Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Homeless

What are your perceptions of the homeless?

While we were living in Mississippi I got involved with a gal at our church that had written a bible curriculum for children at risk. She was a nurse practitioner and had worked with the homeless in Hawaii. She was able to set up a time for us to teach what we called Bible Club to children in a transitional home for homeless mothers and their children. She and her husband were just staring their family so she was not always able to be involved. Eventually, I moved from the transitional home to the soup kitchen next door that had an after school and summer program for kids in the neighborhood that might otherwise be left alone. I also drove for a Meals on Wheels program through that soup kitchen on Mondays.

I learned a lot.

When we moved to Colorado Springs in 2002 I got involved with another soup kitchen. We were homeschooling our children so they went with me on Thursdays and we helped prep food, cook, serve and clean. We also helped organize donations. This ministry was run differently than the one in Mississippi and I couldn't help but compare. I was disturbed by the fact that although this, like in Mississippi, was a faith based ministry there was no prayer before the meal and in the separate room they had for families there was a plaque on the wall stating that one of their rights was to receive meals without proselytizing. I respected the rules of the ministry but it didn't set well with me. The people were also different. There were those that were grateful and then there were those that were demanding and rude. There were also people that showed up that were obviously not homeless. Once a bunch of people rode up on their motorcycles all decked out in their leather... and proceeded to go through the line. I was floored. A lady that had to weigh 400 lbs told me that her husband left her three years before. She lived in a house not far from there and she told me that she had not had to buy groceries in all that time. Also, after the meal we packed up the leftovers and handed them out to whoever wanted them. The waste was incredible.

We stopped going when I started to fear for the safety of my oldest daughter as she was exhibiting lack of judgment in dealing with some of the men there. That was five, maybe closer to six, years ago. I have not volunteered in that way since... until last weekend.

As I step back into this world I've been thinking a lot about what the answers are. People are homeless for different reasons... Drugs, alcohol, bad choices, events beyond their control, and mental illness with it often being a combination of some or all of those things. There are also children who are there through no fault of their own. It is a lot to take in and can be overwhelming. Most of those that actually live on the streets are men. There are many more programs available for women and children.

Politically the homeless are often used as a pawn. The fact is homelessness is a complicated issue. What do you think about it?


Just Me said...

Wow. One small question leaves a lot of thoughts swirling in my head. I need to think about this for a bit.

One Salient Oversight said...

If some people are homeless because of events they cannot control, does that mean that the solution to their homelessness is not simply their own personal responsibility?

Just Me said...

Events seemingly out of your control can still be influenced by you unless you're a young kid at the mercy of your parents' decisions.

I get what OSO is saying, though. If my husband's employer closed up shop tomorrow and our house vaporized right along with our bankd and every living friend and relative (God forbid!), it's still our responsibility to find another roof and the means to keep ourselves in it.

Short of being unsound of mind or catastrophically ill/injured, many homeless put themselves where they are today through the choices they make. I suspect that's why there are many more shelters available for families than single men or women.

I admit I have a bit of a hard attitude toward the homeless, and I know it's due to seeing the same homeless panhandlers five days a week on my trek to and from school. Some of them even worked their space on the sidewalk in shifts, sharing a milk crate between them. Equally disturbing was seeing the guy who spent the day begging for food money trying to sweet talk a merchant into letting him slide on the shortage for his desired quart of beer and two-pack of Tylenol PM. Gee, buddy, I thought you wanted to EAT.

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Elysa said...

I agree. It is a tough, complicated, no-solution-fits-all kind of problem. We have been involved with a couple of ministries here in our area for over two years that work with primarily homeless and inner-city folks. At times it is very rewarding and you see people make true improvement. At other times, it is so very, very frustrating.

One of the problems is that even if it IS their fault that they are that way, for many of them, they don't know HOW to take personal responsibility. Even if they wanted to, many of them have never had a model of what financial and personal responsibility looks like. It would be as if you or I were thrust into the African bush and told to survive. We'd know that the Bush/San people were able to, but if we'd never been taught how, then we'd not make it.

For many of these people, they truly don't know how to do some of the things that we take for granted. They don't know how to raise children. They don't know how to keep a marriage together. They don't know how you are supposed to act on a job. They don't know that Judeo-Christian work ethic. They don't know how to give good customer service. They just don't know.

And then have you ever thought about how hard it is to even navigate the ministries and social services and govt. programs out there? Can't get most assistance without i.d. or paperwork or an address. Well, if you're living on the streets or your house burned down or your husband kicked you out, you very well might not have any sort of i.d., ss card, anything!

And maybe you do have that stuff. Well, you gotta get to place that offers service. A lot of towns and cities have no or very inadequate public transportation. And how many people are going to pick up a homeless person and give them a ride? THEN, you might get there only to discover that you have to make an appt. So you make an appt. which might not be for another two months!

Oh...you're homeless? Well, fill out this application and in two months we'll see you and start the process and MAYBE a few months later you'll get a house or apt.

And a job? Do you know how hard it is to find a job, much less keep it when you don't have a car or can't ride the bus? And look clean for the job? How do you look clean without a shower and washer and dryer?

Yes, there are bums out there who are lazy and deceitful and conniving. There are unrepentant sinners who don't want to change.

But then, aren't we all unrepentant about certain things in our life?

Believe me, I am not a "pinko commie liberal". I have voted Republican in every presidential race since I've started voting.

But as I have learned from getting to KNOW the homeless, it is a vicious form or slavery that is extremely difficult to break out of. I don't know of a single homeless person who has broken the cycle without a lot of outside help and support.

Btw, I would strongly recommend SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME for those of you who are interested in the subject.

And let me tell you, they need PRAYER! Part of this battle is definitely spiritual. Addictions and sin patterns do not get broken from easily. True change has to be based on heart change. And God's power is transformational! He is all about making new creatures out of old.

In us, too.