A building manager for the student ministries next door came to me recently with this question, "Why are we not enforcing these guidelines to limit traffic around our buildings?" I was confused and said so. She filled me in, "Some time ago we, the church together with our student ministries group, got together and developed some guidelines to control loitering that takes place around out buildings. Now the problem has gotten worse. We must enforce our policies of protection!"
I asked to see the policies and she passed them to me, covered by a protective sheet of lamination. It clearly said "no loitering!"
"What constitutes loitering?" I asked
"People who remain on the benches outside our buildings for a couple of hours"
"What are these people doing?" I was curious to know
"Reading, watching" she answered "They make the students feel uncomfortable. Some might have needles, and they look dangerous."
"I see," I pressed forward "Dangerous looking men are loitering outside our doors, reading books and sometimes they look up when students pass and the students feel threatened."
"Exactly" said the building manager, sensing that she had finally been heard.
"What about me," I asked "I love to read and I like the outdoors.... If I spend a couple of hours reading on the benches between our buildings would that be loitering?"
"Of course not." she answered "That's just not the same. Did I say that I think these people might have needles?"
"Oh my goodness," I replied, "I am glad you brought this to my attention. Better keep this conversation between us under wraps. If you had said the same things to anyone else they might think you are profiling, you know... telling people to move on simply because they are desperately poor and calling it loitering. Tell you what we can do. Let's gather all the concerned students and staff who think homeless folks are dangerous and learn some 'street smarts' together. I can even get Clifford to teach us, he is my new friend who has been on the streets for years."
"I don't know if we can do that. Our board is not meeting again until December and we have a full agenda." She reported making a quick exit "I just thought you might be more concerned."
It takes time to teach people how to treat everyone, and I mean everyone with dignity and respect. We will keep after it.