Thursday, January 8, 2009

The face of homelessness

Today, at our ministerial association meeting, we discussed the problem of homelessness here on the plateau. We heard some heart-wrenching stories of families living in tents up in the hills east of us. One story was of a dad - a single dad - with a five year old son who had been living up in the hills east of town until the cold temperatures and snow forced them to come seeking assistance. The short version of a long story is that caring Christians through some of our churches and through Plateau Outreach Ministry helped this man walk through the maze of red tape and beauracracy to get help and they (he and his son) are now scheduled to leave the 17 foot used trailer they have been living in and move into a transitional housing unit where they can stay for up to 2 years. During that time, the idea is that work can be found, and roots can be put down for a quality of life they have not known.

That is just one story. Behind that story are the 15 or so other people or families who have come to POM seeking help just this week. Each of them has a story as well. Each one is a person created in God's image and an object of God's love. All too often though, they are forgotten or overlooked. Often the homeless become faceless statistics...numbers in some government report.

Some homeless are dismissed because, we assume, they have made bad choices in life; or they are alcohol or drug abusers; or scam artists who just are looking to live on society's dole or off someone else's sympathies.

Many homeless (sorry I don't have statistics) are people who should be under medical or psychiatric care.

Whatever the circumstances, homeless people have faces. And they have bodies with physical needs. They have souls.

Perhaps their existence strikes us with the fear that it could just as easily be us. Many Americans are just one paycheck away from losing their homes. With a job loss, a catastrophic illness, a divorce, or some other life changing situation, it is easy to see how tenuous our security in material things really is.

I don't have an easy solution or a spiritual platitude. I just raise the issue to raise consciousness. We can tell them about Jesus. But, if they are Christians and are still hungry or homeless, have we really shown or lived out God's love?

Our church is doing a program called "The Bible in 90 Days." We are slogging through some of the Old Testament Laws in Leviticus this week and there is some hard stuff there. Part of what it means to live under God's covenant is to take care of the stranger and the alien and the poor (Exodus 22:21; Lev. 19:9,10) The same thing is echoed in the New Testament when James says "pure and undefiled religion is this - to look after widows and orphans and keep oneself from being polluted vbyt world." (James 1:27) Jesus also demonstrated that kingdom living means taking care of the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the naked, the homeless and the jailed. (Mt. 25:31 - 46)

So, how am I going to deal with this? I really don't know. I admit, I am very uncomfortable when I am approached by someone who is obviously homeless and in need. I know one thing, I can't ignore him or her. I need to look them in the face and try to see in that face the face of a person whom God loves and wants to care for. Then I can decide what might be the best way to help.

No comments: