A church meal program has become the target of residents seeking to reduce the number of homeless people living in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood.
St. Francis Lutheran Church officials say that despite a recommendation introduced last week to suspend Sunday morning meal service for 90 days to see if it affects the area’s homeless population, they intend to keep feeding people.
“It’s not something in our ability to do as a faith community,” said Megan Rohrer, executive director of the Welcome Ministry, which partnered with the church on the meal program. “It’s a mandate for us to serve the poor, particularly during the Lent season.”
The recommendation, along with an increased police presence, was announced during a community meeting last week. The meeting — which included two dozen community members, city leaders, police personnel and elected officials — was the second gathering held to address the increasing number of homeless people in the neighborhood. Residents and businesses have said an increase in criminal activity has coincided with an increase in the homeless population. Such police data was unavailable as of press time.
David Villa-Lobos, director of the meeting’s host, the Community Leadership Alliance, said the church’s program can be improved.
“This is not a target on the church; we just think it can be run better,” he said.
Community members appear to be split on whether the meal program is the culprit. Some merchants said it could be attracting homeless people to the area, while residents of 14th and Belcher streets disagreed.
Pastor Pamela Griffith Pond said the church also deals with the trash and vandalism resulting from homeless people moving into the area.
“If people are acting out, we don’t let them in,” she said. “We want to be a good neighbor, but whatever problems others are having, it’s not related to feeding people at St. Francis.”
Griffith Pond said the church partnered with Rohrer to take the meal program to the next level, such as providing more organization, since the program had been run by volunteers for more than a decade. But the service, which feeds roughly 125 people, will not be discontinued, Griffith Pond said.
Dr. Raj Parekh, of the Department of Public Health’s Homeless Outreach Team, said meal programs help more than just the homeless.
“Many of these people aren’t homeless, but food is an issue,” he said. “They have to make choices between food, medications and clothing. I support the notion to have access to food; if a church wants to be a part of that solution, more power to them.”
And there are solutions, Parekh said. When there is criminal activity such as drug use or vandalism, residents and business owners are encouraged to contact police. But when a person is sleeping on a sidewalk and in obvious need of help, that’s when the Homeless Outreach Team comes in.
Parekh said he expects his team to begin focusing on the Duboce area in the coming months to address the growing homeless population.