Thursday, January 23, 2014

'I left the police station mad as hell'

Rev. Tiffany Thomas of Charlotte had a dear friend who was homeless. Despite his struggles, he had his faith. He was the one who could probably use some reassurance, yet he would leave notes on Thomas's car almost every day, always signed, "God loves you and so do I."

On Wednesday, Rev. Thomas heard bad news about her friend and rushed to the police department. An officer confirmed: Her homeless friend had died Monday night or early Tuesday morning, in the cold on a bench in uptown Charlotte. His death had not made the news.

"I left the police station stricken with grief," Thomas says. "I left the police station mad as hell."

And she left the police station committed to doing something to help the invisible homeless who live in this wealthy city and fight against the bitter cold and try to snag a bed in overcrowded shelters.

Thomas is now opening her church, South Tryon Community Church, and providing cots to the homeless. She challenges other houses of worship to do the same, in this open letter to the community:

My name is Tiffany Thomas. I am the pastor of South Tryon Community Church, a United Methodist church that sits on the corner of South Tryon and Remount road. In this community, I have watched in horror as homeless persons lay down to sleep on benches, stoops and sidewalks up and down Tryon street. I have looked into the desperate eyes of so many who have told me that same story, "The shelters are full, there is no place to go." I have heard reports of people dying in the night, out in the elements- tragic tales whispered and lamented among this community where most are constantly endanger of losing their own places of rest and finding themselves in the same predicament.

"Am I next? Will it be me? Or my child? Will death find us in the street, where heat eludes us," so many have asked.

Last night, I went to the police department to find out what happened to a homeless man who is a member of my community, and dear friend of mine. He is a gentle soul, a Christian, he leaves an encouraging note on my car almost everyday, a scripture or a quote- every note is signed "God loves you and so do I." When my groundskeeper reported to me that my friend died on a bench in Uptown, Charlotte, I frantically sought help from the police station to find out what had become of him. The police officer could offer little help, "Yes," he said, "a homeless person has recently died.Yes, it was in uptown, Charlotte." "Yes, he died in the night, on a bench. That is all I can say."

"Why hasn't it made the news", I asked, tears of grief streaming down my face for the man who I may or may not know.

"Deaths of this sort rarely make the news," he replied.

Deaths of this sort. Deaths of the homeless sort. Deaths of the impoverished sort. Deaths of the voiceless sort.  They die in secret in the middle of public squares. Their bodies hurriedly removed from Trade, from Tryon before the important sort, the wealthy sort, the high political clout sort are inconvenienced traveling from their warm homes to their warm corporate offices.

I left the police station stricken with grief.
I left the police station mad as hell.

The city of Charlotte is ill equipped to deal with the needs of our rising homeless population. It is time that we recognize and face what my constituents know all to well: The shelters are too small. Too many people are forced to brave the cold or to purposely get arrested as the jail house is the only emergency shelter in the entire city where one won't be turned away.

I am making a call to all communities of faith. It is time that we take seriously the needs of those with no place to sleep. It is time that we open our doors and exercise the gift of hospitality, an exercise that our God commands of us. At South Tryon Community Church we will be opening our doors and providing cots for people to stay over night when the weather drops below 20 degrees. I invite, I urge all communities of faith to likewise make the effort to provide emergency shelter to one, five, twenty-five homeless persons on the upcoming frigid winter nights.

For the Torah says " You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy, and to the poor in your Land" (Deuteronomy 15:11)

For Jesus says, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me... when you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:35-36,40)

For Mohammad, peace be upon him, says, "And worship God alone... and do good unto the needy, and the neighbor from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer." (An-Nisa' 4:36)

At South Tryon  this is what we will do. Will you?


Shamash said...

Makes sense.

Put those mostly-empty, tax-exempt "houses" to good use during their off-hours.

Native Observer said...

Welcome to the community of Charlotte churches that are doing what you now are doing.

Bird said...

