The four candidates for mayor should hold one more debate. They should do it at the Cherry Street Mission — figuratively.
There should be a debate devoted to homelessness in Toledo and its causes: poverty, addiction, mental illness, and the lack of transitional and affordable housing. Maybe it could be held at First Alliance Church, which has just partnered with the Cherry Street Mission to build a new transitional home for two homeless families.
Dan Rogers, Cherry Street’s chief, is an ordained minister and a former missionary. And Cherry Street is Christian-based. But Mr. Rogers says there are no theological conflicts at Cherry Street. That’s because there is no real argument that a cold person needs a coat, or that a hungry person should get a meal, or that a homeless person should be given shelter. At Cherry Street the Christian gospel is not preached, it is applied. You could call the model practical compassion.
It doesn’t matter if a guest at Cherry Street is Islamic or atheist. No one is turned away.
No one is forced to leave by a certain day. You can arrive drunk in the middle of the night. You will be taken in. A professional counselor, an “advocate,” will begin working with you — first to stabilize your life and then to help you transform it. Guests can pick one of three levels of service, the simplest being three meals and a cot; the highest being a rigorous recovery program. But the client chooses.
If, when you arrive at 3 a.m., you say you haven’t spoken to your mother in six months, a call is made. Maybe after a sandwich and a glass of milk.
I spent a few hours with Mr. Rogers this week. He both exhausted and inspired me. Cherry Street Ministries has 14 sites, including two shelters for women, and is the largest organization serving the homeless in northwest Ohio. It houses more than 230 men and women a day, at a cost of about $26 per-person, per day. No government or United Way funding is sought or accepted. Amazing. Mr. Rogers is called “CEO,” and though he is really a pastor, he could run Apple or GM if he wanted to.
But what he really wants to do is to put himself out of business. He knows that will never entirely happen. But he wants to deal with root causes. That’s where the mayoral candidates come into the picture. He says, “I believe Cherry Street is the best place to be if you are in trouble. But no one should ever be in that much trouble. And I am irresponsible if I simply grow a shelter.” He likes Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone model. It attacks poverty one street at a time by helping young mothers and fathers with parenting skills, preschool, and health care. Cherry Street helped set up such a program — Western Avenue Ministries in South Toledo, now self-sustaining. Mr. Rogers says we must start with the parents — if we want their kids to go to college, we have to help them go to college.
Mr. Rogers is a Toledo booster. He loves the city’s parks and library systems. He says the city is “good-people rich” and that Cherry Street is a “pure expression of the community.” He himself gives the lie to the idea that nothing good or great is happening here. The candidates should study his management style and zeal.
Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.