The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Bitter December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

 

Bitter

 

Last night, armed with a carload of heavy coats and blankets given to us by an Anonymous Angel, I went out on a mission into the heart of downtown Dallas with a good friend.  We went  in search of the city’s homeless people who have been banned from sleeping in the Bridge courtyard as of December 1 and are now back to ‘sleeping rough.’

 

After an hour of driving around, we couldn’t find anyone out on the street, but we knew they were there — just in hiding.  It we could have found them, though, so could have the Dallas Police, who had been issuing written warnings and citations to them for the past two days.  We talked to the very few homeless individuals who were walking on the downtown streets.  “Where is everyone sleeping tonight?” we asked them.  “They’ve scattered,” a woman told us.  “The police have really been after us and came this morning at 6 A.M. to the freeway fence where people were sleeping and started ticketing them.  Media crews showed up about that, and it saved some.”

 

My friend and I knew the obvious places where homeless people used to sleep before the Bridge opened, and we drove there.  Not a soul could be seen at any of these locations.  After that, we checked out the places we knew of that are farther out from the central district downtown.  No one in sight, no heaps of blankets on the concrete containing sleeping human beings.

 

We guessed where to look even farther afield, and we guessed correctly.  When we found them, we stopped our car and got out.  They knew us, trusted us, and began to come out of hiding, one or two at a time, in the dark, in the cold, to talk to us.  Near where we parked, one person had found a single piece of wood about 2 inches wide and 3 feet long, had been able to light it and was huddled over it, trying to stay warm.  Some people were sleeping under cardboard, some just blankets, most well out of sight.  One man said, “I’d been sleeping at the Bridge until they shut us out on Monday.”

 

It had been a Godsend that our ‘angel’ had showed up that afternoon and given us enough coats and blankets to give away.  I stood at the rear of the vehicle and handed people blankets one by one.  “Can I have one for my wife?” someone asked.  “She’s sleeping right over there around the corner.”  At our vehicle’s side door, my friend fitted people with warm jackets.  We also had some socks, hats and gloves.  We stood around and talked.  Word spread that we were there, and more people showed up.  Everyone hugged us, thanked us, hugged us again.  At the end, they wanted to pray with us, so we put our arms around each other’s shoulders in a circle, and one of the men spoke a prayer of thanks and offered requests for our well-being.  The Miracle of the Coats and Blankets was that, when we were finished at the end of the night, we had exactly one blanket left.

 

Of course, even though people are now hungry — because some are no longer allowed on the Bridge campus at all due to the new identification procedure and some only have day passes which keep them off the Bridge campus after 5 P.M., so they either miss all meals or the evening meal — it is illegal for us to feed them.  All feeding of the homeless outside the Bridge (except on private property) is now officially banned by the city.  So there are currently many people who can at this point neither eat at the Bridge, nor can they be offered food outside it.  I had heard already since December 1 the dinner numbers at the Stewpot’s Second Chance Cafe (the Bridge dining hall) are down to the mid-200’s from the steady number of 750-900 per meal since the homeless assistance center opened in May of this year.

 

Last night, we left our homeless friends and drove around some more downtown.  A number of people were sleeping on the sidewalk next to one of the shelters, which was full.  These people were clearly not shelter-resistant:  we spoke with some of them, and they had tried to get in.

 

Once again, the poorest of the poor are being criminalized and driven underground.  The ‘fringe’ people are being forced back to the fringes and beyond.  It is a tragic turn of events.

 

Designed to serve in particular the ‘chronically homeless,’ the Bridge is not effectively doing that for large numbers of them at this time.  For a few days this week, these people were back out on the street.  For a couple of days after that, they were persistently ticketed by police at the orders of undetermined entities at City Hall.  Now, they are in hiding:  in the open, on the ground, cold, hungry.  Tonight, I heard a weather report that a ‘bitter’ freeze is on its way to the Dallas area.  Imagine how that will feel sleeping outdoors without even the shelter of a building to lie close to.

 

We can do better.  We have done better for the past few short months.  And we must do so again immediately, before people begin to die from the cold.

