Madame Mayor, members of the Council, thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening. It is my desire that the City of Valley Brook will allow me to continue to do business here in Valley Brook, and that is my request of you tonight.
We have appealed to you repeatedly for meetings, for phone calls, for conversation to try to work out our differences—to seek solutions to your concerns about Joe’s. Not a one of you has called me.
This started with a petition that was presented to the City Council asking that Joe’s Addiction be shut down. I would like it to be on the record that the petition that was presented was not a legal petition and has never been made open to the public. Madame Mayor, you stated that of the 300 people in Valley Brook, 150 of them signed this petition. The most recent census of Valley Brook states that there are 765 people who live in Valley Brook.
This last week, folks from the Community of people who hang out at Joe’s took up a collection and paid for and built a ramp for a man in the neighborhood who is disabled and rides a scooter. It is a most excellent ramp and a beautiful service to this man. This man told us that he signed the petition to close Joe’s. He now says he did not understand what he was signing, that the people who came to his door told him all kinds of terrible things about Joe’s, and so he signed it.
In the last month, I have been told by others in the community who signed the petition that there are names of children on the petition. They had their children sign it and watched their neighbors’ children sign it as well. This original petition brought against us is not a valid, legal petition, and yet it has been used as the basis for what feels like a trial.
These City Council meetings for some reason have felt that we are on trial, and yet we have done nothing wrong. We have done nothing illegal. We have asked for you to please inform us of anything that we need to change. It is our desire to cooperate fully. However, the complaints that have been raised have not had anything to do with Joe’s Addiction. Complaints of stealing in the neighborhood, homeless people living where they should not, people using the bathroom where they should not, etc. These are not complaints about Joe’s Addiction. The only thing that has been raised at these meetings that is a concern or frustration against Joe’s Addiction is that we allow sex offenders to hang out there.
I do understand the reason for this concern, and we have attempted to address those concerns, even making changes to how we do things at Joe’s. Even before the petition was circulated, we have put into place every safeguard that we can think of. We have even had the Department of Corrections come and provide training for us in what to look for and how to protect from the potential dangers of the sex offenders, and we are open to any suggestions of other ways that we can help to make the community even safer.
It seems to me that your frustration is with the reality that sex offenders roam the streets of Valley Brook. I am a mother of five and a survivor of sexual abuse myself. I know the fears. I, too, have the same concerns for the safety of our children. But this is simply the reality. With Hand Up Ministries existing right down the street, these sex offenders will continue to roam the streets. As Hand Up expels these men for various reasons, they become homeless. There will continue to be homeless sex offenders roaming the streets of Valley Brook. It seems there is nothing that can be done about this reality.
Two weeks ago, I watched a sex offender (who I know well) who has a serious problem with alcohol, pull out a large sum of money from the ATM at the convenience store next to Joe’s and then go into Fancy’s. A few days later, I saw this same sex offender who was already drunk at the time go into Floaters to get more drunk. I understand the drive for money. All of us need it, and most all of us want as much of it as we can get. But there is a larger concern here, a moral concern, and what this petition was intended to address—a safety concern.
All of you are as aware as I am of what kind of activity happens in the clubs here in Valley Brook. Now, in the past I have not tried to oppose the immorality or the illegality of their practices. We have simply done our best to help and influence those individuals who come to us. However, in light of the accusation that Joe’s Addiction attracts sex offenders, I appeal to you to please consider the activity of these clubs. Most crimes are committed while under the influence of alcohol (60% of homicides, 75% of stabbings, 70% of beatings, 50% of fights and domestic violence), and just imagine those who are already predisposed to committing a sexual crime drinking and getting sexually aroused! Over-pouring alcohol for them is dangerous! Madame Mayor, I’m sure you are aware of the kinds of behavior that happen when a person has too much to drink.
I remind you that your job as a City Council is to seek the good of this community, to plan a good future for this town. This is our desire as well. So it seems to me that we can work together to prevent crime here in Valley Brook. To bring accountability for those who are doing business here and for those who are walking the streets (we through building relationship with them and encouraging them to make right decisions, you through enforcing the laws that are already on the books and creating new laws that protect). And we together can help to protect the women and children of Valley Brook.
