The Water Street Rescue Mission piece has generated a bit of a stir, unsurprisingly. Also unsurprisingly, it’s generated all the usual accusations. This is a hit piece ordered by the conspirators behind the Convention Center project! Or – look, Gil is exercising his anti-religion bias on the front page.
Third to last comment in the thread, though, Citydweller gets it exactly right:
WSRM’s place in city life has a chicken/egg aspect to it that can’t be ignored if we’re being honest about things. Are they servicing so many homeless, battered, addicted & mentally ill that would be here with or without their existence, or does WSRM’s existence create a draw into the city? It’s a legitimate question.
And I suspect that those who see it as illegitimate don’t dwell in the city.
The story idea evolved out of an event that happened a little over a year ago – the shooting of Brianna Pratt in the 400 block of Beaver Street. Her shooting had nothing to do with the mission, so far as I know. But you’ll remember that the community was aghast at this – oh my god, now children are being shot. What can be done? And in the wake of it all, I talked to this person and that, and the same topic kept coming up: Well, we can do this or that, but in the long run that neighborhood probably isn’t going to get much better.
And I didn’t understand. Why wouldn’t it? And the answer was: Because the mission was there.
I like in the thread that someone writes, “This was never an issue before.” Buddy, it’s always been an issue, which is why I called and quoted Janice Stork. Some former city leaders flat-out refused to talk about it at all. It’s always been an issue, but it’s always been a sort of third rail – yet it has been written about before, specifically back in 2002 and 2003, when the mission floated its $10 million expansion plan. As noted in the article, then-councilman John Graupera led the charge against that expansion. City officials who have to see the big picture can’t miss it.
But, if you’re still unconvinced, I invite you to give Ollie Jones, Carter & MacRae principal, a call for yourself, and tell her she’s making it all up. She’ll tear your head off.
And indeed, it was after I talked to Jones that I began to think there really was a “there” here.
No one is suggesting that the mission should or even could move, no one is suggesting that what the mission does is anything less than God’s work. The point is that doing God’s work itself can exact a price on the surrounding community. The more of that work you do, the bigger the price tag can be. That is reality – no matter how inconvenient it might be.
I think there are two broad points that came out of all of this:
1. The mission is the pre-eminent entity in that neighborhood. The biggest “stakeholder,” we would call it if this were another neighborhood. But what came out time and again – even from the mission staff – is that the mission itself really hasn’t sought to be a stakeholder. It has traditionally sought to stand apart – indeed, as I understand it until recently the mission didn’t give the city anything in lieu of taxes at all.
(Quick side note to the person who said the mission’s inlcusion in the monthly “top 10 list” is a non-sequiter without knowing what the other sites are. I don’t have the list in front of me right this second, but I’ll tell you that there are several other “recurring” sites that show up time and again. The difference is the others are privately owned – and thus pay taxes, in theory paying for the services they use).
Much of this has changed under Jere Shertzer. But regarding the Brianna Pratt shooting, one city leader said to me: Had that happened in virtually any other neighborhood, the powers-that-be in that neighborhood, the stakeholders, would have stepped up to take responsibility for that neighborhood. That didn’t really happen in this neighborhood.
I realize that it is perhaps a Christian thing to want to remain apart from the community. And for a long time the mission and everyone else in that neighborhood have hidden behind their own brick walls. If that neighborhood is ever to improve, that absolutely has to change. And the biggest entities have to play the biggest role.
2. The Water Street Rescue Mission is a metaphor for the city itself. The city is absolutely inundated with non-profits; there’s a logical and historical reason why they’re there, but it doesn’t make the city’s row any less difficult to hoe.
In the article I think I quote Mayor Gray asking if you remember the plan to put that parole office in East Petersburg. I remember it quite well; you would have thought the world was coming to an end. My God, the people of fair East Petersburg might have to have a parole office in their neighborhood! With criminals and everything!
As Gray notes – its gets shot down out there, it goes into the city. It always goes into the city. Now – you think the issues inherent in having such a facility in East Pete are somehow inoperative in the city? You own a home near that facility, do you think it’s going to appreciate at the same rate a home in East Pete might? If it’s unsafe in East Pete, is it somehow more safe in a city neighborhood?
Do you see, now, how the concentration of non-profits in the city is indeed a burden for the city? There is a cost involved, and that cost includes both the amount of services rendered versus amount of tax revenue received, but also the degree to which non-profits serve as a magnet for the needy who might not otherwise be in the city. It includes the effect a non-profit next door has on property values. It affects the general livability of the city. It hinders the ability of the city to resurrect itself, or be resurrected.
So what should be done about that? Gray wants the county to pay taxes on its property in the city – that would be county residents’ way of subsidizing all of this. But of course county residents will yell and scream.
Make no mistake, there is a tremendous amount of cynicism among city leaders for the people who do that. You stick them with the facilities, then say: The city is such a lousy place. I’d never go downtown. Your attitude creates this situation “in town” in the first place.
What the city should do, if it were legally feasible, is to declare that it is now full: It can accommodate no more non-profits. Thus, should there be a need for a new facility, it must go in the suburbs. The southern portion of Manheim Township is also on many bus lines. Group homes might be an even better call in, say, East Hempfield – away from the hustle and bustle and temptation. They might be an even better fit out in the country – south of Strasburg, perhaps, out near Brickerville. Though transportation would be an issue.
These facilities do burden the city; and it would be one thing if that burden was shared. But it isn’t, and that needs to be addressed – regardless of what’s going on in Penn Square.
Because when you stand, as I did, in the fourth-floor offices of the Boys & Girls Club on Vine Street, look out the right side of the window and see “Third World” – and if you’re outraged the cops would dare call it that you’re fooling yourself, because that’s exactly what it looks like – and out the left side of the window you see the crane over Penn Square, it is the difference between night and day, prosperity and squalor.
Argue ’til you’re blue in the face as to whether that crane and everything it represents is the correct way to try and bring about prosperity, or who it brings prosperity to.
But don’t kid yourself by pretending that the things you see out the right side of that window are somehow acceptable.