Lifeboat anyone? Green Bay’s Mayor says too many homeless are staying at Catholic shelter

From Fox 11 in Green Bay, WI:

Homeless shelter could face city fines

GREEN BAY – One of Green Bay’s homeless shelters could soon be putting itself in trouble with the city.

City officials say St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter is allowing too many people to stay at its overnight shelter.

Deacon Tim Reilly with the Green Bay Catholic Diocese says he isn’t happy with how the city’s mayor is treating the shelter.

“Mayor Schmitt has lost his leadership credibility,” said Reilly.

Last week, the city sent St. John’s officials a letter saying they had five days to comply with its conditional use permit capacity of 64 overnight residents. According to the city, the shelter has been over its capacity every night in December, reaching as high as 86 people one night last week.

“When we grant a conditional use permit to someone, we expect them to hold up their end of the deal and they clearly aren’t,” said Jim Schmitt, Green Bay’s mayor.


Mayor Schmitt should personally go to the shelter to sort out who may sleep inside and who must remain outside: “You, yes… you, no… you, no… you, yes…”

How ’bout it, Your Honor?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    I think we can blame this on Obama’s economic policy. . . or lack thereof.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    So is the mayor offering to house any of the folks he’s booting from the shelter?

  3. Johnno says:

    Bus them over to the Mayor’s house. Invite the press.

  4. Philangelus says:

    Didn’t someone else said something similar once? “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

  5. Adam Welp says:

    Conditional use permit? I thought there was a separation of Church and State in this country?

  6. anilwang says:

    Tricky situation.

    On the one hand, building code regulations are supposed to be there to protect the vulnerable, especially during fires where overcrowding risks everyone’s lives. On the other hand, the homeless are there because they have no other place to go and sleeping in -20 C (-4 F) is a much surer way to risk one’s life and one’s frostbitten limbs.

    Given how many homeless try to avoid shelters since they don’t feel safe, I’m sure that during the summer, the 64 overnight residents limit is likely nowhere near reached, and its likely the 64 overnight residents limit is only passed on particularly cold nights.

    The statement “86 people (22 over the limit) one night last week” (22 over the limit for one night only) confirms this. Given this, I think should be possible to work with the fire department to come up with a way of accommodating emergency overflows, so that the true intent of the law (people’s safety) is kept and the limit can be safely raised this winter and something longer term can be worked out during the summer.

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    Anilwang’s reasoning is exactly mine. It is a fire code regulation problem. Well, I have the solution:



    Until then, why can’t local Churches take them in over night? That would solve the problem quite simply. The Church-goers would gain in merit and the homeless would be sheltered and feed. Are they not mandated by Matt 25: 31 – 46?

    The Chicken

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’ve worked in a church shelter, although it’s been awhile — B.C. (Before Children), once we had babies we didn’t want to risk bringing home T.B. or worse.
    Violating the fire codes is a non-starter — not only is there the possibility of people burning to death or being crushed in a panic, it places them at greater risk for the communication of disease and violence or predatory behavior.
    Also, of course, the city has to enforce the terms of a CUP or they may have waiver or equal protection problems.
    The City of Atlanta has (or had) a very sensible response to this difficulty, which happens every time you get a cold snap. Every single time. There are a ton of folks who normally do not go into any sort of shelter and will do just about anything to avoid it; they only show up when it’s too cold to sleep out.
    The City had an ‘overflow shelter’ in a closed school gymnasium, and once the church shelters got full any additional people looking for a bed were picked up and transported there. There was not a lot of enthusiasm for the City shelter because it was (to put it mildly) spartan, but it was warm and dry.
    I don’t see why a similar plan couldn’t be coordinated with the City of Green Bay.

  9. APX says:

    @The Masked Chicken
    Until then, why can’t local Churches take them in over night? That would solve the problem quite simply. The Church-goers would gain in merit and the homeless would be sheltered and feed. Are they not mandated by Matt 25: 31 – 46?

    Such is a huge liability. When you’re working with homeless people you’re not just working with people like yourself who just don’t have a home, but you’re also working with people who have substance abuse problems, severe mental health issues, infectious diseases, behavioral problems, criminals with a litany of violent offense charges, etc. I used to send my homeless clients who were on house arrest (I gave up trying to figure out how someone without a home could be put on house arrest, so don’t bother asking.) to one of our most prominent homeless shelters because I could track them that way. The homeless shelters had properly trained security (You can’t just hire some private security company, as one needs special training when working with high risk people), have tracking systems for who’s coming and going, know how to legally do proper searches to ensure people aren’t bringing in weapons, drugs, alcohol, etc. When poo hits the fan (and it will), you have to be able to deal with it safely, effectively and legally.

    There will always be homeless people, and we can’t simply keep building homeless shelters. Homeless shelters need caseworkers, substance abuse programming, work skills training, and work placement programs, etc to help get people off the streets and into homes. We have a really good homeless shelter here with awesome caseworkers who can and do help to get people off the streets by helping them get what they need set in place to do so. They can help people get temporary welfare loans to put a security deposit and first months rent down on a place, while helping them secure a job so they can actually afford to live. Most people, even the severe cases, are perfectly capable of not being homeless, but lack the knowledge and skills in how to go about doing that. They don’t know what resources are available to them, and/or need someone to guide them along the way. Some people will get it right away, and some will take a few tries. Some don’t always make it and end up dying on the streets.

  10. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    It strikes me that this is another Catch-22 situation.

