There’s not a lot of time for Chaplain “Chap” Curtis Browder to talk, as almost 100 people line up at his mission for a serving of grits.
For 24 years, he has offered breakfast at the Montgomery Rescue Mission, giving people a place to come in off the streets. Dishing out eggs, bacon, small bites of sausage, rolls and pastries, he jokes with many in line. Some come from the Salvation Army. Some, he said, have just come off the train. Others, from under bridges.
“They come from out of the woodwork,” he said. “They come from everywhere.”
But more and more often it is being realized that he is not just helping the homeless, but helping area businesses and the city by giving the homeless a place to go during the daytime.
Asked if the breakfast serves a need in the community — helping to bring people in off downtown streets — Browder said, “Oh, my God. Yeah.”
“When we’re not serving, I see them around,” he said, gesturing with his arm of the downtown Montgomery area.
What's happening in the South
In South Carolina’s capital, officials declare that their tree-lined Main Street with shops, banks, restaurants and hotels is evidence that a long-sought economic revival has arrived. But blocks north, about a dozen of the county’s approximate 1,500 homeless people sit on a short wall near an empty parking lot, waiting for private shelters to open, according to an article in The New York Times.
With business owners sounding increasingly worried about the threat they believe the homeless pose to Columbia’s economic surge, the City Council approved a plan last month that will essentially evict them from downtown streets.
This summer, cities such as Tampa, Fla., and Portland, Ore., have pursued aggressive policies against the homeless. But Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, characterized Columbia’s plan in an e-mail as “an extreme, highly disturbing example.”
When a downtown revitalizes, they worry about the homeless, said LaDonna Brindle, founder of Reality and Truth Ministry which operates a day shelter for the homeless and needy in Montgomery on South Court Street.
“I hear things,” she said. “They address them differently.”
The number of homeless in Montgomery has increased only slightly from last year, according to the results of an annual survey conducted by a local nonprofit advocacy group.
In a 2012 count, there were 160 unsheltered homeless counted, compared to 146 in 2011 and 150 in 2010, Molly Stone, executive director of the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, has said of the group’s late January 2012 count.
Mayor Todd Strange said that obviously the homeless need to be taken care of, but “you don’t want them loitering where there are businesses and entertainment. It is very important that you manage that correctly.
“And each of these programs, like LaDonna’s, is, ‘Let’s take care of them, but work on getting them out of this status.’ That’s why the Mary Ellen’s Hearth is a great program — moving the mothers and their children out of the poverty that they are in. Some (other shelters) just don’t have that mission. And that is fine, but at the end of the day, we need to move them into a status that is self-sufficient.”
Brindle sees her outreach as “bettering the city.”
“I do think it makes it a better place to live — being here and meeting the needs of people who have these needs,” she said. “Hopefully by our love and encouragement and teaching them God’s word ... they’re better people and they feel better and if they feel better, there is less anger out there on the street and their behavior is a direct response to how they feel about themselves.
“I think that it makes it a safer place in our community because we are providing the basic needs.”
A welcome shelter during the day
The Reality and Truth Ministries day shelter opened two years ago, offering a reprieve from the outdoors with hot coffee, showers, laundry facilities, food and a place to sit — and for Jamal James, hope.
Sitting at the shelter recently, the 34-year-old said that before it existed, he would spend part of his time at the public library looking for jobs on the computers, and afterward, “I’d wander around and wonder what’s going to happen to me the next day. I walked around downtown wondering, ‘How do I get out of this situation?’”
Brindlebegan serving the homeless about three years ago by providing dinners at the former Overlook Park (now Wright Brothers Park) overlooking the Alabama River on Maxwell Boulevard.
Several who had breakfast at the Montgomery Rescue Mission on Mildred Street recently were seen at Reality and Truth Ministries the same day.
“Before meeting her, I was wandering around. Starving,” James said. “It’s a blessing. It’s hard, but I have faith in God.”
Church groups bring the food. And others provide counseling — career, personal and financial. And in the two years the building has been open, Brindle has noticed people are not knocking on the door to her home as much, asking for food.
Mark Cannon has walked into the ministry for a year. Divorced after 21 years of marriage, he lost a part of his identity. He sleeps in his van most nights and calls Reality and Truth a place of refuge.
“I’ve done without,” he said, when asked what he would do without the offerings on South Court Street. “That’s just the bottom line. I would have done without the food provided, the shower facility, the change of clothes. The spiritual foundation of the facility, sharing the word of God with the people.
“To know there is hope for the hopeless. This is a pretty good spot to just sit still for a moment.”