This is a very important and illuminating comment written by Fr. John Merz of Ascension Church regarding the recently opened Homeless Respite on Milton St that has received a lot of attention from the community. An open meeting will be held at a to be announced date:
I am the Reverend John Merz, Episcopal Priest and Vicar of the Church of the Ascension on Kent Street. I want to say at the outset that I would prefer this conversation happen in a congenial public forum rather than internet discussion boards, a phenomenon which as one of my bemused foreign seminary classmates labeled “assertion boards.” This format tend to ruffle feathers and peter out rather than produce consensus or reconciliation. That being said there are some simple facts that need to be cleared up.
First off, if there are any issues with the claim of “secrecy” then people need to take them up with me. I served on the homeless task force along with many other local clergy and residents. As Ann mentioned she was gone from the task force over the last 12 months. Furthermore under no circumstance did Councilman Levin or Rev. Kansfield obscure or try to do anything “in secret” or “get anything by” the community. The fact is that the 10 bed respite program (not a shelter, there are, in fact, significant differences) was to be housed at my church right until the very last minute. Period. I think that kind of innuendo about people’s character and honesty ought to come to a close straightaway.
Numerous times I met with high-level people at DHS and neither Rev. Kansfield or Councilman Levin were present. Once things had been worked out–the funding and politics of how this deal would take place, where it would be housed (Ascension)—there was no need to have Councilman Levin in on the day to day negotiations between myself and the City and Common Ground as we literally shifted pennies from this line to that to see how it could work
The intruding issue was that for well over a year I had been in an endlessly stalled development deal for two upper stories of our parish hall. In order for the respite bed program to take place at our church City and Common Ground needed certain assurances that there could be geographical consistency. It was my hope that were the development deal were to take place it still would give us enough time to house the program for the six cold months so we averted anymore deaths like we have had in the past and perhaps bring some people into a better state.
Late October it looked as if our deal might go through though nothing was be set in stone, nothing signed. Quickly I informally spoke to two other local churches as to see in the event we had to make a last minute switch could it be done. Approvals came through in late October. As Sandy hit, besides putting up the homeless at Ascension there were emergency meetings of a few task force members to see what we could do to relocate the program asap as the cold was going to set in. That is when Reformed stepped up, not to run it, but to house it.
Again, one point that needs to be made clear is that this is not Ann Kansfield’s program, this is a community based, broad ranging effort, over four years in the making. I do believe we did our best though no doubt improvements could be made. There is no doubt that if we use our common energy, engage the best of our common humanity we can find a way to make this program work, change people’s lives for the better and, perhaps even more importantly begin to address the larger issues of why in such a wealthy city there are 50,000 people homes and 20,000 of those the age of our own children. With patience and care I have faith that these concerns can be worked through.
The Reverend John Merz
Church of the Ascension, Vicar