 

We must deliver on the emergency shelter that has been promised.  At the very least, we must allow the shelter-resistant homeless or those the shelters can’t accommodate — especially women — to sleep back on the Bridge campus away from predators and violent offenders.  As the Bridge management sorts through who is ‘qualified and unqualified’ to receive shelter there, we must follow through on the the commitment that the Bridge has clearly and emphatically put forward to the public through the media since it opened in May and even before:  to provide safe refuge and access to the meals that the Stewpot is offering to all those who need it.  

 

For heaven’s sake and for our own as well, it is time to stop playing politics with people’s lives.

 

KS

 

Conversation With the DPD: A Good Man Just Doing His Job December 3, 2008

 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

 

Conversation With a Dallas Police Officer:  A Good Man ‘Just Doing His Job’

 

Last night at 10:35 P.M. I drove downtown to see for myself what was going on with the homeless people who’d been banned from sleeping in the courtyard of the Bridge and were once again sleeping on the street.  I had heard a rumor that authorities were going to start ticketing homeless people tonight.  I drove down Corsicana Street and turned right onto Park Lane.  Just ahead of me were a small group of homeless individuals sitting or lying on the steps of a ramshackle building across the street from the Bridge and few Dallas Police officers standing in front of them on the sidewalk and street.  There were a couple of police bicycles pulled up there, a scooter of some sort, and, as I sat there, a police cruiser arrived.

 

I stopped my car beside one of the officers and rolled down my window, asking him respectfully, “What’s going on?  Are you ticketing people tonight?”  His face was familiar, and he was polite and forthcoming.  “Right now we’re issuing warnings.  Tomorrow, a list will be drawn up and we’ll go from there.”  I asked for more details:  were there to be warrants and arrests?  “I don’t know.  I just get my orders piece by piece.”  I questioned him further about where the orders were coming from.  City Hall was all he knew, but no specifics.  “I know this must be hard on you guys, too,” I told him.  “No, I’m just doing my job,” he said emphatically.  “Thank you for the information,” I told him.  I made eye contact with a homeless man who was sitting on the sidewalk waiting for his citation from another policeman.  “I wish it could be different,” I said to all concerned.  

 

I used to see the police department differently in these situations.  Around this same time last year, I would have thought of the ticketing officers as enemies of my homeless friends.  Then I sat in a church service at First Presbyterian Church downtown and listened to a sermon by Dr. Joe Clifford around the time 150 to 200 homeless people were taking refuge at night from police arrest by sleeping on that church’s parking lot.  At the end of his moving sermon, Dr. Clifford said a prayer that surprised me:  he prayed with sympathy and with unity for the homeless, for the church, for the city, for the Dallas Police — ALL of whom, he said, were doing the best they could in a difficult situation.  In that moment, my thinking changed from ‘us’ — the homeless and those who advocate for them — and ‘them’ — city officials and police who make and enforce laws that I believe unfairly target the homeless — to ‘all of us, doing the best we know how at this point in time.’

 

Nonetheless, as I drove away and pulled up to a stop light near the Farmer’s Market last evening, I felt devastated by this turn of events.  For the second night in a row, I sat by the Farmer’s Market in my car and wept.  This is what we were putting behind us when the Bridge opened, wasn’t it?  Weren’t the days of huddled and miserable human beings sleeping on the cold concrete of our city streets being roused from their brief rest by uniformed men, ‘just doing their jobs’, issuing them citations for ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘obstructing the sidewalk,’ and any number of other ordinances designed to specifically get the homeless out of public view… weren’t those days now going to be behind us for good?

 

I pulled over into a driveway and ‘phoned a friend’ who knows the situation.  He, too, was stunned by this turn of events.  Neither of us could believe that, a year later, after all that has come to pass, we are back to this.  God help us all, then and now.

 

KS

 

Displacement and Community November 28, 2008

 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reflecting upon the sense of community I often feel at the Bridge homeless assistance center in the Second Chance Cafe, I came across the following.  There can scarcely be a more displaced group than the homeless community, and yet so often it feels like family to me, even when, like this evening, there are so many new, unfamiliar faces which come through the food line.  KS

 

Displacement


“The word community generally expresses a certain supportive and nurturing way of living and working together….  If we want to reflect on community in the context of compassion, we must go far beyond these spontaneous associations [of sentimentalism, romanticism, and even melancholy].  Community can never be the place where God’s obedient servanthood reveals itself if community is understood principally as something warm, soft, homey, comfortable, or protective.  When we form community primarily to heal personal wounds, it cannot become the place where we effectively realize solidarity with other people’s pains….


