The displaced occupiers had asked the church, one of the city’s largest landholders, to hand over a gravel lot, near Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas, for use as an alternate campsite and organizing hub. The church declined, calling the proposed encampment “wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.”When I was in seminary, a group of us looked into the possibility of allowing those who were homeless to sleep on the grounds and offer them coffee in the morning. After much consultation, we discovered a number of things:
1) When homeless people slept on campus, the groundspeople were required to clean up human feces and other detritus after them (and we did not bear any responsibility or burden for that work);
2) We were asked what would happen during school breaks and during the summer;
3) We realized that though we wanted to do something, this didn't actually help homeless people out of their difficulties; it just made us feel better.
What we ended up doing was almost the opposite of what we had first thought: we sent the homeless away. We posted signs around the campus with information about where the nearest homeless shelters were. And we volunteered to be part of the cooking rotation for another organization that offered dinners to those who lived on the streets. It was humbling because it required the painful realization that doing what was best in this situation made us look heartless. It also made me, at least, realize how much of my motivation was wanting to appear noble--even though other people would bear the burden for my noble cause.
Should Trinity have allowed the protesters to camp? I don't have all the information so I can't say. But to me that's not the issue. What gets to me about this brouhaha was neither OWS's desire to camp nor Trinity's decision not to let them. It was how quickly I saw many people--clergy particularly--jump from, "I think they should allow OWS to camp there," to "Trinity Wall Street isn't interested in justice." That's a mighty big leap, and one that I think is dangerous and divisive to make without full and Godlike knowledge of all the facts and the thoughts of everyone's hearts.