Twenty minutes after a "homeless Jesus" sculpture was installed on the grounds of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Bay Village, Ohio, someone called the cops.
Created by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, the sculpture depicts Jesus as a homeless person lying on a bench covered in a blanket. It was purchased by the local Community West Foundation and has been traveling to churches and other religious organizations across the region since October 2018. It is scheduled to be on site at St. Barnabas until Dec. 1.
Fr. Alex Martin, the St. Barnabas pastor, tweeted that he had a conversation with a Bay Village police officer because someone reported a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. (St. Barnabas abuts a public park, and it was displayed in a high-visibility area intentionally.)
Martin said that while the police officer was "extremely professional" and eager to learn about the sculpture itself, he believed the incident could serve as a catalyst for conversation about how best to help those in need.
"(The sculpture) reminds us that, even though homelessness is a not a significant problem in our immediate neighborhood, we don’t have to drive far to find those in tremendous need," Martin wrote in an email. "Perhaps the statue will inspire those who see it to take action and help... Seeing Jesus depicted this way reminds us that Jesus identified with the outcast and marginalized in his own day. He spent much of his time with tax collectors and prostitutes, largely to the chagrin of polite society."
Martin said he hoped that the sculpture would make those in the Bay Village community — Northeast Ohio's 18th-wealthiest suburb by median home income — and those outside it "a bit kinder and gentler with one another." St. Barnabas, for its part, is using the opportunity to raise money for those experiencing hardships.
Within twenty minutes of the statue arriving, I was having a conversation with a very kind police officer because someone called to report a homeless man sleeping on a park bench. Within twenty minutes... https://t.co/kyD1vyEd4p— Alex Martin (@ADMartin86) October 12, 2020
Bay Village police chief Kathy Leasure confirmed the Oct. 12 call to Cincinnati sister paper the Cleveland Scene and said that the caller had advised police dispatch that they were unsure if the homeless individual was a human being or a statue.
"If this was a person laying on a bench, the officer would have made sure the person was not in any sort of medical distress," Leisure wrote in an email, explaining the theory behind a police response. "If the person was, the officer would have been able to radio for an ambulance to respond and start rendering first aid. Additionally, if this were a homeless person, the officer would have checked to make sure the person was okay and to see if they needed anything. There are hotels in nearby cities that will give homeless individuals a free night stay. The officer could have helped to facilitate this. If the person did not want or need anything, the person would have been permitted to stay where they were."