This story is approximately 10 years old but, for political reasons, I could not write it then. However, now I am retired, our non-profit corporation is dissolved, and no one can be damaged by irritated bureaucrats, so here it is.
Our organization was a Christian home for the elderly; we provided low-cost semi-independent and assisted living facilities for up to 145 residents.
For several years, we benefitted from the kindness of an organized group of retired Christians who donated about one month of labor each year. They are called RVICS which is an acronym for Retired Volunteers In Christ’s Service (There are other similar national organizations). Here’s how it works: These retired people usually work in teams of 6-8 couples. They travel in recreational vehicles to churches, Christian camps, and other non-profit Christian ministries where they set up temporary camp accommodations that are pre-arranged by the hosts. The men work about 30 hours per week and the women work about 20. They paint, clean, build, remodel, landscape, type, file, or do whatever projects need to be done FOR FREE because it is their MINISTRY. They will not accept any pay, gifts, or food because they are determined to have no fiscal impact on the ministries they serve. All we were required was to provide the parking spaces for their RVs, power and water hookups, and pumping or waste disposal as needed.
We had a great relationship with these groups and they provided about 300 hours of free, skilled labor every year until it was abruptly ended by CODE ENFORCEMENT.
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED – Because we did not have sufficient space, our teams parked in a large, undeveloped parcel adjacent to our property. They were neatly lined up, side by side, outside our fence and out of view of the street. We had the permission of the property owner, who was friendly to our ministry (in fact he was a resident for a while and one of his son’s served on our board of directors). This, we did for about 5 years.
The last year, code enforcement showed up and ordered them off the property for violating a city ordinance. The violation was camping on a vacant lot in the city limits (remember this because this story gets really good). We tried, in vain, to make a defensive argument but, in the end, we complied with the order and dismissed our guests.
Two weeks after they broke camp and left the property, we found a breach in our fence near the back of our property. Outside the fence, we discovered a new homeless camp under the shade of one of our trees. The weeds on the property were high so the camp was not visible from the streets or neighboring parking lots. There were a couple mattresses, several bags of clothing and blankets, a stolen shopping cart and some other items. The reason the missing fence boards was that the campers, who were sleeping approximately ten feet from the private doors of our elderly residents) were coming onto our property to use our water spigots for washing themselves.
I called the police department. I called code enforcement. I got no satisfaction about the public nuisance. They said there was nothing they could do about it. I reminded them that, only two weeks prior, they ordered my team of volunteers off the same property. That didn’t matter. I eventually took matters into my own hands. We removed the rubbish to our dumpster, returned the cart to the grocery store, and we repaired the breached fence.
The point of the story is this: There are two distinct cultures in most communities. Laws and codes apply to only one of them.
There are responsible, law-abiding working people who own property and pay taxes. Those are the ones who pay fines and penalties for code infractions (which are part of the city’s revenue stream) so they are the ones who are targeted by code enforcement. If violators don’t pay, the city has the ability to seize their assets with interest. And that is the incentive for good citizenship.
Then there is the sub-culture, the street people, and the homeless. Almost everything they do is a code violation, a quality of life crime, or a property crime and they know it. But they also know that code enforcement and law enforcement will generally do nothing. They won’t or can’t pay fines or penalties and they know there are no real consequences. Therefore, there is no incentive for the city to write citations and there is no incentive for violators to be respectful of private property or laws.
This particular incident may be old news but the violations of the subculture are, rapidly escalating, current events that are a blight on our once clean, quiet, and pleasant community.