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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Father Mike Lopez (left) and Father Angel Lugo (right) stand next to their Hungry Monk Rescue Truck in front of the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church on Aug. 29.

When Father Mike Lopez and Father Angel Lugo rounded the corner of Forest and Myrtle Avenues on Aug. 29, they were greeted with handshakes, hugs and kisses on their hands. A small group of homeless men native to Ridgewood, some of whom struggle with alcoholism and often meet at the ’71st Avenue Plaza’ in front of Queens Wines & Liquors, were happy to see them.

Within minutes, however, Jeremiah McCarthy, who was raised in Glendale and has been living on the streets for more than 30 years, began to cry. He still can’t bear the news that his friends, the pastors, are being forced to leave.

Lopez and Lugo’s independent parish, All Saints American Old Catholic Community, holds masses and provides services for the poor and homeless at the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, located a block away on 70th Avenue. But on Sept. 2, the parish will hold its final liturgy after being told its host church is terminating their agreement.

“Nobody treats me better and helps more people in my situation than these guys,” McCarthy said. “Some people just want food, some people just want housing, but I just want this man’s love.”

According to Lopez, Ridgewood Presbyterian and its pastor, Rev. Victoria L. Moss, told him that All Saints must vacate the church by Sept. 4 due to the behavior of the people that they serve. For the past five years, All Saints has had a written agreement with Ridgewood Presbyterian that allows Lopez and Lugo to park their community response vehicle, the Hungry Monk Rescue Truck, in front of the church during the day and use the building for its services.

For Thanksgiving in 2017, All Saints organized its third annual holiday dinner at Ridgewood Presbyterian to serve meals to those in need.  With the rescue truck, All Saints has also delivered meals, helped seniors move, performed homeless outreach and more, Lopez said.

“We are being blamed for many of the issues with the street homeless and addicted in the Ridgewood area,” Lopez said. “Our mission is to help these men and women find the services they need and bring them in off of the streets.”

Lugo speaks with three homeless men at the 71st Avenue Plaza in ridgewood on Aug. 29. (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

Lugo speaks with three homeless men at the 71st Avenue Plaza in ridgewood on Aug. 29. (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

When asked to explain Ridgewood Presbyterian’s decision to end its partnership with All Saints, Moss said in an email that the parish was using the building for its services “to such an extent that it was interfering with other groups.” She added that drunk men also began showing up to the church any time, day or night, and sometimes were “threatening and disruptive and 911 had to be called.”

On some occasions, the men would hide in the building and sleep in bathrooms, the church balcony or the alley and urinate in the parking lot, Moss said. Their behavior led to a number of complaints from members of the surrounding community, she added. When she contacted the 104th Precinct, Moss said she was told that once the men were invited they would continue to return at all hours because they are “too confused to stick to a schedule.”

“All Saints couldn’t control them. We couldn’t control them and it was unfair to our other space users to have to deal with them,” Moss said.  “It is clear that All Saints has an important ministry in this neighborhood. They need a space of their own to carry out the work they feel called to. We regret that we can no longer house their congregation, but due to the complaints and disruptions experienced by every one of our space users and the inability of the police department to assist us, we didn’t see any other alternative.”

Ridgewood Presbyterian currently hosts three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week, the Ridgewood Older Adult Center and an emergency bed stabilization program under the guidance of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), as well as its worship services.

DHS spokesperson Arianna Fishman confirmed that Ridgewood Presbyterian has been serving “roughly a dozen” homeless people from the Ridgewood area since February with help from the non-profit Breaking Ground, but the church staffs the program. The church provides beds and services to get homeless individuals back on their feet.

Going forward, Lopez said that he doesn’t know where he and All Saints will go, but he is reaching out to other local churches and wants to stay in Ridgewood where the parish has built relationships with the homeless. He said the parish has become a liaison between the homeless and the community, and he welcomes residents to contact the parish to deal with homeless people they are concerned about.

In a community that is surrounded by homeless shelter controversies as of late, All Saints is simply trying to help everyone, no matter the struggles they are facing, Lopez said.

“One of the things that the people with the ‘not in my back yard’ theory often say is that the churches should be more proactive in this work,” Lopez said. “So here we are, being a proactive church, working and serving the poor and trying to be the buffer.”

Jeremiah McCarthy (center) kisses father Lopez on the head at the 71st Avenue Plaza in Ridgewood on Aug. 29 (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

Jeremiah McCarthy (center) kisses father Lopez on the head at the 71st Avenue Plaza in Ridgewood on Aug. 29 (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

 

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