My church is home to Manna Meal. This is a ministry in Charleston WV which has provided 2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch) for nearly 50 years to anyone who comes by. As you may expect, this service has always been controversial, since many respectable people feel uncomfortable when confronted with those who inhabit the underside of society.
Lately, though, it has become an acute problem. With the pandemic, human need has increased. At the same time, the city of Charleston cleared out the encampments of the homeless, responding to complaints from landowners about property damage. As a result, the church grounds have become an alternate site for camping out for homeless people. A dispute between individuals led to a fire which destroyed a small building used as a clothing distribution site. Now we have a metal fence surrounding the space where the building used to stand, and the homeless have set up their tents along the periphery of the fence.
One other issue with the pandemic has been the elimination of serving meals in a common room. Instead, Styrofoam containers enclose the take-out meals, and litter outside of the church has become a more significant problem. That’s one reason why the existence of this service has come to the forefront of the concerns of the parish. People are scared of encountering the larger crowd of homeless people around the rear entrance to the church, and are tired of the seemingly intractable litter problem.
Is there an easy solution to these problems? No, as with all social problems, the causes are many. The Manna Meal service is trying to decentralize its meals by the purchase of a food truck in order to reduce the stress at the church. Funding for this food truck is being provided as part of the fund dispersal from the pandemic relief funding from the Federal Government. But another potential preventive measure, building a tiny home development for the unhoused, is currently in civic limbo, falling victim to NIMBY concerns. If it is ever approved and built, it will surely become obvious that the supply of housing will be insufficient to take care of the demand. When you draw your supply of the underclass from those who are unable to sustain themselves in the market economy world, you will always find more need than society can provide for.
The social programs of our church are one main reason we became members (that, and the magnificent organ sustaining our music program). Yet even I, a long-time liberal, can see the current situation is unsustainable. I can see why there are NIMBY concerns, but we are currently the epicenter of the problem. All we can do is pray that we do find a solution, one that reduces the demand we see daily while improving the lot of those who currently camp out on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal church, Charleston WV.