As part of her Lenten practice, Kerry Weber volunteered at a homeless shelter. What thoughts did she come away with?
For me, the issue of homelessness is one of the most difficult to address. It’s one thing to provide someone with groceries, but not so easy to give her a place to stay. My husband was involved with a church years ago in an urban neighborhood, and the congregation decided to open the building to people who had no place to stay during the night. However, they could not follow through because the church could not afford to make the physical changes required for the city to license the property for that use. It wasn’t as simple as opening the doors and buying some cots and blankets.
Physically, I have room in my house for extra people to sleep. Do I bring in people from off the street? I am not brave enough to host someone I don’t know well. My home is my haven, and I am unwilling to disturb its peace on an ongoing basis by turning it into a hotel of sorts. Is this a spiritual weakness in me? I suspect that it is. My culture has encouraged me to value my privacy and comfort above more noble goals, and I’ve bought into that way of perceiving my life.
Kerry makes the point that many people who are homeless are working people, and I don’t think we can stress this enough. More and more economies worldwide are structured so that many adults working a 40 to 50-hour week cannot support themselves, let alone their families. There is such disparity between low-wage income and the least amount needed for rent, utilities, and other basic expenses, that we can no longer assume laziness in a person who has lost her home.
I haven’t researched the latest data on this but believe it’s still safe to say that a significant number of people without permanent shelter are war veterans and people suffering from mental illness; sometimes those two groups converge because war experiences can be damaging and leave the veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with serious cases making it impossible to hold full-time employment. When we talk about homelessness in the U.S.A., that conversation must touch on these other conversations concerning mental healthcare and a living wage. All of these issues are connected.
Therefore, one Christian response in helping people find shelter is to speak up in the public forum on issues that cause homelessness in the first place. This becomes complicated, because sooner or later I must get involved politically in order to be heard at all. Am I willing to be that involved for the sake of caring for those who need my care? Or is there enough I can do without signing petitions or calling my congressperson or showing up at community meetings?
On Wednesday, we’ll share a short excerpt from Mercy in the City and explore what we can do as individuals to shelter those who have no shelter.
I’m sure we’ll have comments today! Most of us feel strongly about these issues, but it’s difficult to agree on the best way to proceed. Please remember to read others’ comments carefully and to respond to one another graciously. Mercy starts right here.