The call to community as we hear it from our Lord is the call to move away from the ordinary and proper places….  The Gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move away from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home….


Why is this so central?  It is central because in voluntary displacement, we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace.  [Thus] we counteract the tendency to become settled in false comfort and to forget the fundamentally unsettled position that we share with all people….  [which] leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings….  The Greek word for church, ekklesia — from ek = out, and kaleo = call — indicates that as a Christian community we are people who together are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.”


            ~~Compassion, A Reflection on the Christian Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison

 

Economic Reality at Wilkinson Center Food Pantry’s Doorstep November 20, 2008

 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brian Burton, Executive Director of the Wilkinson Center in East Dallas, writes a mean fund-raising letter. Even after totaling up my credit card debt this week and nearly falling off the chair, I read this and found myself writing out a [pitifully small] check.  Brian’s also one of the nicest people around, which makes one glad to help, and the Wilkinson Center does a super job at all that it does.  I reprint his letter with permission.  KS


The Wilkinson Center

               “Do all you can for everyone who needs your help.  Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow, if you can help today.”  ~~ Proverbs 3: 27-28


November 14, 2008


Dear Friend of the Wilkinson Center:

 

Yesterday, I got a heavy dose of the new economic reality.  As I made my way through the Center, I observed in the Food Pantry service area every seat taken — and, there were families standing along the walls waiting.  The reality of our economy is at the Wilkinson Center’s doorstep.


As you plan for your charitable giving this Thanksgiving season, I respectfully ask that you, once again, consider the Wilkinson Center deserving of your support.  Because of a generous matching gift from local foundations, every dollar you give will be matched up to $250,000! [by the Harold Simmons Foundation and the Ginger Murchison Foundation]  …We will always strive to be good stewards of your investment in our shared mission to help those less fortunate.

 

If you’d like to see your gift at work please contact me for a tour.  Thank you for being a member of our Wilkinson Center family.

 

Faithfully yours, in service,

Brian Burton, Executive Director

 

http://www.wilkinsoncenter.org, P.O. Box 720248, Dallas, TX 75372, 5200 Bryan St., Dallas, TX 75206, 214-821-6380

 

Guest Commentary: Robert Blass November 10, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,Guest Commentary,healing,inspiration,peace — Karen Shafer @ 10:16 pm

 

Freedom Of Or From Religion?  What Does It Mean?

 

Freedom of or from religion?  What does it mean?  It means we are a nation of choices. It means we are a democratic nation with the freedom to choose or not choose what God, Bible or written word we follow. We are a multi-culture and multi-religious country.

 

Freedom of choice, freedom of marriage and legislation to combat discrimination against people is a constitutional right meant to be protected by the government, not taken away by extremist religious groups. If we fail to protect those Civil Rights then we are no better than many of the countries we criticize.

 

We practice bigotry imposed on others who do not practice the religion or beliefs of some; made even worse, when that bigotry produces its own brand of terrorism right here within our own borders. That terrorism includes the lack of caring for our fellow man and their freedoms which allows many to suffer shamelessly. Historically our country has a pattern of doing this and even though we have learned and corrected ourselves through the years, we continue to get caught in new practices of bigotry that replace the old. It serves no purpose to take away rights based on religious beliefs that have no effect on the right to practice our personal beliefs and it contradicts the freedoms our country is based on. It should never be a matter of my way or no way.

 

I am a Christian who believes I answer to my God daily. I am a Christian who accepts others as they are and even thought they may not believe as I do, I love them anyway.  I am a Christian who believes that my love and example will show the way for them to find the same path to Christ I have found. I am a Christian who knows I can pray anytime, anywhere I choose. I am a Christian who makes personal life choices based on my beliefs. I am a Christian who believes I can lead by example and pray that others will follow but I do not expect the government to force my way on others.  Will we ever learn?

 

My way is NOT the fundamentalist extremist way. What kind of Christian are you?

 

May God Bless America!

