Friday, April 04, 2008

Update: Church and Chatham Meet with Police

Dog sitting. If Nancy Bukar had not been walking a friend’s dog, she might never have noticed the people—mostly men, and many homeless—who trespassed over the Chatham Condominium property on their way to the Arlington Assembly of God church across N. Pershing Drive.

The people were walking to the church to receive a free evening meal, a program the church has offered for years, and in a letter-to-the-editor of the HeraldTrib (Feb. 28), Ms. Bukar said she applauded that ideal, but also heard other stories of panhandling and crime. In the letter she wondered what could be done to get the people who were looking for a meal to respect property rights.

The letter produced quite a bit of commentary including a note from the Buckingham Community Civic Association President Pat Hope who suggested a meeting between police, the church and the Chatham.

The church provides the service “to help those who need help,” said Associate Pastor Lynn Carter at yesterday afternoon’s meeting. Nancy Bukar, Pat Hope, Arlington Police Ofr. Mike Lutz and the Chatham’s community manager Fred Shirley met with Ms. Carter around The Chatham’s conference table in their community room.

“We just have it basically for fellowship, for whoever wants to come,” said Ms. Carter who coordinates the meals program. It draws between 30 and 100 people from all sorts of backgrounds, she said. Some are homeless, but many are not. Although the dinner is most full in the winter when people are more likely out of work, Ms. Carter said, fewer people trespass or panhandle in the winter, Mr. Shirley said.

Some diners live in the Chatham and Arlington Oaks Condominium. Others are people who might not have family or just do not want to eat alone.

When she is at the dinner, she tells the diners--up to three times an evening in English and Spanish--to respect private property, to stay on the sidewalks.

“I can say that to them,” Ms. Carter said. “There’s nothing I can do.”

Still, that had not stopped her from going outside on one occasion to direct people, she said. She said the church has signs reinforcing what she says.

The rest of the group said they understood.

“From what it sounds like, you’re doing all you can do,” Ofr. Lutz said.

He asked Ms. Bukar and Mr. Shirley what they thought the Chatham could do, as well. He asked if the condominium had considered fences or plantings that would keep people off the property.

Mr. Shirley said some of the people might need to see no trespassing signs on Chatham property. It could be that “they don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong,” he said. But signs could pose a problem as Chatham residents and Arlington Oaks residents use each other’s property on a regular basis. Then there’s the cost of the fencing and plantings.

For his part Ofr. Lutz said he has started to “put my head” into the dining room of the church to be a little more visible in the community. Since the people congregate around dinner time, Ofr. Lutz said his community policing unit could step up enforcement at that time. He said the problem will be solved putting together numerous small pieces of the puzzle.

"I think it's probably about enforcement," Pat Hope said, steady enforcement supporting both the church and The Chatham.

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