December 23, 2010
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- Cynthia Mathews, former member of the Santa Cruz City Council and former Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz is considered liberal and progressive. Yet she strongly supports anti-homeless legislation such as the Sleeping Ban (MC 6.36.010 section a) and initiated the "Move-Along" Law (MC 5.43.020 section two) which criminalizes political tables and street musicians after only 1 hour on a public sidewalk. Now she is going after the Calvary Episcopal Ministry, known locally as the Little Red Church, for reaching out to homeless people and youth with food, coffee, and spiritual assembly.
Mathews wrote a letter on City letterhead stationery April 5, 2010, and accused the church of allowing "the on-going presence of known criminals and drug dealers on church property." She attached her "evidence": a record of service calls from the Santa Cruz Police Department documenting "nearly 100 calls in just over one year" which she claimed is "utterly disproportional to other locations in the City." But is it?
Against over 85,000 annual 'calls for service' documented by the police, do 100 'calls for service" over a period of more than a year truly indicate serious problems or simply document calls by nearby NIMBY businesses and neighbors? And considering the record collected is for 532 Center St, aren't all calls for the across the street Farmers Market and the Drum Circle included in this total?
Nowhere in the letter does Mathews reveal that she owns the house across the street. Nowhere does she reveal her general disgust at the presence of homeless people and her own attempts to drive them from both private property and public spaces.
In a Santa Cruz Sentinel article dated June 7, 2009, church attendance is reported to have dropped over the controversy. However, Audrey Nickel, a member of the Calvary congregation reports that as inaccurate. "
"I’ve been a parishioner at Calvary for 11 years. I’m at the 10:30 service
Kevin McArgel also defends Father Joel Miller from the disgruntled members of the congregation who are complaining.
"I've met these “accusers” who have brought these ridiculous charges upon him and can say they are just that: RIDICULOUS. These very few individuals expect some kind of environment of very traditional behavior on behalf of those who come for guidance whether or not its some kind of simple compassion or just some sustenance like a little food."
Cynthia Mathews, who works closely with the Downtown Association, police, and the Downtown Management Corporation, laments Calvary's homeless outreach services claiming they indicate " ..a lack of buy-in by Church leadership to the collaborative problem-solving effort" which for Mathews means, fewer services, fewer hours when homeless people or street kids are allowed on the property, and trespass charges for those who remain on church property.
Father Joel Miller, Rector, Calvary Episcopal Church, Santa Cruz, Ca. Photo courtesy of Metro Santa Cruz
Father Joel defended his mission by referring to New Testament texts.
"In the gospel we’re told that Jesus sits down to eat with sinners and tax collectors. The worst people!” says Miller in a soft and nasal voice as he saunters between the well-worn pews. “So what we see is that Jesus loves people, he loves his neighbors, includes them and embraces them. That’s what we try to do here."
Local news reports paint Fr. Joel as going it alone with his ministry to the poor and homeless. But that is contradicted by former vestry member, Scott Galloway. He reports that Ronee Curry, a volunteer who had been managing a Monday Night Coffee House at the Elm Street Mission had been asked to relocate. Ronee approached Fr. Joel Miller of Calvary Episcopal Church, and Fr. Miller invited her to address the Calvary Vestry with her request to relocate her Monday Night “Coffee House” ministry to Calvary. Fr. Miller supported Ronee’s proposal, but the vote of the Vestry in favor of bringing Ronee and her program to Calvary was nearly unanimous. "
By June of 2009, Father Joel had already capitulated to pressure from Mathews and the City to allow police on the property to enforce 'no trespassing' laws effectively ending the use of the property as a place where young and homeless people could be.
Yet, this was not enough for Mathews.
Coonerty and Bernard's 'Penguins' have already been fully implemented, and stand banning homeless people from sitting or begging within 14' of them in any direction. It's part of Ryan's Downtown beautification by promoting sculptures displayed on public property.
On June 5, 2010, Cynthia Mathews wrote her now-infamous Grinchish-Scroogian letter. Failing to acknowledge her own personal involvement on behalf of her own property values directly across the street, her intervention on behalf of her tenant, Rachel Daso, or that she was giving a one-sided account, Mathews sunk to a new low in promoting her anti-homeless agenda. Was the letter prompted by any City Council action? One wonders.
Mathews letter was largely responsible for Calvary Rector Joel Miller being admonished by his Diocese in a rare hearing known as 'Presentment' . He has hired a lawyer and is currently appealing that decision.
Ronee Curry, in order to take pressure off of Father Joel, took to performing her ministry in the streets by handing out food, socks, and handknit "beanies" to homeless people in front of Borders Books, but gained negative notice from current Mayor Ryan Coonerty.
"My feeling is that what they're doing is neither helpful nor compassionate. Instead of encouraging panhandlers and drifters to seek a better life, [they're] helping them subsist in misery," said Ryan Coonerty. Ryan's wife, Emily Bernard is the President of the Downtown Association, and an owner of Dell Williams Jewelry.
Several parishioners rallied to support Fr. Joel.
"Another inaccuracy is the implication that the Episcopal Church as a body brought the charges against Fr. Joel, " Parishioner, Audrey Nickels claims. "Rather, a small group of parishioners, in a highly unorthodox move, got a lawyer and brought charges against him in an ecclesiastical court."
UPDATE JANUARY 19 2011: Voices from the Village has done a show which first aired on January 9th 2011 on Community Television of Santa Cruz County, on this topic. Host, Louis LaFortune interviews Father Joel Miller, Scott Galloway, member of the Calvary Church vestry, Richard Enriques, a formerly homeless man who was helped by Calvary, and Don Lane, currently Vice-Mayor of the Santa Cruz City Council and longtime member of the Board of Directors of the Homeless Services Center. Video of the program can be viewed here.
"Sculp Tour comes to Santa Cruz" Dec 4, 2008_Lauren Foliart, City on a Hill Press
"Calvary Episcopal seeks balance between serving the homeless and serving congregation"--Genevieve Bookwalter June 7 2009
"Downtown raises ire of City Officials"--Genevieve Bookwalter Dec 22 2009
"Controversial Santa Cruz Priest charged by Church" --Curtis Alexander Sept 14 2010 -- Santa Cruz News
"Bathrobespierre's Broadsides: Civil Rights for the Poor" Free Radio Santa Cruz, Dec 5, 2010
Interview of Ronee Curry by Robert Norse
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