 

Robert Blass

 

Thanks to Pat Spradley of the Stewpot’s Street Zine for sending this my way.  KS  [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp]

 

Reggie’s Story October 6, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

       Reggie Crawford, with whom I’m privileged to work when I volunteer at The Bridge homeless assistance center,  is one of the most inspiring and compassionate individuals I’ve met in a while.  I appreciate that Reggie and Street Zine have given me permission to reprint his story here.  KS

 

STEP Transformed Plan A & B Into G For Me

By Reggie Crawford

 

Like most people, I just wanted to live a normal life expecting nothing flashy, extravagant or extraordinary. 

 

My life started out very simple; I guess you could call me a military brat. My father was in the military for over thirty years, and my mother taught high school and did most of the kid raising of myself and six siblings. My mom was a very determined and strong woman who I think was my greatest influence because she always believed in me.

 

I went to college majoring in music education and business marketing. Upon graduation I quickly found a job as a music teacher which I hated. I was not mentally prepared for this work and I had no patience which is something you really need when you teach middle school kids. The bad notes were killing me! 

 

I quickly found that I needed another plan so I resorted to plan B, which was to join the military. There have been times in my life when I made some brilliant decisions and this was one of them.  While in college, I was in ROTC and already had a four year commitment. At that time, the Army had a one year delay entry program and I looked forward to and could not wait to enter the military.

 

I loved the Army, as a brand new second lieutenant; I was on my way up. Both of my parents were very proud; I had a new car, new house, lots of new friends, and a new attitude that spelled super arrogant. Some called it cocky, conceited, or even egotistic; but I will call it for what it really was, bone head.  In my mind, I really thought I was an icon, my family thought I was crazy, which was not far from the truth. 

 

My drive helped me get promotions and medals but after several years in the service I decided to give civilian life another try.  You have to remember that up to this point all I had known was military life. I was scared to death, but I still had plan B so if things did not work out in civilian life I could always return back to military life.

 

I went to work as a sales representative with a major company and continued to move up to a management position. After several years in sales I changed careers again and went to work as a loan manager at a major bank. I loved my civilian jobs and I loved my life. I guess you could say that I had the American dream; married with two great kids, a nice house and a dog named Human who I suspected hated me. 

 

I remember an unknown author who said “the only sure thing we know about life is that change will happen, be it good or bad.” Needless to say my change was really, really bad. My eighteen year marriage fell apart, I had several bad investments, and finally a job lay off.

 

The good life as I had known it was gone and I had helped the process by abusing drugs and alcohol which pretty much guarantees a meltdown in life. Here I was, without a wife, kids and job which presented me with the abnormal life of homelessness.  The self-centered, smug, and stuck up self was replaced by shame, embarrassment and guilt. Here I was sleeping on the streets, standing in line for meals, and hoping I could get myself out of this situation before I got myself killed.  Oh yeah, remember plan B? Now, I am too old to return to the military.

 

After one year and five months of living a homeless life, I realized that I really needed help. I’ll call it a ‘lifeline’ because I was drowning mentally and spiritually.  I decided to enter a program at The Stewpot called STEP (Stewpot Transitional Employment Program). This program was God sent for me; the people actually cared about my well being. Some of the people I met while in the STEP program have become true friends.  It is also while participating in this program that I learned about another plan.  I will call it plan G, God’s plan. 

 

Plan G is the reason I decided to write my story. I truly believe that God orchestrated this path for me, not because I am a bad person, but because I needed to be humbled.  I now understand that life is full of ups and downs, twist and turns and things that don’t always go as planned, but through God’s grace and faith nothing is too big to overcome. This journey has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.

 

Today, I am working as the dining room coordinator at the Second Chance Café, located at The Bridge. This gives me the opportunity to work with some of the best volunteers in the City of Dallas. My job is to make sure that the dining room runs smoothly while the meals are being served to the homeless population accessing services at The Bridge.

 

I thank everyone who has helped me along the way, but first and foremost, I thank God for his/her grace and understanding.

 

Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Street Zine [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp].

 

If You Have Been Given Gifts, Use Them September 29, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,healing,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 5:47 pm

 

Monday, September 29, 2008

 

If You Have Been Given Gifts, Use Them!

 

Yesterday evening we at Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) instituted and inducted our new rector (senior pastor), The Right Reverend Anthony J. Burton, formerly Bishop of the Diocese of Saskatchewan, Canada.  The service was beautiful and quite moving and was presided over by the The Right Reverend James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas.  We are greatly blessed to have Bishop Burton and his family as part of our parish.

