Homeless problem hits the news

Our church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Wooster, has been in the news a lot lately as a result of homeless people sleeping on the steps of the church.  Local merchants and residents are alarmed that Wooster's homeless problem has increased, not just on the church steps but throughout downtown Wooster.
Trinity has had a weekday morning breakfast program for 23 years.  We average serving 65-70 people per day.  Trinity's staff, members and volunteers know many of the participants by name and many have been coming to breakfast for years.  Trinity makes the breakfast a safe space as we try to build a caring community with anyone who attends.

Kevan, Leila, and a few other church members attended a couple of Wooster City Council meetings where they were trying to pass a law that would fine people for being homeless.  At the meetings, Kevan talked about the homeless problem.  He

Kevan's talk from the first City Council Meeting:
I did not come tonight to talk about theology, although I could.  I come to share my insights and offer my hopes for the future.  Americans across the country are feeling the crunch of a deteriorating social service network in the form of Housing vouchers, food stamps, utility supplements, mental health case managers, and developmental disabilities. What happens in Washington and Columbus directly affects our local community. It takes just a little bit more to help people live safe and decent lives.  When they lose that little bit of help, their life becomes unsustainable.  I want to clearly state that homelessness is a result of a lack of affordable housing.  This is the consensus of a large body of research. Simply refer to the detailed information on homelessness the Federal Government makes available from the Interagency on homelessness.

By your own accounts, Wooster has a shortage of affordable housing.  Affordable housing in Wooster has been lost due to a number of factors. Many affordable housing options in Wooster have been eliminated over the past few years I could detail those losses, but I skip them for the sake of time.  (A trailer park on Larwill, houses on small lots have been torn down, a tent city, the inability to send people to larger cities for shelters because they are also full, and an influx of pipeline workers renting what low-cost rentals were available.)
Recent efforts by the city and Wayne Metro Housing have failed due to the community at large being unwilling to approve proposed locations.  Contractors prefer to build larger homes because the profit margin is greater, so we need incentives for contractors to build affordable units.  It’s not fair to criminalize homelessness when the community itself resists building affordable housing.  Legislation aimed at people who are homeless is not an effective solution to the problem and will only serve to exacerbate the obstacles that come with being homeless.  A criminal record may create greater barriers to finding employment or being able to secure housing. If a fine is levied, most will be unable to pay it and this will lead them farther down an already steep slope. My hope is that we may establish an Affordable Housing task force to explore solutions that will serve the housing needs of all citizens.  Thank you. 

Kevan's script from the second City Council meeting:
Faith communities have always been a place where people come to socialize and to be socialized. We learn civility and find ways that we can be engaged in working for the common good. Most of our congregations began as immigrant communities and the congregation was the place where people were able to integrate into the larger society. Our downtown churches work together to bring civility to public spaces and conversations. This IS the practice of our faith.We teach our children; “Everyone is a child of God and deserves to be treated that way.” If we teach our children these words, we must also show them what compassion in action looks like. And we say things like; You have to see it to be it. It feels good to do good.  We all benefit when we work to create a caring community. We are human beings.  Human beings were created for community.  We need to realize our collective responsibility.  The definition used to define homelessness in schools is “lack of a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence.” WHC Point in time homeless counts indicate that Wooster public schools reported 199 homeless students in January 2018. That number has significantly increased each year.  On the first of the month, I take a sobering drive around Wooster and see families experiencing the trauma of losing all of their worldly possessions on the tree lawn.  A significant section of our population has been reduced to subsistence level, leaving more people on the street struggling for shelter.  One-quarter of all Ohio’s renters – nearly 400,000 households – now spend over half their income on rent, according to a report recently released by the state of Ohio.  Businesses, families and communities are stronger when residents have safe, affordable housing and fair processes.  Faith communities used to think about their role in society as catching people who fall between the cracks of the social service network.  Those cracks are so huge now that there isn’t any way that our faith communities can keep up with human need.  We are all part of a system and our faith communities are overwhelmed with the needs of a growing number of our low wage earning community members. Our faith communities will, however, continue to keep the conversation about safe affordable shelter alive.  Our hope is that we may establish an Affordable Housing task force to explore solutions that will serve the housing needs of all citizens. My hope is that the proposed punitive legislation be tabled or voted down.  But more importantly, to encourage the city to follow through on their compassionate intentions for those who are subjected to the elements by showing support for a low restriction shelter somewhere and to look for solutions to the serious problem of insufficient affordable housing for Wooster’s low wage earning citizens. Thank you. 

Click below to see the recent articles and news broadcasts:

Channel 5 news broadcast

Fox 8 news broadcast

Fox 8 news broadcast after the ordinance voted down

Channel 19 news broadcast

Wooster Daily Record - Who's living on the streets?

Wooster Daily Record - Downtown Merchants want City to address safety & security issues

Wooster Daily Record - Wooster council gets first look at Wooster's Homeless issue

Wooster Daily Record - ACLU weighs in on Wooster's proposed homeless measure

Wooster Daily Record - Homeless measure unpopular at Wooster City Council Meeting

Wooster Daily Record - Wooster City Council votes down Homeless Ordinance

Wooster Daily Record - In Plain Sight:  Salvation Army Shelter sees success amid the stress

Wooster Daily Record - In Plain Sight:  Canton men's shelter set for expansion

Wooster Daily Record - In Plain Sight:  For many, finding housing starts with getting in line

Wooster Daily Record - In Plain Sight:  From homeless to housed, just in time for Christmas

Wooster Daily Record - Housing needs top Wooster Mayor's State of the City Address

Trinity United Church of Christ
150 E. North St.
Wooster, Ohio  44691


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