SIDNEY — When Erick Richmond started noticing more and more homeless people on his jogs around Sidney, he felt like he had to do something about it.
“It started bothering me. I told my lady about it, we just started praying about it, and I told my lady, ‘You know what? Let’s just start feeding them at dinner once a week.’ Once I started interacting with those guys I realized, it was more than a handful. There was 10, 15, 20 people,” Richmond said.
In July, Richmond began feeding the homeless population in the city with the intention of serving dinner once a week on Monday nights; with overwhelming support from the community and food donations, he was able to expand that effort into a daily operation, serving dinner and sometimes breakfast to anyone in the community in need of a meal. He also helps in other ways, providing the homeless with hygiene items such as deodorant, soap, toothbrushes, washcloths, hand towels, as well as tents, and anything else they may need.
“Between the donations and what we’ve privately bought ourselves, we’ve given out tents, we give out hygiene items at least once a week, we give out snack bags they can eat at any time. We’ve gotten IDs for several of them, we’ve gotten birth certificates, but thankfully now St. John’s has stepped up and offered to take care of that birth certificate and ID situation, so we won’t have to go out of pocket with that,” Richmond said.
Part of the reason Richmond felt so motivated to help out was because of his own personal struggles with alcohol addiction.
“I got away from that issue, so the whole addiction side kind of hits home to me, and just showing God’s light and love to other people. No matter where you are in life, no matter how bad you’ve gone or how far down you are, God still loves every one of us,” Richmond said. “When people get into that addiction, they start to feel helpless, useless, and uncared for. Just shining a little bit of light and love, I figured, this may help people get out of the position that they’re in.”
Richmond says despite some negative feedback and hate he’s received from a select few, the community has been supportive in his efforts.
“I really feel that if this city could all come together on one page, put politics aside, put businesses aside and put everybody’s own personal gain to the side, I honestly think that this issue would not be an issue at all,” Richmond said.
Despite the overwhelming support from community members, Richmond has received some pushback. Last week, Richmond posted a video on Facebook showing a letter he had received from Doug Ahlers of the Shelby County Land Bank, stating that the shelter house where he had been serving meals is owned by the Shelby County Land Revitilization Corporation and is private property, and he has no right to use it. Ahlers asked Richmond vacate the premise immediately.
According to Ahlers, the letter was sent after the Alpha Center had complained to him because they had asked Richmond not to serve meals on the property, and he refused.
“The Alpha Center has a lease on the property, and as leasee, they have full authority on that property during their lease. Mr. Richmond in no time asked to use the property, and the Alpha Center at one time asked Mr. Richmond to cease using the property, and they were told by Mr. Richmond, ‘you don’t own the property, so you can’t tell me what to do.’ That percipitated the letter,” Ahlers said.
Alpha Community Center Director Jan Guey clarified with the Sidney Daily News that interactions with Richmond where he was asked not to serve meals on the property of the Alpha Center had taken place on Facebook and that Ahlers was consulted to step in when Richmond refused.
“We appreciate the passion that Erick Richmond has and his desire to help those in need. A past board member and one of my employees has reached out to Erick numerous times in an effort to better coordinate services and to ensure there isn’t a duplication of services. (Likewise), because The Alpha Community Center is a non-profit who is certified through the Secretary of State, we have rules and regulations we must follow including but not limited to Servsafe guidelines, food handling and storage guidelines, sanitation guidelines, etc. We also have a duty to adhere to not just these safety standards, but also to our other policies and procedures. With that said, meals being consumed that are not served out of our kitchen present a liability issue,” Guey said in a statement submitted to the Sidney Daily News. “In addition to the liability issue that was brought to our attention in recent weeks, we have had client complaints and accusations regarding their treatment. Our mission and purpose is and will always be to serve those in need in our community with respect and dignity as Christ calls us to.”
Part of the concerns from the Alpha Community Center also come from duplicating efforts to help the homeless in the community. According to Guey, while the Alpha Community Center helps with meals, emergency pantry needs and rent assistance, there are other organizations in the community that have funds established and can assist with needed documentation such as birth certificates and licenses, as well as organizations that offer rehousing assistance and counseling.
For Richmond, the reason he had chose to serve meals on the Alpha Center property was because it’s a neutral location in the community, away from where kids play and have sports practices, and someplace everyone knows they can go for a meal. For the time being, until he’s able to find another neutral location to serve meals, he’s serving them behind the alley of the Alpha Center.
“I’m trying to figure out where we can go (from) here, but as of right now we’ve been parking in that alley across the street from the shelter house. I’ve been serving out of my trunk. I took a pop-up table down, we’ve just been taking a fold-out table and feeding them, and they go back over to the shelter and unfortunately, I have to sit in my car,” Richmond said. “You know, that really screws things up, because the fellowship and the time with those people meant a lot, and being able to uplift them while we’re eating, hanging out and stuff, that helped a lot as well. But they do come talk to me after they’re done eating and stuff, so I do still get a little bit of time with them, but it’s not as much as it was.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.