GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council meeting became contentious at times on Tuesday evening when Bishop Lee Bowling, of the Church of God of Apostolic Faith, addressed council members and the administration about the homeless issue in the city. Bishop Bowling accused members of providing poor leadership and being unsympathetic and unempathetic.
Councilperson Delores Eley called Bowling out on his past comments, “You have accused us of singling out the homeless. You have accused us of being unsympathetic. Not being empathetic. He responded, “I have.” She continued, “Yes, you have. I don’t think that’s fair of you anymore than its fair of us to say…” She was interrupted by Bowling who questioned Eley, “To hold you accountable as an elected official?” She responded, “You can hold me accountable, but you cannot accuse me of not being empathetic if you don’t know me.” Council President John Baumgardner sided with Eley and addressed Bowling, “You pointed your finger at all of us.” Eley continued, “That is you accusing us of doing the same thing you are doing. I for one, whether you like me being a woman on this city council…” Bowling interrupted again, “What does a woman have anything to do with it? You’re putting words in my mouth, again.” Eley said, “I believe in your church doctrine it might. I’m just saying think about how sometimes you come across. If you come across adversarial with me, you will get push back.” Bishop Bowling responded, “Perhaps we need to un-elect you as an official if you can’t represent all of the people in the city.” Eley stressed she does represent all of the people. Bowling continued, “You can sit here and have a heated debate if you want, but the fact of the matter is it is the failed leadership of not just the council, but of everybody that sits in the council for years.”
Bishop Bowling pushed for more communication to get the resources on the same page. He said, “We have to do better to join everyone together in the conversation to move our city forward. We have a great city. We have great men and women in place. I do not disrespect none of you even though I disagree with many of you on how you do things. I’ve been called to be a Moses; to be sent here tonight to tell you that we need to liberate these people. For too long we have had a problem with our homeless. It has been through failed leadership of city, county and federal people all over the globe. We have to come together and do better for our citizens that are homeless.”
The bishop was also disappointed he did not receive an invitation to the meeting put together by the city on this issue. “Several meetings have been planned in this city and not one time has the Office of the Bishop been invited to those meetings, but yet we have done more to help with the homeless than anybody. We have put them up in motels. We have started a mailbox system. You can’t get a job in the city or any city without a mailbox. Now they can come and use the church address to get mail. We have a problem with them showering and have put in showers, Showers of Blessings,” he said. He also pointed out that he has helped five people get jobs and transports them back and forth to work.
Safety Service Director Ryan Delk admitted the city held a meeting with representatives from the Tri-County Board of Mental Health, Community Action Partnership, some churches, Darke County Probation, Darke County Health Department and Family Health Services. Through this meeting, the city was able to come up with a list of resources available to the homeless. He said, “I was blown away at what people in the community already do. Without them, how bad could it be? It was a great group with great conversation. We will continue meeting with that group. It’s going to take the whole community.”
Delk also agreed the city does not have a plan to combat homelessness. “I’ve been researching this for months and months and I will tell you it is far from a city of Greenville problem. It’s a country problem. In all of the research that I’ve done. Nobody has the answer.”
Greenville Chief of Police Eric Roberts tried to set the record straight on what his department is doing. He has implemented a policy that every shift checks on the bridges. The primary reason for these visits is to check on the welfare of individuals there. “There have been many false narratives,” he said. “Yes, sometimes people come out with handcuffs, but they probably had a warrant for their arrest. We’re not going under the bridge for anything other than checking up on them and to see if they have warrants for their arrest.” The police officers routinely present pamphlets that list the recourses that are available to individuals.
Chief Roberts continued, “This is a double-edged sword for me. Yes, I have concern for those people. They are still our citizens. But on the same token everywhere I go I have people approach me and say I can’t take my child down the path anymore or the cross-country team can’t run their normal route in practice. People are coming up and saying they’ve walked into needles, defecating along the pathway and many other things or they don’t feel safe. When people tell me they don’t feel safe I take that personally. We’re doing the best we can to maintain the rights of those under the bridge, but also keep the safety of those citizens and people visiting this town.”
In his 27 years with the police department, Chief Roberts said he has never known children to be living under the bridge. As for some of the children-related items that were found under the bridge, Roberts believes they were possibly stolen items.
City Law Director Michael Rieman contends the ordinance approved by city council is a framework to get help for the homeless. “What you guys did (city council), is we put the framework in place so if people are making the conscious decision, if resources are available to them and they don’t want the help – now it allows the city to come and do something. We are not going to enforce anything that we’ve done if there is not help for people. We were in a situation before where we couldn’t help.” He added, “At that point in time we can clean up the trash and do all of this. That’s the focus of the statute. It’s not criminalizing homelessness. This is if there are options to you and that is your choice – that is the difference.”
Councilman Leon Rogers also tried to set the record straight with Bishop Bowling. He questioned the pastor if the Greater Greenville Ministerial Assocation (GGMA) was doing anything to help. Even though the bishop claims churches aren’t doing enough, he admitted the Good Samaritan fund does give vouchers to the police department that will put a homeless person in a motel for a week. Between the GGMA and EUM Church, $40,000 has been allotted to help not only the homeless, but also individuals having trouble meeting rent, gas and electricity bills and other issues.
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