Some of you have followed Cambridge Drive Community Church's struggle with the Safe Parking program in Goleta. The city of Goleta has an ordinance allowing churches and other non-profits to allow folk who live in their vehicles a safe place to park and sleep for the night in their lots. As a way of protecting anonymity of the program participants, the permitting process is simple and quick with minimal notice given to the neighborhood. We felt that the program was a no brainer and so did not share the plan beyond the minimal number required. Among those neighbors there were a few folk who were very upset by the idea and began to spread incomplete information through the rest of the neighborhood. That got a number of others riled up and things became ugly. Those folk appealed our permit and we won. They then appealed the appeal with the hearing taking place last night. The planning commission tied which deferred to the previous ruling and the permit stands. It was the final hearing in the statute and stands.
So... we won... but nobody did. The neighbors against the program have succeeded only in making people mad and driving a wedge into the community. The New Beginnings Counseling Center who administer the program did not win because while the permit stands, there are a bunch of very vocal very angry people who will work against any other lots they contract for homeless folk. The needy have not won because even if someone does come to sleep in our lot, they will likely be surrounded by some angry folk, rooting for them to screw up. The church did not win because while there are those in the neighborhood who feel we are doing exactly what we need to be doing, others have nothing but contempt for us. It is possible that New Beginnings could even decide that the atmosphere is too charged and possibly unsafe for a client who likely has already been abused and lives in constant fear and so not place a client in our lot. There were strong hints that some may pursue a lawsuit.
I don't know what we could have done to avoid the anger short of not pursuing the ministry. And that does not feel like that would have been the proper course either.
I am still amazed at the animus some folk are feeling regarding the program and really cannot begin to understand the depth of anger. At the same time I have been reminded both by church and non-church folk that I/we need to be loving, supportive, and seeing the best even of those who are telling half truths about us and misrepresenting our motives. That's my call in this situation.