I love my job, but I am glad this week is over.
Our tagline at work has evolved over the years to be, “The opposite of homelessness is community.” And we believe that. We really, really do.
The advantage to having strong beliefs is that they clear away the clutter and streamline your thinking. Having a principle, a touchstone to come back to, to measure your progress against, to filter decisions through, has been invaluable.
One of our few hard and fast rules here at Love Wins is that when we consider a new project, we ask the question, “Does it build community?” And if it doesn’t, we pass on it.
Like the time someone offered us a lot of money (well, it was a lot of money to us) to open an overnight shelter. We think Raleigh needs more overnight shelters, sure, but given the restraints we were confronted with, there was no apparent way to use an overnight shelter to build community. So we passed.
Or the time we were threatened with arrest for sharing food in the park. Had it just been an issue of getting food to hungry people, that would have been one thing – but we see food sharing as a community-building technique, so it was worth fighting for.
But you can’t just build community. You have to protect it, too.
Which is why this week I had to do something we seldom do. I had to ban someone from the building.
Two someones, in fact.
It seems that, because we famously don’t have an armed security guard or cameras and we don’t search you when you come in (things that happen at area shelters), a few people had been taking advantage of that and decided our property would be a great place to sell drugs. So, to protect our community, I had to make them leave, and forbid them reentry.
Honestly, it feels a bit like we failed. Not because we don’t want drugs on our property, but because by making them leave, it feels like we have cut them off from the possibility of community with us. And if the last seven years have taught me anything, it is that whatever hope they have of recovery will only happen because of whatever community they have.
But another way to look at this is that this is actually proof that community worked. The reason we knew those people were selling drugs, despite the lack of armed guards or cameras or body searches, is because our community members came and told us. They were concerned that these two guys were trouble for the community.
They recognized that we have folks in recovery that come to our hospitality house as a place of refuge. They recognized that drugs always bring police, and the last thing any of us need is a police raid. And, the thing I heard over and over, was that they felt disrespected by the dealers for trying to harm our community.
And the thing that made my heart sing? They actually used the word “community” to describe what we are doing.
So, yes, two people who we opened our doors to, shared our food with, opened our hearts to and trusted with our friends, are no longer welcome in our building because they are banned. But banning them is just making official what happened when they decided to opt out of the community by trying to harm it.
And if love is anything, it is honoring peoples’ decisions.