Q&A: Homelessness

Kelly from Hawaii offered the following response to my post from a few weeks back concerning what to do about homelessness. It was a thoughtful one that I wanted to share:

Question: I know your article could not have gone deeper for lack of space and time, but I think it was a little over simplified. I have had a little experience with the homeless.  In fact, we live next to a piece of property with a few homeless individuals. We have come to know several through the years and helped them when there is a need. We did a mission trip years ago with some youth to the Tenderloin in San Francisco and helped out at the homeless mission there. We have not seen anyone who wanted to do what it takes to have home or a job in all those situations. Either they are mentally ill, and in most of those cases schizophrenic, rendering them unable to stay anywhere due to their extreme paranoia. Or they have been through the programs that will help them get homes and jobs and refuse to follow the rules or guidelines and return to the fields. There are plenty of food services for the homeless where we live, but I think the shelter has been closed. Luckily, we live in Maui where the weather is not extreme. There are programs here but nothing seems to work for everyone. The biggest problem I see is the “shunning of the homeless.”  Our church/school campus is a magnet for homeless folks that try to sleep on the property.  I think they feel safe. Because we are a preschool and elementary school, they can’t stay. But I think that gives people the backing to be rude. I see a lack of compassion among the very people who should be reaching out.  They are terrified of the homeless. And although the homeless can be intimidating, it is not an excuse to look down on them. Sometimes, I think when Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you…” in Matthew 26, He meant what He said in Deut. 15:11 that we need to open wide our hand.  Apart from that, asking for wisdom in each individual case is the only thing I can see that will help. 

Answer: Hello Kelly, thank you for taking time to write about the homeless and for your concern on their behalf.  Yes, brevity requires a writer to create a space for conversation rather than eliminate any need for conversation.

I would like to have mentioned the ACLU lawsuit from years ago that set many people “free” from institutions that were taking care of them. Your experience has been mine, that many if not most homeless people suffer from some kind of mental disability that would require people with special training to deal with helpfully. My thought about making homelessness illegal has everything to do with requiring municipalities to assemble the people needed and provide the kind of facility that would make a healthy space for them. The Lutheran schools in Milwaukee took this approach to helping/teaching children from the inner-city (not making anything illegal but staffing the school in order to meet children as they are when they enter the school). 

Yes, people have all kinds of attitudes that are not helpful, though often fear is understandable and even justified—but not contempt. But I wonder if people who hold the homeless in contempt don’t also hold lots of other people in contempt—and maybe the very deep root of that is fear and pride.

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