There were forty families (children included) that had no place to call home. There were numerous buildings in this area that had been abandoned and the housing opportunities by the government started with a long wait on a long list. So these families took up residence in this old cathedral that did not have heat or electricity or any utilities. They were ordered to vacate the premises or be arrested. So Shane and his friends wrestled with what it means to love others as yourself and soon found themselves in a car headed to the “badlands.”
The building took up an entire block and someone had strung a banner across the front that said,
“How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?” Shane and his friends knocked the door and were invited in and embraced without hesitation. The families gave them tour while the kids jumped on their backs. They poured out their hearts, their struggles, and their dreams.
Shane went back to school and hung up flyers that said, “Jesus is getting kicked out of church in North Philly. Come hear about it: Kea Lounge, 10 pm tonight.” They thought maybe a dozen people would show up but over a hundred people packed the lounge.
The next day dozens of students poured into the cathedral saying, “If they come for you, they’ll have to take us too.” Nearing the final hour, when the eviction was to come, the people gathered to sing, pray, and break bread. Whoever will stay when the officials come and risk arrest, raise your hand. As Shane raised his hand, a little girl named Destiny sitting on his lap asked why he was raising his hand. “Do you want to stay here?” he asked. Destiny said, “Yes, this is my home.” “That’s why I’m raising my hand.” She hugged Shane and slowly raised her hand.
The media jumped all over it. And when the officials showed up, they took two steps, saw the crowd, and got back in the car without saying a word.
But the fight wasn’t done because if the students diminished, the police and officials would come and evict the families. A cell phone and air horn was purchased so that whenever the officials showed a smaller group of student that rotated would call the rest and the horn would blow and the people would pile into cars heading to Philly.
The archdiocese eventually got the fire marshal involved because they could come and evict the families saying that they were acting in the best interests of the families since things were safe. The night before the inspection two firefighters showed up at midnight. In a panic they tried to talk their way out of it thinking that this was a veiled attempt at a midnight eviction but the two fire fighters said that they were not here to evict but against orders they were here to help prepare the building for inspection. The fire fighters took them to the fire station where they were given boxes and boxes of smoke detectors, exit signs, and fire extinguishers. When the fire marshal showed up, there were no citations and no reason for eviction.
Eventually the families held a press conference and everyone received housing. Lastly, they marched to the mayor’s office to ask that he might try looking through their eyes and walking in their shoes. Then they took off their shoes and left them in a pile outside his office.
- Adapted from The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.