In February, The Isthmus published an article by Joe Tarr about the Men’s Drop-In Shelter at Grace Church. It was titled “Bleak House” and it aroused considerable anger among supporters of Porchlight and the shelter. It also raised issues about conditions in the shelter. There were already conversations taking place among churches and social service agencies about homelessness in Madison but the article galvanized interest. For example, we have probably had a half-dozen meetings at Grace about the shelter, homelessness, and what our role as a parish is.
Many people lashed out at The Isthmus. Complaints centered around the author’s unfairness and narrow perspective. Looking back, it’s clear to me that the wagons were circled in protection of Porchlight’s work.
The week after the article appeared, I received a call from someone at Epic Systems. They had read the article and wanted to help. I put them in touch with Steve Schooler, executive director of Porchlight. A few weeks later, a group of people from Epic toured the shelter at Grace, as well as other Porchlight facilities. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a meeting with Porchlight management and Epic to go over their proposal. As The Isthmus reported this week, Epic is proposing to fund and oversee major renovations to the space at Grace.
Often, when things we love, have deep commitment to, and have worked hard for, come under criticism, our tendency is to react viscerally. We want to protect what we love and work for. But almost every project, every institution, every agency, can be improved. Criticism is not just destructive; it can open up new possibilities. Had Joe Tarr not written that article, Epic would not have become involved.
Thanks to him, to Epic, and to everyone who works so hard to help make the shelter a place of refuge for homeless men.
We never know what might emerge from things that on the surface seem negative. As Jesus said in John 3: “The [Spirit] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”