Christian “charity” really slumlords

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In 2010, Global Ministries Fellowship, a Memphis faith-based organization founded and run by the Rev. Richard Hamlet of Ridgeway Baptist Church, acquired Goodwill Village, a 200-unit low-income housing apartment complex for $5.7 million dollars.

However, Reverend Hamlet and Global Ministries Fellowship PAC are not running a charity. According to a resident who only felt comfortable giving her first initial – L – residents still pay “according to income around $400 a month.”

According to their website, Global Ministries Fellowship PAC “exists for the purpose of providing affordable housing for low to moderate income residents around the country.” The express purpose of their housing ministry is “not only to provide safe, decent, and sanitary housing,”

Seventy-year-old resident John laughs at the idea. “This is Tanzania back here,” he says, waving broadly towards the litter-strewn courtyard and wildly overgrown hedges. “Just yesterday we killed a snake outside our door.

“Over there” he says, pointing to the front of the complex, “they had four big [snakes] last week.” John and L agree all of the snakes have been the highly aggressive vipers endemic to the humid sloughs and creek beds of the American South: “Cottonmouths, Water Moccasins”

Given Goodwill Village’s position on the corner of a sandy-banked creek and a wastewater treatment facility, John speculates that the snakes are running out of food and coming into the complex to “eat the rats.” As he points out the tell-tale rat roles undermining the foundation of his building, John muses with a chuckle “be careful, snakes don’t discriminate.”

Considering the presence of snakes in their garden, it is perhaps appropriate that in a 2010 interview on the acquisition of Goodwill Village Hamlet said, “Bible studies are offered, but are voluntary” for residents. The brochure continues, “We [Global Ministries Fellowship PAC] respect and honor freedom of religion.”

Indeed, according to their website, Global Ministries Fellowship seeks to “give our residents access to education and training venues which should improve their toolset to become more productive and fulfilled citizens in their community.” However, the only “education” ever discussed online or in the press are Bible studies, crusades, evangelism and discipleship.

Anyone walking through Goodwill Village hopes GMF takes better care of the residents spiritually than they do physically. Drifts of garbage stand next to dumpsters overflowing with every manner of refuse rotting in the 95-degree heat. Young men sit on coolers and stacked pallets playing dominos in the shade of water oaks. It is cooler outside than inside, where the air conditioning has yet to be repaired. Other units have box fans crammed into the windows surrounded by blankets and duct taped into place to at least circulate the hot air inside.

Many residents are clearly afraid to talk about their living conditions. Others seem simply ashamed. Elma is an exception. A strong woman with a ready smile, Elma stands outside of her home with her daughter Miracle on her hip.

Elma has lived at Goodwill Village for almost seven years and has seen the change GMF has brought to the property. In her kitchen, Elma points to the dry rotted drawers and cabinet doors hanging at obtuse angles. “I’ve been asking them for years to take care of the cabinets.”

Even worse for Elma and Miracle is their kitchen sink, which lies gutted and stacked in their front room between their goldfish aquarium and television. Two months ago, when a gas leak was reported, management for Global Ministries Fellowship tore out Elma’s sink and disconnected her stove and hot water heater, leaving her home a disaster and a huge hole in her wall. No one has been back since.

Elma says, “They brought me a hot plate to cook on, but I got a baby and I need to heat up her bottles.” Elma admits, “I am terrified to sleep in here at night.” Last month her husband “killed a brown recluse” and she is horrified to think “about what could crawl on her [Miracle].” Pointing to the sink shoved into her front room, “She is my only child. What if her walker was to bump into that and it fell on her?” Nodding with resolution, Elma says, “I have to hold her most of the time outside because it isn’t safe in here.”

Thankfully, the people of Goodwill Village have each other. Elma is able to cook her family’s dinner and heat up Miracle’s bottles at neighbors’ houses and has lent one of her fans to a neighbor who has yet to get their air conditioning repaired and was told by management to not bother submitting a work order.

In June of this year, Global Ministries Fellowship purchased another Memphis area apartment complex, Arbors of Hickory Ridge, for $10 million, brining their total of Memphis properties to six apartment complexes and over 1,800 units.

Photo: Elma’s apartment. James Raines/PW



James Raines
James Raines

The late James Raines was a life-long union worker, a union organizer with the Communications Workers of America, and a proud member of CWA's Media Guild. Writing articles for People's World from 2011 through 2014, Raines covered the Occupy movement in Memphis, demands for LGBT rights in Tennessee, the struggles of the Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi, and the protests for justice in Ferguson, Missouri.