Jerry’s Surgery

[Posted by Sylvia Broome, member of the Church on the Street community and director of women’s and human trafficking ministries]

My daughter had surgery in May. I was impressed by the gentle and reassuring attention from the nurses, the thorough conversation with the doctor prior to the surgery, and the visit from the anesthesiologist who carefully took her history.

After the surgery, she had multiple doses of pain medicine, cold compresses on her eyes for comfort, and frequent changes of bandages. The doctor stopped in to check on her. She stayed for several hours in recovery since she was so groggy from the anesthesia. When she was ready to go home, she was gently helped into the car by the nurse. The care she received was like a five star spa.

Jerry, a homeless member of our community, also had surgery in May. Jerry’s surgery was on both eyelids. He was not told prior to the surgery that he would need someone to help him with a ride after the surgery. Because of this, he had not made arrangements to get back to the facility where he was staying.

After the surgery was over he called me and said “I can’t see.” I drove to the hospital to pick him up and found him sitting alone on a wall outside of the hospital. He had been released with both eyes swollen shut, groggy and disoriented from the anesthesia. He could barely walk and needed two people to help him get into the car.

How different it is to have surgery when you are poor, homeless and uninsured.

A Funny Turn of Events

Our vision at Church on the Street is to be an intentional and diverse Christian community where everyone is welcome, belongs and finds their place of service.  Because of this we are quite insistent upon everyone taking ownership of the community: you receive and give.  We like to say that we are cultivating a place where we take responsibility for ourselves, our neighbor and the common good.

One of the ways we try to gauge this is by seeing if new people stick around and then eventually start contributing to our common life without being asked.  Around our community we talk about participation, or everyone “picking up a broom,”  as a sign someone belongs. 

This vision also shapes our guest “policy.”  If you are a guest in our community then you are not allowed to help; you are only allowed to receive our hospitality.  If you come back tomorrow it’s time to pick up a broom.  If you are a long term guest then after a day or two you should probably pitch in.  Basically, our guest policy is pretty much like anyone’s guest policy in their home.

All of this led to a funny turn of events. We were hosting another church in our community which was made up of a lot of teenagers.  Many of the members of our community are homeless or transitioning from homelessness.  This means that the hosting duties fall, in large part, to those the group thought they were coming to serve.  As it turns out, this particular church group didn’t bother to help clean up much after themselves, especially following meals.  As a result, many members of our community were heard grumbling about “these lazy kids that don’t want to do anything to help.”  No doubt an accusation some of these “kids” would have made about the “homeless” at some point.

This is what makes our community so interesting to be around. The expectations are regularly turned on their head.

Atlanta the Epicenter of Sex Trafficking

In Atlanta there is an estimated annual revenue of $290 million made from the sex trade, surpassing Miami as the #1 illegal sex trafficking market in the U.S. In fact, from 2003-2007 Atlanta and Seattle are the only major cities profiled in the Urban Institute’s latest report where sexual exploitation grew. To give some perspective to the enormity of Atlanta’s illegal market it is worth noting that Seattle, the third largest American market, is estimated to have an annual revenue of $112 million, which is less than half of Atlanta’s annual revenue.

In Georgia, there is an estimated 7,200 men who pay for 8,700 sex acts per month with minor females. This is around 300 acts per day. With an average of 100 minor girls being prostituted daily, every girl is being exploited 3 times each night.

Although solicitation through the internet is rapidly growing, street demand remains high throughout the country, especially in Atlanta. For the men, women and minor girls and boys being exploited in our neighborhood, prostitution is closely related to drugs and drug addiction. Whereas other women and girls can garner anywhere from $50 to $450 per john depending on the age, act and duration, those in the drug related trade can only hope for $10 to $50 per john while still expected to bring in a quota of $100-$150 each night from their pimp, “handler,” or “manager.” These unrealistic demands make violence against these slaves even more prevalent than under other conditions.

The exploitation of the transgendered population and minor boys in and around our neighborhood is also rampant. We have little more than anecdotal information about these populations because, as one Atlanta law enforcement member mentioned, there is little interest and no money for these boys.

Where Shall We Go?

Jim Beaty, whose wife is the executive director for the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, writes his own blog.  Last week he posted that

…the Task Force had 99 women and children in our lobby at Peachtree Pine last night, July 11, 2014. And Fulton County closed 300 beds of shelter space, at their own admission and without public notice, within the last two months. (Springdale shelter for women and children with 150 spaces, and Jefferson Place shelter for men with 150 spaces.) Fulton County then evicted 17 formerly and now newly-homeless families with disabilities from the County’s “Permanent Supportive Housing Program.”

