To St. Francis Parish and Friends,
As your pastor, I want to let you know that I finally had to make the heart-wrenching decision to close the Steps Ministry, due to and during the Covid 19 virus.
Our Step Ministry has only ever been an emergency overnight sleeping accommodation that was available from 7pm—6am the following morning. These accommodations were provided on nightly basis with no guarantee of permanence. Volunteers in the ministry would greet guests in the evenings to stay in the courtyard and another set of volunteers would prepare a light breakfast in the morning as the guests prepared to leave for the day.
Due to restrictions of the Covid 19 Crisis, many volunteers who were in the over 65 age bracket were not able to serve. Other volunteers withdrew, understandably so, because of the health concerns. As pastor, it is my responsibility to care for both the homeless guests and the volunteers. It was becoming increasingly difficult to provide safe accommodations, proper social distancing and the necessary deep cleaning, let alone keep up with the other health guidelines necessary to comply with state emergency regulations. I felt I would be guilty of gross negligence to both guests and volunteers to allow this situation to continue.
On March 20, the guests and volunteers were first informed of our difficulties following the governor’s announcement of his intention to provide emergency housing for the state’s homeless. They were told then that the church facilities could no longer house the guests due to the inability to comply with the Covid 19 restriction and did not meet the state’s “Shelter-In-Place” orders. They were intentionally given time to find alternative housing.
On the part of the church, we have been in contact with the Governor’s Office, with Mayor Steinberg’s office, and liaising with City and the appointed agencies to assist with the “Shelter-in-Place” for the homeless daily since March 20th. The response from all these official bodies has been that the details of emergency housing are imminent. Unfortunately, imminent continues to be in the future. Consequently, I had to make the extremely difficult decision to close our overnight ministry out of an abundance of caution. This has been a very difficult decision that was necessitated by the real danger to the health of both guests and volunteers. We cannot be responsible for anyone being infected with the virus nor to continue ignoring the state mandates.
On Monday I met with the guests to say that the ministry would have to completely shut down for the above reasons for the duration of the pandemic. My Staff along with myself have developed a plan to acquire accommodations for our displaced homeless and I am glad to say that we have been successful in the short term. For the long term, we can only hope that the Authorities fulfill their promise of Crisis Housing.
I regret this decision ended up being made in Holy Week. The intent of this delay was to wait as long as possible to give our guests time to find alternative housing.
We strive to follow the Gospel message to serve the needy and feed the poor, as we continue working to serve our homeless within the confines of the current situation.
Peace and Every Good in the Tradition of St. Francis and St. Clare,
Fr Des, Pastor