 

During his sermon, Bishop Stanton made a statement that stood out in particular to me, because this is something of which I constantly have to remind myself.  The statement was emphatic and simple:  “If you have been given gifts, use them!”  

 

The sermon text was based on the following passage from The Letter of Paul to the Romans.  I am far from a biblical scholar, so it is not surprising that the impact of this text had never come home to me before:

 

     “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  For by the grace given to me I bed every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.  For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:  if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving;  he who teaches, in his teaching;  he who exhorts, in his exhortation;  he who contributes, in liberality;  he who gives aid, with zeal;  he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.  Let love be genuine;  hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with brotherly affection;  outdo one another in showing honor.  Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in your hope be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you;  bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another;  do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;  never be conceited.  Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

                                                                                                      ~~Romans 12:  1-18

This passage reminded me of my favorite quote from Mother Teresa, which I have used on this site previously:

 

     “Love until it hurts….What I do you cannot do:  but what you do, I cannot do.  The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things.  But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”

KS

Website of Church of the Incarnation:  http://www.incarnation.org/

 

The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness September 24, 2008

Journal Archives

Friday, 2/24/06                                                                                                                                        

Blogger’s Note:  This incident took place in 2006.  The situation for homeless people in Dallas has improved considerably since then, particularly with the advent of our new homeless assistance center, the Bridge, in May, 2008. Also, I believe that the current city administration is sensitive to and proactive in finding solutions to the issues surrounding homelessness.  KS

 

The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness

“…to love Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” 

                                                                                                             ~~Mother Teresa

 

On Wednesday, I went out with David Timothy of SoupMobile and another volunteer to feed several hundred people at the Day Resource Center, currently the City of Dallas’s only designated site for groups feeding the homeless.  (The other volunteer was a columnist from the Dallas Observer researching an article on the homeless encampments.)

 

The feeding went smoothly, and people were able to come through the line several times times before we ran out of hot dogs — a hugely popular item:  they’re meat, and they’re hot food.  Most of the people appeared to be ‘chronically homeless’, in pretty rough condition, and are no doubt the ones who were spending the night inside the Day Resource Center prior to the new ruling forbidding sleeping there.

 

Next we went to the I-45 bridge homeless encampment, where about one hundred people have formed a stable community under the freeway bridge, so the reporter could interview an individual who lives in the camp and is its de facto leader, helping to maintain order there.  We pulled up to the chainlink fence surrounding the camp on a dirt road next to a motel.  The interviewee works at the motel, and the three of us waited in the van for him to get off work.

 

People kept stopping by the van to say hi to David and to see if we had food to give out.  The street people seem to love and even revere him.  He told them we weren’t allowed to feed there anymore — if we did we could incur a $2000-per-incident fine.  Soon a nice-looking man named Slim stopped to talk to us;  he doesn’t live at the camp but comes around daily and is friends with many of the residents.

 

While the reporter went into the heart of the camp to conduct his interview, David and I talked to Slim.  The subjects came up of the new strict enforcement of regulations on groups feeding the homeless and the closing of the Day Resource Center as a night shelter.  A prominent public official was mentioned, and I said I was having a hard time not being quite angry with her for her part in the way homeless citizens in Dallas are being treated.  I said that a couple who live in a homeless camp in the woods near my home said that before this woman was elected, she used to routinely give money to panhandlers, courting the homeless vote, then turned the tables on them once she was in office.

 

Right away, Slim began to talk in Biblical terms about love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek.  What he said was profound and learned, but even more important, he hit upon truths that I had been missing.  I have a tendency to ‘hate the haters,’ often expressing my outrage at injustice in terms of anger, and he said in a loving and understanding way:  “Satan has thrown a veil over [this politician’s] eyes, so that she doesn’t see the harm she’s doing, but is deluded by her power and that of those she’s trying to please.”  This good man, who stays among the homeless and is their friend, was preaching love and forgiveness towards those who persecute them!

 

I hear this sort of faithfulness all the time when I’m with the homeless population.  The men and women I’ve met on the street are the most spiritual people I’ve ever known, and here was another example of that faithfulness, embodied in Slim, now teaching me, the middle-class advocate, the true meaning of Christian love, which should be so evident to me, but which I find so easy to forget:  LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.  How hard is this to do????  But here was a man who, along with his friends, is constantly persecuted by city and state officials, and he is reminding me about the heart of Christian love.

