Most people who know me know I’m about as political as… socks (or pick something absolutely non-political), and so consequently politics and all things government are almost never discussed here on ‘wonderment.’ I’m going to have to stray from that path for a moment and discuss a recent law Las Vegas passed [link removed]. Read the article first. I’ll wait.
I don’t want to sound like an extremist here, or, God forbid, liberal, but I think that’s the biggest load of [Republican] crap I’ve heard in quite a while. [Nevada is a red state – I looked it up. And, for the record, before anyone gets offended, I’m just slightly Democratic, like… 51% or something. I test right down the middle of the road. And if you’re easily offended by things political, I can understand why you might enjoy reading this blog, since we never discuss that stuff, but you might have to go read someone else’s blog today. It’s alright. I won’t be offended.]
Now I realize I have a slightly different perspective on homelessness and that whole world than the average citizen. Take into account the following:
- I grew up in a Christian home and have been part of several Christian communities where serving those less-fortunate has not only been encouraged but sometimes promoted as saintly.
- In high school, our youth group went to a soup kitchen to volunteer a couple of times. We also had events where we collected soup cans for the food bank or otherwise did something beneficial like that. When I was volunteering with the junior high youth group, we took a weekend trip into Chicago and painted apartments in Cabrini Green (so that they would be available for people to move into, something that the management couldn’t keep ahead of, which resulted in fewer subsidized housing units unless the community helped out). That was an eye opener (especially when I temporarily lost a junior higher, but that’s not relevant to this conversation).
- In college, we had a group of students that went down to lower Wacker Drive in Chicago (Ctrl-F to search the page for “Wacker”) to feed sack lunches to the homeless there once a month, and I often participated, until I 1) had a boyfriend, and later 2) they closed lower Wacker Drive and “cleaned it up.” [link removed]
- Also in college, I chaired the Missions Committee, a part of Student Senate. We planned the spring break Missions trips (which I’m getting to), and also local missions opportunities. We went to Nashville several times and worked in an extremely impoverished neighborhood with a children’s’ program. I remember clearly a little girl sitting on my lap on the swings, maybe 6 or 7, telling me about how her dad beat her mom and that’s why her mom lost the baby. In Chicago, with CSM, we went on a prayer tour of the city, which highlighted areas that were in need of God’s hand (that would be you and I, by the way), including housing projects, government buildings, parks where the homeless would sleep, neighborhoods with high volumes of adult entertainment centers and bars, etc. This was a pivotal experience for me, that resulted in my summer spent in San Francisco.
- Then I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college working for CSM in San Francisco (Dana was my boss, if you read partway down the page, and all those projects outlined we worked with). We lived in the Salvation Army building in the Tenderloin neighborhood (you really should read the first few paragraphs of that article), which was an experience in itself. There I daily worked with the homeless, the impoverished, families in transitional housing, people who chose to be homeless, people dying of AIDS, etc. I cannot go into enough detail to explain how this changes my view compared to the rest of America.
- I also spent a summer in Arizona, and while nobody was homeless, we did work with a community that had a very low income rate and the majority were unemployed (70-85%).
So, you see, I have seen first-hand how government money, community efforts, kindness of strangers, hard work, etc, can positively work in people’s lives. Don’t misunderstand me – I refuse to give money to people on the street, but if I had a granola bar with me, I’d certainly pass that on. Especially in communities where the housing vacancy rate is around 1% and affordable housing is non-existent (like San Francisco), sometimes throwing money at the problem, like in the case of transitional housing shelters for families, does work.
And at the very least, even if there’s absolutely no government assistance whatsoever, there are [almost] always caring individuals in a community who want to make a difference in an individual’s life, or who want to bring more meaning to their own lives, or who just want to give back. And just on an individual level, what right does the government have to take away the satisfaction that helping out one less fortunate than you can bring?
I understand the concerns of a community with a growing homeless population. And the argument that people need more than a sandwich, they need social workers and doctors etc, is valid, but slightly off. Yes, people who are homeless, who desire to change their situation, will usually need the help of a community to do so, in the form of social workers and shelters and doctors and clothing and job readiness and …. the list goes on. But not everyone who is homeless desires to change their situation. And I’ve seen first-hand how that isn’t always a bad thing. I met some wonderful men in San Francisco who chose to be homeless and were perfectly content – they knew that the confines of life as you and I experience it were not for them, made them unhappy, or they just couldn’t adapt. And that was OK. Not everyone who is homeless is violent or belligerent or constantly asking for handouts or drunk. Sometimes they’re just people who step to the beat of a different drum. And in a community like San Francisco that is so open to the homeless population, there are social agencies that help, by providing free showers and toothbrushes, vegetarian soup kitchens, cots in shelters, etc.
The idea of actually making it illegal to make a tuna fish sandwich at home, pack it up, and take it to the homeless guy in the park across from your house… is abhorrible to me. Where does the law stop and start? If I walk over there and instead invite him into my home for dinner, is that a crime? Because it’s probably less safe for me than just handing over a sandwich. What if instead I hand over a business card to the local shelter or soup kitchen? Can I let him sleep on my front lawn? Can I give him things that aren’t food, like blankets or money? If I offer him a job in my warehouse, is that wrong too? Because all of those things could be construed as “enabling” and encouraging homelessness in a community.
Yes, that last part was a little extreme, and I did say I was going to try to avoid such statements. And I know some people have mentioned that when I write such long posts, even if I ask for comments, no one is going to leave them because it was too long. But I’m still going to end by asking for your comments. and , you’ve worked with some diverse populations of people and probably have some good views on this. And I’m going to stop talking before I sound like the guy on the bus last night who was militant that the US government owed him millions of dollars of restitution for the enslavement of his ancestors 300 years ago. Because that just made everyone uncomfortable.