Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
Mark is an organized, clean young man. He also happens to be houseless. He created a large tent area with a BBQ grill, a separate space for friends to stay over, and decorated his area with flowers and ribbons. Really nice. Until someone burned it down.
He saw the smoke from a distance and as he got closer he realized that it was his camp. He called 911 and the fire department immediately came over. When they saw the distance it was from the road, the fire department turned around and left Mark to watch his living space and all his possessions go up in flames. In the next few days, he combed through the space and found pretty much nothing to preserve.
He got another tent from a local pastor and a sleeping bag. Then he began working on his space.
He cleaned it off, created space for a new tent. He built a legal campfire. And once all the basics were in place, he created a home. A garden came together from the ashes, hidden from the world, a secret space for Mark and his friends. One of the most beautiful camps I’ve ever seen.
Is Mark homeless? Not at all. He cared for his space so much that he cleaned it and preserved it and beautified it. When he leaves a place, he tells us that he’s “going home.” He has a home, a space that he loves and is loved.
Is he houseless? Not exactly. He has a tent he calls his house and he has some comforts. He isn’t contained in a box, but he has as much a home as any Bedouin as lived in a tent.
But Mark is still vulnerable. The property is not owned by him. As soon as a city council member with a desire to move homeless out gets a whim, Matt will have to move and he will have twenty-four hours. When we speak of “homeless folks” or “houseless people”, we are not speaking of people who lack the comforts we call home. They lack the security that they can remain.
Every couch surfer called “homeless” might lose their piece of fabric at any moment.
Every person who lives in an RV on the street is homeless because they are not permitted to park overnight anywhere.
Every teenager who is thrown out of his house by his parents and can’t go home is vulnerable in this way.
Every woman and her children who are on the run from domestic abuse and has nowhere to stay is the same.
Every person who has to park in front of a friend’s garage because they were evicted from their apartment are the same way.
Most people haven’t been homeless as long as Mark. But they all are in the same category. They are all threatened.
I see a city that would welcome the homeless as neighbors and equal citizens
I see a city that would create space for everyone to live, without harassment, without fear.
I see a time when parents would no longer use the poor as a warning against laziness, but use their teaching time to spread compassion.
I see green spaces where the poor may sleep and the housed move freely among them, without fear, without anger.
I see a place where those who cannot be hired can work and be paid in a balance between their ability an their liability.
I see a time when no one is measured by the size of their paycheck, or the value they give an employer, but by the beauty they create and the depth of compassion they show.
I see a county that places people before property, that puts need before power, equality before class prejudice.
I envision a place that will first ask, “what do you need?” before, “This is what we will do.” An elected body who has lived with the poorest so that they might truly represent all the citizens and not just a select group.
I envision a law enforcement that stirs respect and not fear. Officers who will only respond to crimes, not whines concerning people they refuse to understand.
I see a city where the highways are used to bring food to the hungry, warmth for the cold, shelter for the wet, bathrooms and showers for those who lack hygiene. I see a government who will freely provide this, because their citizens are in need, and for no other reason.
I speak into being a community that loves, that provides, that does not hold to an arbitrary distinction of “deserving” and “undeserving” but is generous because they want to be known to the world as a place of giving and grace.
You have a work history, but something went terribly wrong. Perhaps it’s nothing physical, but you are no longer able to function. You do all you can to fix it, but you end up on the street anyway. You hear from someone to apply for disability. You apply. You are denied.
Then someone tells you that everyone is denied disability at first, so you appeal. You get a lawyer– if they take your case it’s likely you will win your appeal. They put you through a psych evaluation, they gather up witnesses, the look at your work history. After three years, you get your day in court.
The judge is kind, but he has his business to do. He listens to your supporters, perhaps a friend or two. They all say the same thing: “Can’t function” “Can’t work with others” “Can’t be on time”… Failure, failure, failure. You hold your head high, not listening, not believing, because you can’t accept that this is you.
But the judge believes the reports, the testimony. He approves your disability. After the trial, when you are alone, you weep, because now it is legally proved what you had heard from those who never believed in you: you are worthless.
After a number of months you get the money. You get an apartment. You escape some of the dreadful, deadening stress. And you realize you can do something with your life. You volunteer, you do something positive in your life. You spend the rest of your life disproving what was spoken about in that room.
I note that there are many, many people who fear the homeless. This is because they don’t recognize that the homeless are their neighbors. Sure, we have some irritating neighbors, even bad ones, but as long as we are polite to our neighbors, they will be polite to us. If we are kind to them, they will be kind to us. Here’s some ideas to be a neighbor to the homeless:
- If you see a new homeless person in your neighborhood, offer them a cup of coffee
- Ask them how they are doing each time you see them
- Talk about neighborhood issues—traffic, local news, new buildings, etc.
- If they look unhappy, ask them why
- If you have an issue with them (trash, perhaps), go and talk to them. Don’t force the police to mediate for you.
- Once you get to know them, and are comfortable, invite them to dinner. It’s fun!
- If they offer you food or help, please take it. It gives them respect, and you might very well need the help.