community space. The people who are currently involved, as you suggest, are people with experience getting tasks like the ones at hand done. The community involvement will come in more when there’s something upon which to build. From my understanding, speaking with Janet and other organizers, the awe-inspiring nature of the facility, as you put it, takes into account a great deal of consideration of the needs of the community.

    On a separate note, it seems that Sky’s major concern is to dispel the notion that homelessness is warrant for disgust. This is where the community needs to be truly involved. Who among us has actually been homeless? I have. Who has camped out on a friend’s couch or an air mattress spread out in someone’s living room? I have. The function and one of the primary purposes of Kay’s Kitchen and the Day Haven in general is to bring together all members of the community. This has to happen somewhere. Right now, the small, informal meeting locations are not the place for that. The former church on First Street is the place for that. Once the space can hold people, it will hold all kinds of people.

    You are welcome to get involved! To actively recruit volunteers (an extremely important word in this case — “volunteers”) is a huge undertaking in itself. Who has time to lend a great deal of energy to this effort without dropping the ball on their own efforts to stay afloat in our “unsustainable and unjust economic system?” I’ve put in many hours. There is a need for volunteer involvement. Come November, there should be a number of people, volunteering, every morning, serving breakfast to homeless and CEOs and CFOs alike. Grab a spatula and a fiddle and head down to the Haven at First.

    Be well and at peace.

  3. It’s the difference between the “build it and they will come” model of large organizations and a project that’s generated by the community. Neither are necessarily better than the other, but they are each more likely to create a certain flavor or atmosphere. This is a “build it and they will come” project.

    The larger community will need to be actively courted into the space at some point. Maybe it will just happen on its own. A wait-and-see approach might be fine. But if it’s not just happening I hope who ever is in charge will reach out to different segments of the cmty to make it happen. I would be happy to help with this effort.

  4. I am homeless my name is Sapphire Sanchez I have a 6 month old daughter, and my fiance Sherman Borum aswell. We are in dire need of a room to stay, PLEASE help us we have no family or friends to take us in, and the governerment assistance will not help if you can help please call my cell number 8603356662 leave a voicemessage and i will get back to you a.s.a.p!

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