Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Church building

Over at a political site I keep tabs on there was some discussion of how hard it is to build churches in some jurisdictions. Here is the substance of the complaint:
I’ve been involved in some half-dozen new church starts over the last two decades, and sat through many zoning hearings, requests for variances, and community meetings, in all of which you’ll meet many “neighbors” (most of whom don’t even live within a stone’s throw of your proposed project) who will object to “possibilities” such as child care centers, day cares, food pantries, letting homeless people sleep in your structure, feeding activities from soup kitchens to even potluck suppers.
I hate to say it but I tend to agree with the church NIMBYs  on some of these things and I've added emphasis to highlight them.

I know, I know, isn't this what churches are supposed to be doing?

Well I think churches should be thinking about the community where they live and figuring out how these things really work. Modern homelessness is not caused by poverty, it's mostly caused by addiction. That means, you set up a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter at your church and you draw a concentration of addicts to that neighbourhood. There are people trying to raise children, trying to take care of their homes and trying to protect their property. What is so Christian about imposing that on your neighbours?


  1. Here in CT the homelessness problem is largely due to mental illness and then addiction. And many of the addicts are in fact undiagnosed mentally ill people who self-medicated. Many years ago they closed all but one or two mental institutions here, and in only one--for violent criminal offenders--can people be committed for an indefinite period of time. This is one of the "unintended consequences" of deinstitutionalization, well-intentioned but ill thought out. Many others with mental illness wind up in the criminal justice system, as a result one of the prisons here has been earmarked for that population and the guards have been trained to dispense meds. So essentially the Dept. of Corrections has become the "safety net." We've also seen the NIMBY problem in half-way houses and group homes for both mentally ill and mentally retarded. I understand how people feel, but what do we do with the "least of these?"

  2. I suspect because Ottawa is the largest city in this area it attracts more addicts and alcoholics.

    I agree that many addicts suffer from mental illness but I'm not sure which way the causal chain runs. Are the self medicating because of mental illness or are they suffering from mental illness because of years of substance abuse. I don't think we know enough to answer the question just yet.

    De-institutionalization is one of the great disasters of our times. Incidentally, many of the people responsible for this disaster are still in public life. I've never understood why the press doesn't call more attention to this. At the very least, these people should be making apologies for what they have done.

    One thing I wish more churches would ask themselves is whether the soup kitchens and shelters are really helping. I know this is harsh but I think some of these programs help prop up the egos of the people who volunteer for them and contribute to them and keep them from asking some basic questions about what is best for the people who are being "helped".

    The thing that gets me just livid is when I see "homeless" kids who have really just run away from home to hang around downtown in the city for the summer and I see churches enabling these kids to stay downtown until the pimps and pushers pick them off one by one.

  3. Ottawa must be different than here, by far the largest number of homeless here are mentally ill with little or no ability to hold a job or meet basic human needs, with or without medication. And part of the problem with addicts in the US is that there are a limited number of in-patient drug and alcohol rehab beds alloted each year by HCFA--the Health Care Financing Administration in Washington which runs Medicare--not nearly enough to meet the need. And the trend is more and more moving toward community-based treatment, i.e., half way houses or group homes for mentally ill, juveniles in crisis, and people in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse because they are less costly. The public policy wonks of course don't live in the communities where these facilities will go, and in any case there aren't enough of them.

    The idea of deinstitutionalization--for both the mentally retarded and the mentally ill--was a response to the stories of horrific abuse and neglect that was going on in those institutions, e.g., Geraldo Rivera's famous expose of Willowbrook, an institution on Long Island. What they should have done--and few did--was clean up those institutions and hold them accountable with strict oversight. What they did was throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Regarding homeless kids, they have homes with their parents that they might not be able to live in, in which case the childrens services agencies should kick in. There again, there aren't enough foster families to meet the need.

    I think you're way overestimating the number of people who are mentally ill because of chronic drug or alcohol abuse. There are few if any drugs that used recreationally will cause psychosis in people who were not already headed for some kind of schizophrenic break to start with. In many cases the drugs or alcohol is a way of alleviating the early symptoms that often go unrecognized. Chronic drug use over a long period of time can cause some problems, rarely psychosis, and it takes years, the same is true of alcohol abuse.

    The issue for me is not which came first--the drug use or the mental illness--but what do we do now and who should do it? Here in the US the politcally correct position over the last 10 or so years has been for private organizations, specifically churches, to assume that responsibility because the belief is that they can do it better than government and it doesn't entail any tax increases. Whenever I have these discussions or think about these things I continue to say "there but for the grace of God."

  4. "I think you're way overestimating the number of people who are mentally ill because of chronic drug or alcohol abuse."

    If you read what I have said you will note that I have not estimated any numbers at all. I don't know that any one develops mental illness because of chronic drug use and haven't suggested any numbers.

    What I would emphasize is that no one else knows either.

    (Although I would note that there is not any reasonable doubt that addiction is a mental illness and that there is a long list of substances including not a few recreational drugs associated with addiction. There is also no reasonable doubt that delirium tremens is caused by withdrawal from alcohol and some other drugs.)

    What we do know is this. Thanks to a British study, we now know for certain that rates of schizophrenia are higher among regular marijuana users than the general population. There had been suggestive evidence of this for years and this study confirmed that.

    What we don't know is whether marijuana causes schizophrenia in some people or whether people with schizophrenia are more likely to self-medicate with marijuana and other drugs.

    And I'll repeat myself: that is what we DON'T KNOW! Self medication is a plausible hypothesis but it is an untested hypothesis. It might turn out to be true and it might not.

  5. I apologize, I misunderstood some of your earlier statements. I agree with the British study, I have seen evidence of those conclusions myself. But again, no one knows which came first, there needs to be more research. But I was trying to draw a distinction between people who are addicted to chemical substances and those who are genuinely mentally ill because thats how they are differentiated in the way services are provided, they're two separate groups.