For more than 11 years, the Catholic Action Center at 400 East Fifth Street has been a place of immediate help for those in need in our community.
It has welcomed vulnerable women who have been beaten or abused on the streets, displaced veterans who have served our country, frightened mothers living in cars with children, mentally and physically ill patients released from institutions with no residences and neighbors who need a meal.
This ministry is based on offering dignity and hospitality, a safe place to be out of inclement weather, bathrooms, food for the hungry and connection to needed services.
The Catholic Action Center provides immediate help at times when social service agencies are not available: the basic needs of food, shelter, restrooms, showers and referral for continued help and support.
Sadly, most of those we serve don't fit the criteria for service by other agencies. Based on the Catholic Worker Movement, we are an interdenominational, all-volunteer effort that receives no government funding. The ministry is committed to follow the Gospel and reach out to "the least of my brothers and sisters," recognizing their God-given dignity.
We are distressed to learn of the effort by the Urban County Council to enact a nuisance ordinance that would jeopardize the existence of the center's ministry.
The statements by a councilman in the Aug. 13 article affirmed our fears that this effort is based on erroneous information.
He stated that the reported 911 calls made were mostly complaints from neighbors. The fact is, the 911 calls were from the CAC staff seeking help for our guests or reporting medical emergencies, disturbances or potential disturbances — similar to the calls made by the HOPE Center and the Salvation Army.
To call the police is the first line of training our dedicated staff receives and follows. Before the CAC was opened in June 2000 in the highest-crime, lowest-income area in our city, we established a relationship with the police. Our understanding has been that we call them with problems that arise in dealing with the vulnerable population that we serve.
This partnership is reflected in the number of 911 calls, many times averting problems, many times resulting in the problem activities being removed from the neighborhood.
Many of the marginalized suffer from addictions. Anyone who has an alcoholic or addict in their family knows their behavior is difficult to manage.
Another concern is the lack of transparency this nuisance ordinance effort seems to have taken. Some council members visited the property's owner, who has no financial or operational involvement in the ministry, while choosing not to discuss it with us, the co-directors of CAC.
Across our country, nuisance ordinances have been problematic, not just for efforts like the CAC's, but for the poor who live in high-crime areas and those who are abused.
Imagine the vulnerable abuse victim who faces eviction by a landlord for calling 911 more times than allowed by the ordinance. This is a true safety hazard and disconnect with law enforcement. Before this type of ordinance becomes the law of our city, the voice of the community needs to be heard. We must be sure the needs of the poor and vulnerable are addressed. Remember, a community is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.
We are receiving a wonderful reaction from our neighbors; they want to be a part of the solution. Efforts are under way to create opportunities for their involvement in serving our guests. Many of those served by the CAC are people from the neighborhood.
We, as a community, must recognize their existence and address the problem. We, as people of faith, are commanded to serve them.
They won't go away by closing the Catholic Action Center or any other facility. We will just become another community that tries to legislate the "unsanitized" poor out of existence. But they will be with us always.