Many churches do this now, coordinating through Room In The Inn ( In fact, many churches, such as Huntersville UMC, are providing shelter on multiple nights during the week during this extra cold weather.

David Winer said...

I am working on a project in Lumberton, NC, to renovate abandoned homes so the homeless can have a place to live. Yes, churches should open their "social" halls up for the homeless, especially if it is below freezing! If we "love our neighbor as ourselves," then WE WILL CARE. Jesus said, in Matthew 25, "What you do for the least of these, you do for Me." Shalom and peace! 910-301-7608. Please call me if you have any ideas, grants opportunities, etc. Thanks.

Louise Learson said...

Thank you, Woman of God for reminding us that there is much more that we can do. Though we may live and work in other areas, how can we assist you at your location?

misswhit said...

Bird is correct--many churches throughout the area are and have been sheltering the homeless, often providing much more than just a cot for the night (meals, clothing, friendship, transportation). Most churches, especially the less "prominent" churches, are not doing this to get pats on the back or "extra" credit. But over the past few years it has been disheartening that often the editorial board and various Observer reporters ignore all that's being done for the homeless by churches and groups throughout the county. Caring does not stop north of uptown or south of the Myers Park/Dilworth area.

Incidentally, you can't just put up some cots and invite the homeless in. They need transportation to your facility, chaperones during the night, and a hot meal would be nice. So it takes commitment and planning to do this.

Unknown said...

As a pastor of a church, I am surprised she waited until after the man died to suddenly decide to be a good samaritan. In Christ's parable, the good samaritan took compassion on the man in need, not waiting until the man had died. It seems this is an attempt to clear her guilt.

Danny Stein said...

@Unknown January 23, 2014 at 3:08 PM

God also said judge not or you will be judged. So what have you and your church done to elevate the problem?

Lip service is not in demand. Why don't you roll-up your sleeves and get to work PASTOR!

scuthb said...

If one if familiar with West Charlotte, specifically the South Tryon-Remount area and its community members; they would know the homeless reach out when in dire need but many are expert survivalist. The public call to attend to the homeless in our city is not a call for self righteousness in many of the comments instead of anayzing the pastor and her timing or motive why not reach out or join with her or pray? Its a coward move to take the attention of this article from homelessness to the pastor to show your knowledge or good deeds. The homeless are dying in the cold this is the concern, this is the cry for more and I emphasize more help.

nicolebrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nativeCLTn said...

I read this earlier today on facebook, and again just now - it's an excellent article. I just really hate the critical remarks she's receiving at the bottom of that article... Especially the "oh dontchya know? lots of churches participate in room in the inn" type remarks... You think she doesn't already know about that? What she's calling for is something different, something more. RITI is great, but not for the people who have to work so late that they cannot get to the Urban Ministry Center at the early hour required for admission to the program. And admission is tight. I've never seen a church bus turned away because there weren't enough neighbors seeking shelter that night... Yes, it's a good and valuable ministry, just as the shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, and crisis assistance are good and valuable ministries, but unfortunately the public thinks those outlets are sufficient, it's all they hear about... Their one night a year sleeping on a cot in the church, sharing meals is sufficient for them, but it's not enough. Her call to open the doors now, is an immediate response, not one that should be scoffed at. Next comes the question, what are we doing to help ensure people don't have to end up on the street in the first place? I say it begins with education, and mentor programs. Starting with our kids, but for everyone, to develop more compassion for one another. I forget the statistic i read, but it basically said there are nearly enough vacant apartments in charlotte to house the city's homeless. What we need are developers and companies willing to open those doors, unafraid of the unknown.

Tom Carter said...

What we need is unconditional commitment to providing people shelter. The "emergency shelter" comes first, the "programs to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place" second.

Gene said...

If anyone wants to know what it "REALLY" takes to help the homeless, please copy and paste the link in your browser to read the New York Times article, "What Drives Success" at