The whole post is worth a read.  I am all for finding ways for the homeless to not be homeless.  I’m for all kinds of strategies and sometimes there may even need to be a bit of a nudge in helpful directions. But any form of coercion must be coupled with real alternatives. Enough real alternatives simply do not exist.  More to come…

Urgent Help

We have just received word that we will be incurring a monthly $2000 fee to continue operating in our current facility. Historically we have been able to keep overhead expenses to an extreme low through the lavish hospitality of our landlords and our contributions to the upkeep of the building. They are no longer in a position to offer us such generous terms.  Although in the downtown Atlanta market this is still more than kind, for a community like ours, it is a challenge to secure the resources.  So we are asking our community and friends of our community to help us meet this need. I realize that some of you are a good distance from downtown Atlanta, but we hope in the spirit of Paul raising support for the Jerusalem church you will also be moved to help.

As you know, the heart of Church on the Street is to ensure a space and develop a people where “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you;’” where those deemed by the world as “less honorable” are given “more abundant honor.”  In other words, we are attempting to live into the reconciliation that Christ has given us.

Thank you for your kindness, love and support through the years. Please help us continue this work by donating safely and easily here.

Warmly,

Pastor Andy

P.S. Please forward this to your friends who might be interested in helping to support a ministry like Church on the Street.

Encounter on Courtland Street

[We are starting a series of blogs simply intended to narrate life with/as the vulnerable in our neighborhood and community. This post is from Sylvia Broome who is a staff member with Church on the Street primarily serving with women.]

I’ve been doing Parish Walks for about three years so I am very familiar with our neighborhood.   A few weeks ago I saw four women who were new to the area.  They were standing with some men on Courtland Street who are known to be drug dealers.  Over the next several weeks I made sure that I spoke to them when I was out walking.  At first there was not much interaction between us, however after about a week of daily contact and light conversation, things became comfortable enough for me to invite them to coffee.  All four agreed and seemed very interested.  

A few days later I saw one of the women walking along Peachtree Street, several blocks from the shelter.  She and I spoke for a little while and she reminded me about the coffee date.  After we talked a while I told her that I would come by and pick them up the following Wednesday. 

That Wednesday I walked over by the shelter where they usually hang out and spoke with one of the women.  She was the only one of the four there.  She was friendly until I reminded her that I was there to take her and her friends to coffee.  She then became very evasive, asking where we were going.  I told her Starbucks or Krispy Kreme and that I would go get my car, pick them up and bring them back. 

She kept looking at the drug dealers standing nearby and after a few seconds she told me that she would have to “think about it”.  Her demeanor was completely different than a few days before.  She appeared nervous and downcast.  

After overhearing our conversation, a woman I’ve known for a long time walked up and wanted to know where we were going.  The woman shouted at her to mind her own business and they began to argue.  I excused myself and walked away.

The next day I made a point to walk up to the shelter where I saw the woman again.  I came up to her and told her that I was sorry that things hadn’t worked out.  I thought I could ease the tension by emphasizing that maybe she hadn’t felt comfortable with the thought of riding in my car, so if she still wanted to go for coffee we could walk.  She told me she would think about it and let me know.  She had her head down and didn’t make eye contact.  There were about 8 men standing with her.  Though they didn’t say anything I knew I wasn’t welcome there.

 On Monday I again saw the woman on Courtland Street.  The same men were there as well as another man that is a well known pimp, whom I have gotten to know a bit over a year and a half.   He does not usually hang out in that area and was not as friendly as he had been in the past.  The woman who reminded me about the coffee was there and was very friendly.  The other woman was withdrawn.

I continue to walk the neighborhood.  The ladies have become more conversational but there is still a distance between us.  This is not unusual, so I’ll keep trying to establish a relationship with these women. Hopefully they will learn to trust me over time.

Great New Things

These past few months at Church on the Street have seen many exciting developments. God is doing something fantastic here and we want to share a bit with you.  

  • Pastor Andy was appointed to the International Justice/Human Trafficking Coalition commissioned to develop international and local strategies to raise awareness, prevent, rescue and provide aftercare.
  • We have added new staff members and volunteer leaders including Renee Sassaman as our Director of Operations, Vesta Brewer as our Community Services Specialist and Daniel Henry to operate our social media and assist our advancement efforts.
  • Our Center for Practical Theology is looking to hire a new director to expand our educational efforts and experiences, including a new book, new seminars and specialized mission trips.
  • We are launching our first pilot project at our new Business Incubator.
  • We have expanded our grant program to include those finishing their GED.
  • During our enrichment times we are beginning two projects where our community will make bracelets and scarves to share with others in our neighborhood or with other ministries across the country so they will know they are being prayed for and they are not alone.
  • At another time we will tell of the many individuals who are coming to Christ (or coming back to Christ), finding meaning in their lives, changing their lives to align with their commitment to Christ, or who are simply being transformed by the Holy Spirit present in our little community.

