Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
Marie lived with him for years. Sometimes he would get angry and lash out, but it was only occasional. The yelling wasn’t too bad. And the bruises and scars would heal up. The worst part was the embarrassment when her friends would ask about him. She would deny his abuse every time, even if it didn’t make sense, like when a handprint showed up on her face.
It was different when their daughter was old enough to be his target. Three years old. Marie would defend her, even pick Rose up at times to prevent him from harming her. Marie warned him. She told him that if he put a hand on her, then she would leave him. He finally did. So she left. She wouldn’t allow her daughter to be exposed to the trauma that she endured. Yes, now she saw it as trauma. She felt the fear that she had never felt for herself. So she walked out.
She knew better than to call his family for support. In their eyes, Jack was perfect, a wonderful son. So she called her mother. “Marie, you need to submit to your husband,” she was told. She called some friends. “Don’t you have some money set aside?” “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any place here.” She called the Women’s Crisis Line, and was told that there was a waiting list for all the domestic violence shelters. Probably the soonest she could get in is in three months. She had nowhere to go.
After two days on the street, she contacted a social worker with Adult and Family Services. He was skeptical about her story, but agreed to give her a motel room for a week. After six days, she has contacted everyone she knows, everyone in the book they gave her. She called a service network, but the lines are always busy. She has one more night.
There are many reasons why people become homeless. Domestic abuse is the number one reason for women with children. Some people live on the street or in their cars because they lost their job or received a “no cause” eviction. Only 9 percent of people become homeless because of addiction issues. Only eleven percent become homeless due to mental illness.
The one cause of homelessness, for every person who ends up on the street, is a lack of a support network. Many people lose their housing because they lost their jobs or other reasons, but they don’t become homeless. That’s because they have family or friends who support them enough to give them a place to stay until they can get on their feet. Most people who have severe mental illness don’t become homeless, because there is a foster care system, and because many family members care for their own.
There are a few homeless who are on the street because their criminal behavior make it impossible for them to live with. But the majority of homeless are there because they have no one to turn to, no one to give them a place to live, even for a while. This is the only real cause of homelessness.
In our worship, people are allowed to speak up in the middle of the sermons. I had just made a statement, “As opposed to the misconceptions of many who are housed, homeless people do not choose homelessness as a lifestyle.”
As is typical, Theo speaks up, “I did.”
“Really? Because if you did, you’d be one of the few.”
Jeff, another homeless man spoke up, “You mean that you sat down one day and thought, ‘You know what? I’d really like to be homeless.”
Theo laughed, “Well, not exactly in those words. I raised fifteen kids for twenty years. All those years I worked, paid rent and paid bills. Frankly, I was tired of it. I’m happy with my life right now.”
Jeff replied, “But didn’t you tell me that you were forced to be homeless after being released from jail? That you had lost your place and your job and you couldn’t get them back, even if you tried?”
“Well, that’s true.”
I chimed in again. After all, it was supposed to be my sermon. “So did you really want to be homeless? Or did you find homelessness to be the best option after the other options were exhausted?”
“I didn’t start thinking that being homeless was a great idea, if that’s what you mean. But I came to that, eventually. And I’m happy. With how things turned out.”
Most people, when they make the statement, “Most of the homeless want to be homeless,” haven’t actually spoken to many homeless people, or checked in depth what they actually want. It is true that there is a percentage of homeless people who are content with their life and they don’t want to give it up. There is another group that find the idea of an apartment confining, or even triggers anxiety being locked in a box, surrounded by other people they don’t know.
But that is different than saying that homeless people chose homelessness. When a person begins their journey in homelessness, they are frightened, and it is the last choice they would want to make. Most homeless folks admit that they never thought they would be homeless. Some even feel that homelessness was a judgment on them because they looked down on the poorest themselves. Being homeless themselves was the last thing on their mind.
Although there may be a few exceptions, it can be said that no one chose homelessness, at least at first. It isn’t a lifestyle that anyone desires, especially women, although some grow used to it and learn to appreciate the freedom it gives.
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.