[Hpn] El Cajon, CA - Ministry to the homeless: Encampment given key to church restrooms - San Diego Union Tribune - July 6, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Sat, 06 Jul 2002 11:51:05 -0500

Ministry to the homeless
Encampment given key to church restrooms

By Matthew T. Hall - San Diego Union Tribune - July 6, 2002

EL CAJON  When the Rev. John Conrad gave Rose McConville a key to his church
last week, he gave her so much more. He gave her privacy, dignity and
responsibility. Conrad jokes he just gave her a place to go.

The key unlocks a door leading to two restrooms inside Saint Alban's Episcopal
Church. McConville and her homeless friends, who have been camping outside the
church for months, now use the restroom at night.

"The teachings of Jesus are simply unambiguous on this matter," Conrad said.
"You must help the poor."

The unusual arrangement is only the latest step Conrad, 50, has taken to help
the homeless in this city.

His unconventional methods have attracted some opposition from his neighbors
near Farragut Circle as well as the attention of the City Council.

On Tuesday, the council is expected to consider a resolution drafted by Conrad
himself to establish two permanent homeless shelters within the next six months.
One shelter would be for families and the other for single adults.

Conrad, who first moved to El Cajon in 1999, has let McConville and two friends
stay even though police repeatedly have cited them for illegal lodging.

Their campsite is tiny and tidy. They have blankets, books, a trash can, food
for them and food for their two pets  a kitten named Missy and a dog named

Two months ago, the site got even cleaner when Conrad brought in a portable
toilet. He was fed up with what he found on his grounds some mornings.

But the portable toilet was a violation of the city's plumbing code, and city
officials ordered him to remove it. A week ago, he complied.

Then, with the support of his vestry, he handed McConville the key to a
locked-off part of the church.

"He gives us a shred of dignity," said McConville, 42, who has been homeless for
14 years. "We're treated like people."

Even though the number of people staying at the self-policing campsite has
doubled, Conrad said he doesn't know what else to do.

"I don't think I could carry on my ministry without doing this," he said.

Mayor Mark Lewis and Councilman Charles Santos both said at the last council
meeting they would support Conrad's resolution.

Since then, Councilman Gary Kendrick suggested the council also consider
building public restrooms downtown to accommodate the homeless.

While Conrad called approval of his resolution a much-needed first step,
Councilman Dick Ramos said it might not signify anything at all.

"The council can pass all the resolutions in the world and that doesn't get the
job done," he said.

Echoing a common refrain of El Cajon city councilmen over the years, Ramos said
the city shouldn't open a shelter alone. He said county government and the three
other cities in East County should help find and finance a location.

McConville has heard it all before and said she doesn't expect to be bedding
down in a new shelter come December.

"You can only get your hopes up every year for so long before reality sets in,"
she said.

James Dail, 50, the oldest member of the homeless band, said the city had a
responsibility to help its homeless.

He quipped, "Our animals get treated better than we do."

Matthew Hall: (619) 542-4965; matthew.hall@uniontrib.com

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