Monday, March 1, 2010

Looking for Answers to the Homeless Question...

Our city just passed a camping ban a couple weeks ago. It was in response to what is being called, "Tent City." Many homeless have set up camp along a creek bed and as that population grows some have felt that a ban on camping is the answer. Now, those people will be fined and forced to move. I don't even see where this ban is enforceable. If these people had money they wouldn't be down there. You can't get blood from a turnip, ya know? So... they don't pay the fine and are carted off to jail? The jails don't have room! The shelters don't have room!

Sigh...

The fact is that once you cross a certain line in our society it is almost impossible to cross back over.

This past weekend I took a homeless gal to look at an apartment. She had walked several miles to a parking lot near a park where a group I'm involved with serves breakfast to the homeless on Saturdays. Bus service on Saturdays and Sundays was part of our city's budget cuts this year and it would have taken her an hour and a half to walk to the apartment. It was a studio the size of my son's bedroom that was going for $400 a month. The building was clean and I could see the gal was excited about it. Then she was informed that they do not rent to anyone with any prior evictions. She has two.

Each of the people I've met has a different story. There is a homeless subculture... a community. Many of them know and look out for each other. In many ways they are like a family. Yes, there are bad homeless people. There are also homeless people that aren't.

What gives life value? Do the homeless still have value? Do they matter? Do we look at them and see nothing but waste... or do we look beyond that and see a human being that is hurting? When is a person beyond redemption and who of us is worthy of making that judgment call?

When I was 9 years old my aunt sat us down and told us the story of Stone Soup. It made a real impression on me. I don't recall being told a story in that way prior to that day. There was no book and no pictures to look at. She captivated me as she wove through the story and my imagination brought forth pictures in my mind.

The story was about a village of people that were starving. A man went to the center of the village, built a fire, filled a big pot full of water and set about making soup. He threw in some stones. The villagers peered out of their windows trying to figure out what he was up to. Eventually some of them came out and asked. He told them he was making a delicious stone soup. He remained intent as he stirred and the villagers watched. He breathed in the aroma and spoke often of how good the soup was going to be. Then he said to himself that he wished he had some onions for the soup. One of the villagers said he had some onions if he was willing to share the soup with him. The man was.

My aunt continued to tell the story using different voices for each of the villagers that had something else to add to the pot. In the end the entire village was fed and it started with a man that had nothing. I've never forgotten that story.

I know some would look at that story and say it is a good example of how if everybody gives a little bit all of the people can be taken care of and then see taxes and government as a way to accomplish that. I don't.

The government does have its place, as do taxes. However, the more taxes we pay and the bigger government gets... the more we lose our freedom.

In the story, it was the villagers' choice to contribute to the pot. Was it possible that there were villagers that were hoarding vegetables in their cellars? Yes.

I don't have any answers. I am looking for them. I'm trying to get a handle on what services are available, both governmental and privately funded. I'm looking to truly understand the culture and the truth about homelessness.

The man who started the ministry I am now involved in felt led to move into a tent amongst the homeless. I, like one of the villagers from the story, have come out to see what he is doing.

What are your thoughts?