RuffinA well-intentioned mess

COLUMBIA, Mo 10/2/18 (Beat Byte) -- Crime and violence at a downtown-area church has First Ward City Councilman Clyde Ruffin alarmed "about very dangerous activity that happens during the evening," he told the City Council in June.

A letter from volunteers at Loaves and Fishes, a non-profit that feeds the homeless at Wilkes Blvd. United Methodist Church, prompted Ruffin to ask city manager Mike Matthes to increase police presence at the church, which has seen over 130 police actions in the past year.  Columbia police on the North Central beat already report spending twenty percent of their time at the church, from serving warrants on out-of-area offenders to breaking up fights and narcotics deals. 

"The volunteers there are literally afraid to intervene.  They have policies in place that limit the activities allowed on the property,  but no way of enforcing them, " Ruffin said.

Three blocks from downtown at 702 Wilkes Blvd., a residential area surrounded by houses and schools -- Hickman High, Jefferson Junior High, and Columbia College -- the church hosts homeless services Turning Point and Loaves and Fishes; and an offender counseling center, the Re-Entry Group.
Police Dispatch Log, Wilkes Blvd. Church (rt. click to enlarge)
Assault, trespass, theft, vandalism, harassment, and other violent crimes have been part of the church and neighborhood since former pastor Meg Hegemann opened Turning Point in 2014.  

The service groups are chronically under-funded, unable to offer mental health, addiction, and other services their populations need. 

Neighbors meanwhile suffer the fallout: street fighting, drug dealing, overdosing, public drunkeness, trespassing, and vandalism.  Distress over crime and violence at the Wilkes Blvd. church derailed another proposed homeless drop-in center, one street over, in 2015.

"It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Loaves and Fishes to staff the evenings because people are afraid," Ruffin told the Council. "They're asking for a police vehicle to drive through, periodically, sporadically, so that people will know something is happening."