The question has been asked here, is Joe’s Addiction a ministry or a business. Joe’s Addiction has been and hopes to continue to be a business, but first and foremost, we are Followers of Jesus. He taught us to take care of what He called “the least of these.” Beyond that, he taught us that when we do care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, the imprisoned or the stranger, we actually are caring for him, so this is what we seek to do.
Who are the “least of these”?
From the opening of Joe’s Addiction over six years ago, these kind of people have been coming in to Joe’s. As you might know, coffee shops lend themselves to community. People visit. Play cards. Talk with one another. In the natural course of hanging out together at Joe’s, we became friends with people who are in need.
I will never forget when one of our regulars from the neighborhood in our first year of being open came to me asking for help for his girlfriend who was a crack cocaine addict. I know where she was buying her drugs, which house and which dealer right here in Valley Brook. It was not a secret back then, and it’s not a secret now. She was sick, and we were able to help her get into rehab. As long as there are drug dealers in Valley Brook, the least of these will still need help.
Another regular was particularly stinky. She and her boyfriend who were living in Valley Brook would come in every day with their laptop computer and hang out all day. They smelled so bad that we lit incense every time they came in. We were afraid they were making our other customers uncomfortable and that it would hurt our business. In getting to know her, we discovered that she did not have enough money to pay Sooner Utilities for trash service, so she was using a bedroom in her house as her garbage can. It was full to chest-level with everything you would put in your garbage. Her landlord charged $400/mo. but was not keeping up the property. There were holes in the walls, in the floors. Neighborhood cats came in and used her house for a toilet. We went in and cleaned out her house, took truckloads of garbage to the dump, patched holes, and then worked with Social Security to make sure her bills were being paid. As you know, this is not an isolated case. As long as there are slum landlords who do not take care of their properties and exploit the poor, the least of these will still need help in Valley Brook.
The income level of most of the people in Valley Brook is way below poverty level. Many of these people survive on Food Stamps. However, there is no grocery store nearby, and many have no transportation. They spend their food stamps at the convenience stores that charge $5.25 for a gallon of milk, and they run out of food half way through the month. When we started seeing people who were hungry in the neighborhood, we opened the Food Pantry. As long as there is no grocery store in Valley Brook, the least of these will need our help.
The Free Store averages 34 customers each day that it is open. We have been tracking our statistics over the last couple of months, and 70% of those who come in for things they need are residents of Valley Brook. In the last month, we have been able to help 8 people who were in serious crisis. With this latest tornado disaster, we have now become a site for more donations and will be able to serve even more who are in need of food and household items.
Who are the least of these? Most importantly, they are the ones that society has rejected. Perhaps they are people who slept with their under-aged girlfriend and now are branded for life. Perhaps they are people who are seen wandering around drunk in public. Perhaps they are people who were caught with an open bottle in their car. Perhaps they are people who have done things that society considers perverted.
Sam, the least of these are your son, Bo. We knew him as Sam. Bo was gay. He was dying of a disease that has for decades been a stigma. He was ostracized by most in our society, but Bo found a home at Joe’s. We took care of Bo and of his partner Marcellus, many times even paying bills for them, when they could not. Bo was part of our family, part of the Community of Hope at Joe’s. When he died, we grieved with you and with your family, because we had the common connection of loving Bo.
To ban sex offenders from Joe’s would be illegal on our part—and it would be immoral. Sex offenders perhaps are the very least of these in our society. We will continue to help them, and we will look for the face of Jesus in every one of their faces. As Jesus Followers, this is what we do. This is what we will continue to do.
So as long as Valley Brook remains the way that it is, the least of these will here in plenty. We desire to work together with you, Madame Mayor and City Council, to make this neighborhood a good and safe place to live. We ask that you allow us to continue to not only do business here, but to continue to be a blessing to the neighborhood.