Passing through the gate

The opportunity to enrich our community beckons

The author is executive director of the Jesus Center in Chico.

A story Jesus once told, about the consequences of a rich man consistently refusing to help a poor man outside his gate, compels me to work for the betterment of all individuals in our community and not simply those of my own economic and social class. In the story the gate is a threshold of connection between birds of different feathers.

At the Jesus Center the gate is the dining room counter over which food is passed from volunteers to the low-income poor, homeless people, parolees, those afflicted with mental illness, unemployed breadwinners and past and present substance abusers. A community gate can be the space outside or inside a store, a sidewalk, a school or neighborhood, or even the City Council chambers. A gate exists metaphorically anywhere opportunity beckons to acknowledge or further an already existing relationship in community.

Replicating the rich man’s behavior is easy: Avoid eye contact with anyone looking indigent or holding a cardboard sign; stereotype “the homeless” as “losers” intent on begging for handouts; and create loitering ordinances to keep “them” moving on. However, such behavior diminishes our humanity.

Walking through the gate to offer assistance enlarges our community spirit. The Torres Shelter’s Brad Montgomery is working on helping those consistently found sleeping around downtown premises. His main idea: Establish a “fast-track” system of social workers liaising with the police to present sleepers with alternatives immediately available to change their circumstances.

Sherry Morgado, director of Chico’s Housing and Neighborhood Services, heads a committee exploring an “alternative shelter” idea that would give anyone the choice to stay overnight in a secure facility.

I advocated a trial project to the DCBA of employing a three-man team inviting people sleeping downtown to breakfast and community resources at the Jesus Center. The team would clean up any mess outside businesses.

Chico’s area interfaith group is discussing setting up downtown goodwill ambassadors, and a group of Chico Christian ministers is exploring a concept with good results affecting crime statistics in Britain. Called Street Pastors, it consists of teams of four people walking violence-prone areas between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights to care, listen and dialogue with citizens.

Of course, organizational structures must be in place using the expertise of institutions like Behavioral Health, Enloe Hospital, Skyway House and the Salvation Army. Those experiencing homelessness or suffering from substance abuse must not be left outside of our community gate.