Thursday, February 28, 2008

Letter: Church Should Help Respect Private Property

Hi Steve -

First of all, I really appreciate the information you provide about the community - it's vital and interesting. Thank you.

Recently, a situation has come to my attention in this neighborhood that I want to bring to your attention, as I am not sure how to handle it.

As you may recall, I live in the Chatham. I have been dog-sitting for friends since last Monday, and therefore am out with the dog around 5 p.m. to walk her. Since having the dog on these walks, I have noticed a number of people, all men, traipsing through the Chatham parking lot in the back around this hour, walking across Arlington Oaks property and even walking on the sidewalk in front of the Chatham (inside the boundary line) to get to the church on the corner of Pershing and the Route 50 service road, the Arlington Assembly of God.

The purpose of their travels is to obtain food - the church provides food for the homeless. While I applaud the efforts of the church to serve the community, I do have concerns about how those who obtain these free meals conduct themselves in our neighborhood. And I have heard some anecdotal stories to that effect - someone being asked for money in our parking lot, cars being broken into, human waste found on the premises, people living and hiding in the large pine trees on Route 50 (right in front of the church) and the assorted beer cans and bottles I have seen dotting this area.

I spoke with our property manager about this (and he is quite good at what he does) and he informed me that he has approached the leadership of the church twice about this problem, and was basically told that because the church does not control these people, there is nothing they can do about it, and that they would continue in the same vein. Basically, he said "too bad." Not very neighborly.

I had a couple of questions after hearing this - why can't the church make an announcement at these free meal opportunities and ask those to whom they provide service to please respect the neighborhood and not trespass on private property? Does the church provide any other social services to help these people and thereby stave off other bad behavior? And, as a neighbor, shouldn't they try and make the area comfortable and safe for all the residents?

I'm frustrated and at a loss here, but I have felt uncomfortable more than a few times when out and about at this hour. Any thoughts you can provide on the situation would be much appreciated.


Nancy Bukar

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If you see a homeless person trespassing on private property, call the police immediately. I have done this.

The police responded within five minutes and frisked the suspect. I do not believe that the suspect considered this to be an enjoyable experience. I have not seen the suspect again.

If you are not willing to call the police or if you expect someone else to do it for you, please stop complaining.
The county board and its chairman do not care about this kind of situation, and the police will not enforce vagrancy laws. What do you expect when you live in the most liberal suburban jurisdiction in America? Seriously.
To the anonymous poster - thanks for the suggestion. I actually have the Arlington police non-emergency phone number saved on my cell phone and have put it to use on occasion.

That being said, the point I was trying to make is that I feel some of the responsibility in this situation lies with the church, the services they provide to the community and the impact and effect of those services.

I'm still seeking an answer as to how best to handle this . . .
Nancy, I understand your concern. Please feel free to contact me and we will set up a meeting between the Arlington County Police Department and the church. I have found Arlington's police (Buckingham's liasion is Officer Joseph Lutz) to be very responsive to community needs and am certain they will be helpful to come up with the best solution.

Patrick Hope
President, BCCA
Federal religious freedom legislation means churches don't have to listen to zoning codes, let alone their neighbors. Plenty of people pass through the Chatham property--regulars and untouchables alike--it's not the end of the world.
To the second anonymous poster - no, it's not the end of the world but, if you read my letter more thoroughly, you would note that some (not all) of the people passing through the property are not just passing - they are littering, threatening, and harrassing. There's a bid difference. And I think your use of the word untouchables is unfortunate - these people are just seeking assistance and, as I mentioned, I applaud the church for that. I don't necessarily want the service to stop, I would just like see some controls in place and attention paid to the situation.

Also, if any one of the people were to be injured while on The Chatham property, there will be a liability issue. That's not good.
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