[Three and a half months later…]
“We’re not trying to solve the problem of homelessness in Dallas, because we don’t know how. We’re just trying to keep people alive.” ~~Phil Romano, Restauranteur and HungerBusters Founder
I’ve just returned from my first night as a volunteer for a mobile soup kitchen that goes out into the city to feed people who are homeless and am now sitting in a north Dallas Barnes & Noble cafe. Drinking a mug of hot cocoa, I feel as if I’m in a no-man’s land of culture shock. I’m intensely aware of my comfort and am thinking of the misery I’ve just witnessed among the Dallas homeless people out on the streets on this very cold night.
It’s surprising the sorts of people one sees waiting for food in the lines outside the catering truck that serves as the mobile soup kitchen — several were well-dressed and looked middle class, though most seem very poor. The little kids are the ones that break your heart.
I’d like to learn more about the roots and causes of homelessness, but tonight, sitting here getting thawed over my steaming hot cocoa in this comfortable cafe, with my cozy fleece jacket zipped to my chin and a scarf wrapped twice around my neck, I’m aware of feeling angry — and sad. I look around at my fellow middle-class Dallasites, and all I can think is that they surely don’t know about the four-year-old child in the very long line of homeless people at City Hall Plaza tonight where, an hour ago, I and seven other soup kitchen volunteers gave away the last of our sandwiches, soup, cookies and bananas. None of us can really be aware of the number of people who will sleep on the ground in downtown Dallas tonight, I tell myself, or we wouldn’t let it happen. It seems impossible that it does happen in the midst of such prosperity.
My next thought is that it’s easy to get self-righteous after just a little bit of ‘helping.’ And my next: that my optimistic view of human nature — that people would help if they were aware — is probably naive. Nonetheless, I think some would if they only knew how. It is not helpful to blame either society or the homeless themselves for these terrible circumstances. The causes of homelessness matter, but if one gets hung up there, it’s all too easy not to take action. I like the approach of the mobile soup kitchens because it goes straight to the solution and simply feeds the hungry — no questions, no analysis, no red tape. To me, this seems like the most Christlike solution.