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Church men homeless no more

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The last of four homeless men who camped out at Old First Church is now sleeping elsewhere, though he still commutes to “work” every day.

Robert Royster and his army of the night flashed into the neighborhood’s consciousness last winter, thanks to a crusade by Old First’s pastor, Rev. Daniel Meeter, who recorded his struggles with the homeless men on his blog (yes, a priest with a blog).

Meeter staked out difficult terrain in his dealings with the men, understanding the need for compassion, but at one point, angrily throwing out their possessions. Meeter finally drew the line when he discovered that the men had hidden a steel bar — a possible weapon, he said — behind the church wall.

Meeter called in Common Ground, a homeless agency, that eventually placed one of the men in a room at a nearby Y and another in transitional housing.

Royster moved into an apartment in Flatlands last month, while a fourth declined the offer and is now sleeping on Eighth Avenue.

Despite the long commute, Royster still heads to Park Slope every day, as he has done for 25 years. He now panhandles in front of the Key Food on Seventh Avenue at Carroll Street, instead of outside the church.

“I don’t have nothing but my good heart,” he said. “That’s why I’m still out here trying to make a little money.

But Meeter said that Royster’s decision to accept housing means that Old First’s joint effort with Rabbi Andy Bachman of Temple Beth Elohim was a success.

“One of the reasons homeless people are homeless is because of how much they value their freedom and independen­ce,” Meeter said, suggesting that traditional homeless shelters and programs don’t always work because potential clients view the programs as “having to spend a week with the in-laws.”

For now, Royster is making it work — thanks to the Old First congregation, said Patricia Caldwell, a churchgoer who is helping raise money for house-warming gifts, a project announced by Meeter on his blog last Sunday.

But after the frying pans, dish towels, and curtains are bought, then what?

“[Royster’s sitation] shows there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Caldwell said.

Royster agrees.

“I really need a Social Security card and my birth certificate,” he said. “And I need a television to put in my room. One of those TVs with a VCR in it.”

Updated 5:07 pm, July 9, 2018
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