None of this is possible without your support. We know that when God moves the Devil does too. Please be praying for us as God continues His mighty works. Please also consider making a one time or monthly gift. We depend on the generosity of God’s people.

A Response to “Finding Your Place”

After posting about my encounter with Fred I received this email from our friend Allison.  She was a member of our community when she attended Georgia Tech.  She has since moved away to begin a career with NASA.

This really is awesome, and I’m glad that Church on the Street is still somewhere where people feel safe, included, and at ease. I know it was there for me when I needed to get away from the stress and constant busyness of schoolwork at Georgia Tech. It really did bring me closer to God, being there. I had the space to think. Everyone was so nice to me when I went to the lunches, even though at first I thought I was supposed to be there as a volunteer or something like I had been at the other shelters where Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF) had volunteered. I learned after about my third time there though, that I didn’t have to put in any more or less work than any other person there eating lunch. We were all working together, and all chilling out together. I started going whenever I needed a break from campus, even when no one else from CCF was there. Thank you for the wonderful home cooking and the bible studies and the stories. I’ll never forget Church on the Street. 

Your friend, 

Allison

 

Thanks Allison.  We’ll never forget you either.

Finding Your Place

Fred is socially awkward.  His personality disorder turns him inward, so he normally keeps to himself and doesn’t talk much.  Usually he has his nose buried in his video player with headphones on.  Most of my interaction with him is limited to a simple greeting: “Hello” or “Welcome.”  He often doesn’t respond.  Having said that, he is a stalwart at our Café (community lunch).  Wednesday, as I walked into the Café, he approached me.  Already I’m thinking, “This is odd.”  In fact, this would be the longest conversation I have ever had with him, likely the first conversation I ever had with him.  

Fred leaned in and said, “Can I have thirty seconds of your time?”  We were getting ready to begin our daily community time, but I couldn’t turn down his request.  We walked over to the side of the room.  Fred began, “I know it probably doesn’t seem like I care about what happens around here, or what you are trying to do.  I know you are always having to tell me to turn off my tablet and talk to somebody.  But, I want you to know that I really appreciate what you are doing and that I pay more attention than you think.  I want to be part of the community.  I’m not telling you this to pat myself on the back, but today I bought several boxes of rice for Harry (our chef).  I just want you to know that I appreciate everything and I want to give back and be a part.”

“Thank you so much for telling me that,” I replied.  “It means a lot to me.”  I reached out to shake his hand and that was the first time he ever touched me.  “You are already a part of this community,” I assured him.

Because what we do is so counterintuitive I find it difficult to really explain to folks who we are and what we do. But sometimes an experience like this comes along that illustrates it perfectly.  We are not a homeless ministry or a homeless anything.  We are exactly what our vision says, “A diverse and intentional Christian community where everyone is welcome, belongs and discovers their gifts of service.”  With Christ, we are in the business of reconciliation and life transformation.  Like Fred, we want you to be a part of our community, too.  You can participate physically (come and join us), spiritually (pray for us), or through your support (a financial partner).  This is where we are located, you know how to pray, and this is where you can donate online.

The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts

The New York Times has an article about the research and new book from Dr. Carl Hart from Columbia University that makes for a potentially paradigm shifting encounter.  What is most encouraging is that it helps us, and other communities like ours, to think even further and deeper about the implications and power of belonging and hope that we so ardently espouse. 

Traditional views of addiction focus more on the weakness of the individual, or pathology, and less so on the context of the person. This view is mainly fostered from research on rats that have suggested that for someone who uses cocaine, the desire for it overcomes all other desires and leaves them helpless.  But, according to Hart, “Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted. And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.” So where is the disconnect?  Hart’s research pushes back against the traditional view.

The rats that keep pressing the lever for cocaine are the ones who are stressed out because they’ve been raised in solitary conditions and have no other options. But when you enrich their environment, and give them access to sweets and let them play with other rats, they stop pressing the lever.

This sensibility is being supported by other researchers, most notably by Dr. Nutt, a British expert in addiction.

Addiction always has a social element, and this is magnified in societies with little in the way of work or other ways to find fulfillment.

So, if we know that addiction has much to do with social belonging and sense of worth through contribution, why is so much focus and money being spent on treatments in the form of twelve-step style rehabilitation or chemical treatments?  According to Dr. Hart, it has something to do with the wrong kind of incentives – not for addicts but for academics and politicos.

It’s much simpler for politicians and journalists to focus on the evils of a drug than to grapple with the underlying social problems. But Dr. Hart also puts some of the blame on scientists.  “Eighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs, but in the scientific literature nearly 100 percent of the reports are negative,” Dr. Hart said. “There’s a skewed focus on pathology. We scientists know that we get more money if we keep telling Congress that we’re solving this terrible problem. We’ve played a less than honorable role in the war on drugs.”

The whole article, and I assume book, is worth the read.