Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Conversation on the Homeless

This exchange is in response to my letter to churches in East Multnomah County about the need to open doors to the homeless:

Thanks for sharing your findings, your concerns for the homeless, raising awareness and asking tough questions. Asking churches to open doors to house the homeless is like putting a bandaid on a malignant carcinoma.
I'm not a betting woman, but I bet there are more than 500 churches within an hour drive of Portland.
500 churches to pledge $1,000 dollars a year for 5 years, amounts to a pile of money. Get volunteer labor (habitat for humanity does) and donated materials . . . and build a "hotel" with one, two, and three bedroom suits.
Better yet, why reinvent the wheel . . . ask Habitat for Humanity to spearhead this major project. Instead of building 20 houses during the next 1-2 years, invest in building a major hotel for the homeless.

Sharon L. Angelique Tata, B.S., LPN
Grace Haven Counseling & Rtreat Center

Well, I appreciate your comments. However, life isn't as simple as all that. There are stages.

First of all, there are organizations that are trying to establish shelters, but folks on the street need help NOW. Tonight, specifically. And next week. Not whenever the powers that be see the need, go through all their committees, lawyers, grant applications and city approvals. For that kind of (almost) immediate response, the churches are better equipped to handle it.

Secondly, for the long term, it is a simplistic notion that to "solve" the homeless problem one needs housing. The issues are more complex than that. I propose a think-tank of both the homeless and those who know the homeless and those who know the systems that offer help to take the time to really look at the issues and determine what is the best approach to helping. And my guess would be something less expensive than a "hotel".

Lastly, Habitat for Humanity doesn't help the poorest-of-the-poor in the U.S. They help those who can afford low cost housing. For years, my family lived on donations and we could never afford what Habitat offered. I'm not bitter. I'm just saying that Habitat is working with a different population.

There are actually a thousand churches in the North Willamette Valley. If each church just offered support to one or two homeless folks, it would change the outlook of the whole state. If we would love as Jesus called us to love, the world would be different. If we would understand what the real needs are and simply meet them, then nothing would ever be the same.

Perhaps you are opposed to the "organized church" doing anything of substance. But when I call the church, I call ALL of it-- house churches, church plants, organized churches, denominations, liberal, conservative, whatever. Anyone who desires to obey Jesus has a command to assist the poor and needy, wherever they may be. And in every church, no matter how weak organizationally or theologically, has people who just want to do what Jesus told them to do. That's who I'm speaking to. Those who understand that love requires sacrifice, and loving those who are unlovely requires more sacrifice.

If you know of anyone like this, please pass my email on to them.

Steve K


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leeann said...

Your letter is so fitting. I wonder if a follow up letter could include some education, i.e. specific causes of homelessness, that could be helpful:

The LPN who replied to your open letter does not address that homelessness is not about being outdoors: for many, it's about abandonment early in life, leading to the assumption that they are not worthy of being housed. -Or so many other reasons. So there will *always* be a need for cold weather warming centers and shelters for people who are not ready for ongoing housing. If God's people are not eagerly jumping to learn to do the job, who should be??

Your patience in this response is evident. My patience is long gone for "church" people who close their ears to truly needy people, ignorantly prescribe cures for the wrong illness. -And will not offer help for life and death needs happening *now* or ask questions to get on the right track.

I do wonder if part of the solution could be worked out in the long run, with fundraising for the monthly payments required to work with Habitat or some other charity organization. Something to consider... for future-oriented solutions.