 

“Slim, this is unbelievable,” I said to him.  “This is just what I needed to hear!  I am so focused on the problems in Dallas right now  [ie, what you resist persists!], and your message of love and compassion for those in power, even in their misguided actions, is something I’d totally missed.  Thank you.”

 

It was a powerful message.  I feel Slim was ‘sent’ to gently remind me that, even if I can’t love a particular politician at the moment, to focus all my attention on my frustration with what’s going on with the city and the homeless may be missing the point.  While I don’t have to ignore injustice, perhaps this represents a call for me to go deeper within myself with this work, and to be as good as the street people I want to stand alongside.  I can focus more on the solutions and less on the problems, if for no other reason than that focusing on the problems dissipates my energy, taking it away from loving, helping and serving and into the ‘combat zone.’  I have to continue to fight injustice, yes, but maybe in a different way than letting it anger and frustrate me so much.  The battle is within myself, and it is there that I need to look:  for guidance, for love towards all sides.  Perhaps that’s how healing will come.  I don’t have to agree, and I can still speak out about the actions of people who I feel are persecuting the homeless, but I am called at the same time to embrace them with love.  Not an easy thing.  The more deeply I go into this work, the more it challenges me to grow — in unexpected ways.

 

KS

 

In the Midst of Them August 27, 2008

Regarding people who are homeless in Dallas…

 

“We are called to serve them. They are the least of these in our community, and Jesus has taken up residence with them, according to the gospel, and he is to be found in their midst. We exist to serve Christ, and according to Matthew 25, that’s where Christ is, so we serve them.”

 

                                                    ~~Dr. Joe Clifford, Senior Pastor                                                                                                                             First Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas                                                                                                             Dallas Observer, December 13, 2007

 

                                                                                                                      

 

Pregnant and On the Street August 19, 2008

Current Journal

Tuesday, 8/19/08

 

I had this experience two years ago.  I befriended a young street couple;  the woman was pregnant.  I tried in vain to help them find temporary housing.  The short version of the story was that I spent many hours calling every nonprofit I’d ever heard of on their behalf (they didn’t have access to a telephone), and the couple didn’t fit the criteria for any of the programs I contacted because they weren’t married and wouldn’t separate.  They wanted to marry but couldn’t because the man’s identification documents had been stolen, and there were complications from his background in getting them reissued.   

 

I didn’t know a lot about the different organizations who were helping the homeless at that time, and I could write a book on what I learned from that experience.  Things are much better in Dallas since then, especially with the Bridge providing a central location for services.  One thing that was evident then and still is: there were many groups helping the homeless in their own small and valuable way, few of them knew what the other was doing, and none of them could help my friends.

 

The couple ended up moving from the street into an abandoned building in Deep Ellum, then to underneath a bridge, where she miscarried.  It was maddening, trying to put together a puzzle that actually did involve life and death — with many of the pertinent pieces missing.  I simply couldn’t believe that in a city this size, with wealth this predominant, there wasn’t a housing program that would accommodate them together temporarily until the baby was born.  Guess what?  To my knowledge, there still isn’t.

 

Christian organizations do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ with the homeless and depend on church congregations for financial support.  Since the church does not condone living together without marriage, service providers that are connected to the Christian faith community do not generally allow unmarried couples to be housed together in their programs.

 

I might as well go ahead and appall my fellow feminists here and say that I hold a pro-life stance, so I am going to proceed to call the living being within a woman’s belly a child.  If we are going to address this problem of homeless women staying on the street while they’re pregnant and put the unborn child first — first above our ideas of the morality or immorality of conceiving a child out of wedlock — then we have to revisit housing pregnant street mothers who are unwilling to give up living with their street husbands and consider housing them together.  These couples are often married in their own eyes but not married legally or in the eyes of society.

 

Here’s why:  most of those women that I’ve known won’t separate from the man they are with while they are homeless.  They will stay on the street rather than go into housing alone because, along with the emotional and physical attachment they have to ‘their man’, he has been and is their protection — in fact, often their very survival.  The woman I spoke about in the first paragraph told me that, even when she was with her ‘man’ — and he was big, tough, and strong — other men on the street reached out and grabbed at her body frequently, pregnancy notwithstanding.