    If the shelter houses the people, it breaks the law, and will, eventually, be punished.
    If it doesn’t house the people, the people will suffer, either without shelter or in a new, government run shelter.
    If it tries to build a new shelter, the new one will have all sorts of new codes, including – quite probably – some requirement which a Catholic organization can’t follow.
    If it refuses to house the people, then surely it violates its core mission, and the purpose for the CUP goes away, thus making it possible for the city to force …..

    In a situation such as this one, surely, one is called to disregard the bullying of the mayor, and love the One Who asked “Who was neighbor to the man who was attacked?”

  11. The Masked Chicken says:


    I understand your concerns, but do we really have a different class of homeless this century than in centuries past? Christians always risk getting killed, infected. It comes with the job. I think of St. Damian of Moloki. Also, the man who killed the Dominican, St. Peter Martyr, became homeless and showed up at the doorstep of a Dominican Monastery! They took him in and by their charity, he died, years later, with the odor of sanctity.

    Yes, guns, disease, etc. are worse than in years past and prudence is a virtue, but since when do homeless shelters have to resemble either prisons or mental hospitals? I have been homeless (years, ago) and I was not impressed by the quality of care provided by the city at the time (although grateful). That same city now has a church-run soup kitchen (with real nuns in habits showing up to serve) which is a model for the state. Churches can help.

    “Most people, even the severe cases, are perfectly capable of not being homeless, but lack the knowledge and skills in how to go about doing that.”

    Tell that to a guy who has lost his job and can’t find another one. Do you know how much funding has been cut for the single man/woman in recent years (I suspect so, since you work with the homeless). I, once, had found a job, but the city refused to buy me a bus pass that would last a month (until my first paycheck), even though they had had such a program a few months, before. If I had been a single mother with a child, all sorts of help would have been available. No wonder some women will keep having babies out of wedlock.

    With the economy as it is, homelessness is going to increase. Make no mistake. Sadly, it will happen to the older people first, who have, foolishly, not had children, sooner than the younger. It used to be that people in a parish watched out for each other. I hope that is still the case because many older people are going to need it.

    The Chicken

  12. Regulargrandma says:

    It’s usually difficult to actually speak one-on-one with the mayor of any city. But perhaps in this instance the citizens of Green Bay could approach His Honor, graduate of Roncalli High and St. Norbert College, late Saturday afternoon as he attends Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral to let him know how they feel about the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law.

    Just sayin’.

    Green Bay is still suffering the effects of a blizzard with cold temps and high winds after much snow. Surely the good mayor wouldn’t want anyone to die from exposure. That wouldn’t look good come re-election time at all, not to mention the aspect of fulfilling the corporal works of mercy.

  13. Hidden One says:

    And then, Masked Chicken, there are unemployed recent university/college grads.

  14. MarylandBill says:

    I forget who said it, but I think it was once (perhaps riffing on what Jesus said about the Sabbath), “The law was made to serve Man, not Man to serve the law.” This appears to be a case of making man serve the law. Yes there are risks with exceeding fire codes, but there is a greater and more immediate risk to the people who will have no place to go in an upper midwest winter.

  15. Dave N. says:

    This goes on all the time.

  16. The Masked Chicken says:

    “And then, Masked Chicken, there are unemployed recent university/college grads.”

    True. It seems one either doesn’t have enough experience to get a job or too much experience to get a job. It seems, today, that there is disenfranchisement at both the beginning and end of a career.

    The Chicken

  17. Angie Mcs says:

    ” sadly, it will happen to the older people first, who have foolishly not had children…”

    Even more sadly, tragically, are those who have had children and still have no place to go, or who are taken in grudgingly , resentfully, by their own adult children. In this age of entitlement, which often causes people to forego having children because it would interfere with their lifestyle, the results are similar with the generation before them. At best, the homeless may have a roof over their heads. But they live with the knowledge that the children whom they raised with such love have become so self centered that their parents feel how unwelcome they are. When I was a child, my widowed grandmother was part of our family. She had her own room and in return helped with cooking, cleaning, as she could. She also gave my parents the respect of their own personal space and time.We didn’t have a lot of money or things but we had each other and the bond of love.

    Now, we have huge towers of assisted living centers for the fortunate elderly who have money, although this is no guarantee for happiness. The poor have nothing without the charity of others. Tobe homeless or taken care of by strangers is sad, to be taken care of by your family out of obligation and without love is a homelessness of another sort.

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  19. Elizabeth D says:

    Unbelievable. I looked and St John the Evangelist Shelter has an unusually nice website . I volunteer with the homeless in Madison and posted on my blog this week a Christmas card one of our clients gave me together with his sobering information that three of his friends were found dead and frozen last year, and within the last month he’s encountered at least 8 people sleeping out unequipped for the cold.

    A controversy here is the mayor says Madison has been too accommodating of the homeless (who took over last year’s “occupy” camp and made it their own) and there are now too many, and he wants them shipped to Chicago or Milwaukee. I would like to see us do more, and specifically I would like to see more Catholic shelter for the homeless. There is not money to do it though.

    Besides tithing 10% to your parish (I really think people should consider it), don’t neglect to give generously to Catholic charity agencies. “Some of them might be liberals” is ultimately not an adequate reason to withhold help from groups like St Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities. Instead if you can get involved and direct them toward the Holy Father’s recent Motu Proprio on faithful Catholic identity of charity organizations.

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