“If you build it, he will come.” The famous line from Field of Dreams (1989) served as a prescient foreshadow of one issue with building a pocket park at my church. Several people worried that homeless people would use UniBap Park.
Each day, we watched thousands of pedestrians walk by the church each day. Many carried their lunch as they walked by. The church is blessed to have a narrow strip of grass with three mature oak trees. We talked about how useful a pocket park would be in that space. There was a design competition, and a man from England won with the idea of a curved, ichthus-shaped bench, winding around the trees. We hired a construction firm to build the park.
Upon completion, people began using it. Hospital workers sat and ate their lunch. Visitors to Charlottesville stopped to rest while touring the Corner. Students met to study. The park achieved our goal and provided a convenient space in that spot of the city.
Once, I arrived at church and found a homeless man sleeping on the bench. I didn’t really know what to do. So, I sat down nearby. I enjoyed the outdoor space and thought about what, if anything, I should say.
He sat up and looked at me. I smiled. He gathered his few possessions and moved on.
Today, I arrived at church and found another man sleeping on the bench. I still am unsure of what, if anything, I should say or do.
Start a conversation. But, would I be bothering him? He was sleeping. Speaking to him would interrupt his slumber.
Ask him to leave. This seems like the least Christ-like response.
I could ask him what he needs. Do I have time? The issue of time reminds me of the priest who walked by on the other side of the road when he saw the injured man in a ditch (Luke 10.25-37).
Let him rest. It’s an open park and he is a person. Treating him different than the nurse or student enjoying the space dehumanizes him. He has as much right to enjoy the space as anyone else.
I don’t know the answer and will continue thinking about it. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome.