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Dangerous streets

Four brutal murders of homeless men show the importance of Christian ministry to the homeless and drug addicted 

Dangerous streets

NYPD officers investigate the scene of an attack in Manhattan. (Jeenah Moon/AP Photo)

A New York moment: 

We’re all reeling from the brutal murders of four homeless men, including 83-year-old Cheun Kok, over the weekend. The suspect is 24-year-old homeless man with a history of violence. The murders highlight not only the vulnerability of people living on the street, but also the record levels of homelessness in the city even as Mayor Bill de Blasio has almost tripled spending on the problem. 

The New York Times interviewed one pizza store owner who was sobbing over the deaths. That’s because Hakki Akdeniz was homeless in the city about 20 years ago. He found help and shelter at the Bowery Mission, a longtime Christian organization in the city serving the homeless, and Akdeniz now volunteers there. The city has seen record numbers in its shelter system, although the Times reports a slight decrease in the number of street homeless. 

The Bowery Mission’s downtown shelter is close to where the crimes occurred. The organization said it is “shaken by this heartbreaking tragedy—and also renewed in our resolve for the work. We know that addiction, mental illness and homelessness do not need to lead to violence and death. Instead, we hold on to the hope of a renewed life.” Bowery announced it would hold a memorial service for the men on Thursday in its chapel.

The organization shared public transit directions to its shelters, including information about showers and mealtimes. For the last decade, churches in New York have banded together to walk every block in Manhattan each winter, offering help to the homeless. Bowery helps organize the event, called Don’t Walk By. In past outreaches I’ve attended, people living on the streets were often more interested in receiving help once they heard Bowery is a private shelter, because city shelters have a reputation for violence. 

“You don’t have to worry about getting beat up here,” a longtime Bowery staffer told me in 2013.

Worth your time:  

Atheism is the country’s fastest growing “religion,” and The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson analyzes this trend with input from the University of Notre Dame’s Christian Smith. WORLD recently published an excerpt from Smith’s book Atheist Overreach

Thompson, who says he himself has “largely rejected” religion, comes to an interesting dilemma for the religionless: “Making friends as an adult without a weekly congregation is hard. Establishing a weekend routine to soothe Sunday-afternoon nerves is hard. Reconciling the overwhelming sense of life’s importance with the universe’s ostensible indifference to human suffering is hard.”

This week I learned: 

You’re supposed to eat ramen really fast, because the noodles are only good for a few minutes. This chef encourages slurping.

A court case you might not know about: 

I missed this fascinating, complicated case from earlier this summer, when a jury hit Oberlin College with a $44 million defamation ruling over its involvement in publicly shaming a local bakery as racist. Gibson’s bakery had allegedly detained an African American student caught shoplifting from the store, sparking student protests. Among other things, the school temporarily suspended its contract for baked goods with the store. The case is still going through appeals, so we could see more twists in the story.

Culture I am consuming: 

I’ve been listening to an indie Korean singer who uses the name Rad Museum and whose album cover art paraphrases Romans 8:18: “I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.”

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org