A Community Vision (Series - The Second Pillar): Seeing and Respecting the Homeless
The last time we discussed this vision for community, we talked about the detachment of local government from the people. Part of what has delayed today’s chapter of the series for a community vision was my need to address the heinous comments made by one member of Newark City Council when they said that homeless people are simply missing God in their lives and the drive to “do the right thing”. It’s awful that these ludicrous comments - which were made in response to a homeless citizen’s testimony before Council – came at a time of plunging temperatures and the supposedly compassionate holiday season which largely commemorates the birth (accurate and true, or not) of a key religious figure whose doctrine PREDOMINANTLY calls for compassion towards those who struggle the most. Likewise, it is tragically appropriate that these comments were made as I was preparing to compose this next chapter on our need to both SEE and RESPECT the homeless.
For starters, let’s state the obvious about what’s wrong with our society’s treatment of the homeless (and this isn’t just a Newark, Ohio problem): despite millions of people proclaiming to believe in a God whom ancient peoples asserted treasured the downtrodden above all, the VAST MAJORITY of these religious folk don’t care about the homeless. At least their actions appear to suggest that this is true. Sure, a lot of them will occasionally donate to strained services like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Hell, they may even give to a food bank, but the moment a citizen suggests that the government should do more to help the homeless get on their feet the majority of these people who put on a cloak which suggests that they care suddenly shed said cloak at the mere thought that hundreds of thousands of homeless could actually receive life-changing help.
This is where the government gets their lack of drive to do anything. They don’t want to upset those vocal citizens who demand that we let the homeless die if the alternative means that their taxdollars – which we have no choice but to pay – go towards helping anyone. City Councilmen who say that the homeless should take more responsibility instead of seeking “handouts” may be just as callous as the heartless citizens among us at times, but they are often reacting to public opinion which has been convinced since the Reagan years that anyone on assistance is a societal leech, irrespective of the life factors which influence the conditions of their need for help. Our culture is one of selfishness, and that self-interested mindset has no room for even doing the bare minimum to lift anyone up.
So, the people and our government typically do one of two things in response to the homeless when we want to dismiss the problem altogether: we either ignore the homeless, or when we see them we demonize them as lazy and little more than an invasive species which must be rooted out. The homeless are treated as a problem in and of themselves instead of a symptom of broken elements of our system. For this reason we actually see communities all across the country banishing the homeless from their streets and shelters by sending them on buses and planes to other locations where they can continue to suffer.
To address the issue of homelessness we have to recognize that it affects all of us, because any of us could wind up homeless and on the wrong end of this wretched manner in which we treat the “least among us”. We have to actually try and see the homeless, and not just see them existing, but see them as people who are suffering. We have to see why they are suffering and look for solutions to the causes which produce homelessness. Moreover, we have to actually respect these people. We must get to know them, understand them, and ultimately resolve to preserve their dignity by not ignoring their plight, but by creating a system meant to help anyone climb out of this unfortunate condition.
It is imperative that our government ignore the horrid pleas to treat the homeless as less than human. The government must not lecture the homeless on how to get out of homelessness, but provide a guiding hand out of a sense of compassion. If the resources aren’t there to create the safety net for keeping homeless people out of chronic homelessness, then we can at least show compassion by providing a path to the charitable resources which do exist.
We will get into everything that a community can do for the homeless at a later time, but for now we have to recognize that we can’t ever deal with this issue without first acknowledging that an issue exists and that the homeless are victims themselves. It isn’t as hard as we make it out to be to show love towards others. Remember, it could be you one day facing the pointed fingers of the people who think you are lazy and a leech regardless of the truth of how you wound up starving and without a roof over your head. Taking a page out of the book from the Councilman who thought they were serving their God by talking down to the homeless, we must remember two major rules which Jesus Christ was claimed to have said:
“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
“Do onto others what you would have them do onto you.”
I am not a Christian anymore, but these are some of the many principles from my former faith that I have carried far into my post-religious life. The chief of all these principles is that “love conquers all”.
Everyone, Christian or not, ought to live by these principles, which command that the collective actually SEE and RESPECT the homeless. So, before you ever cite any scriptures to berate people seeking help, remember that those scripture above all demand that you not berate these people to start with. For people like me, who were raised to be compassionate, it isn’t hard at all to help others when I can or to support society doing more for others. On the other hand, for a society of selfishness, it’s the most difficult task we could undertake.
It’s time to get to work. Onward.