 

Another thing:  I’m not a person who generally feels I need to be taken care of, but when I was pregnant, this changed.  I felt particularly vulnerable during this phase of married life.  Many other comfortable, middle-class women I know have said the same thing, and one can imagine the magnification of this if one were homeless.

 

People will say these women should think twice before they get pregnant while homeless.  How about this statistic?  I have been told that at least 25% of socially and legally recognized marriages are ‘shotgun’ weddings, and that’s a conservative number of those that are willing to admit to their situation.  But in ‘polite society’, we can rush up the wedding or hedge the conception date.  Unplanned pregnancies happen in all segments of society, but homeless women can’t hide theirs behind closed doors.  Do I think it’s the world’s greatest plan to conceive a child while one’s living on the street?  Of course not, but it’s happening, and that’s the reality.

 

It is all well and good to carefully screen the individuals we let into our nonprofit programs and then report marvelous numbers and statistics of success about how well we’ve served them.  What about the people who don’t meet our narrow criteria?  What if those people are carrying around a new life within them?  What’s our priority?

 

Many years ago, my cousin, Lyn, whom I deeply admire, founded a pilot program for pregnant teens at an inner-city high school in a poverty-and-crime-ridden area in my hometown.  She and her organization, the Junior League, built a day-care center on the school grounds for the children to be cared for while the parents finished high school, and required both the mothers and fathers to take parenting classes, which the center provided.  The program was tremendously successful.  Many young women graduated from high school who would have dropped out, attended college, raised their children and had successful lives because of Lyn’s program.  It became a national model.  The most important part to me was that much better mothers and fathers were created because of the parenting training, and all kinds of problems were circumvented because of those new skills.  I was utterly amazed to learn later that some people in town complained that Lyn and her program were causing teen pregnancies!

 

I call myself a Christian, and I am a churchgoer at that.  Still, call my viewpoint pragmatism or moral relativism if you will.  But we cannot claim to honor unborn life and then fail to do every single thing in our power to facilitate its well-being because we do not approve of the lifestyle choices of the parents involved.  Housing those parents together, regardless of paperwork, in order to give them some stability, guidance, protection and structure would be a start.

 

KS

 

This article is linked to the following:

http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/2008/09/pregnant-and-on-street-reality.html#comments

http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2008/09/pregnant_on_the_street_and_don.html

 

Harmony May 29, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,healing,inspiration,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 4:52 pm

 

      “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”

                                                                                                                   ~~1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

 

[taken from Daily Word, published by Unity, May, 2008]

 

A Middle-Class Homeless Crisis in Dallas? May 21, 2008

This blog received a comment on the post entitled “Broken” from a friend in my church, Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) that I hope you’ll go back and check out (May 15, 2008.  Click on ‘Comments’ at the bottom of the post.)  

May I just say…I love my church, not only because it is a beautiful, old building with lovely, reverential services, but because of people like English, who care enough to ask the hard questions and to show up on Christmas Eve at the Hyatt Regency Dallas for the SoupMobile’s Christmas Angel Project — and to go to Honduras to build schools, and to New Orleans to rebuild houses, and to fight poverty in Belize, and to mentor in areas of poverty around our very blessed church property, and on and on (it requires an entire book to list all of the outreach that is done out of Church of the Incarnation, thanks to Outreach Director Martha Lang and many others).  My fellow parishioners and our priests put their love on the line constantly all over the place.

Anyway, I hope you’ll read the comments of the “Broken” post where English asked an important question:

“Do we have a middle-class homeless crisis in Dallas?”

and read the response from David Timothy, AKA SoupMan, of SoupMobile Mobile Soup Kitchen.

I would love to know what readers think.  What is your experience and what are your observations?

KS

 

Broken May 15, 2008

Journal Archives

Thursday, 12/22/05

I was out with the mobile soup kitchen on a feeding run tonight, and unlike most nights, the vibe was strained on the truck.  For starters, I’d arisen from my sick bed to show up for the commitment I’d previously made, realizing that in the past few weeks I’ve been writing about the homeless, thinking about them, talking about them a great deal… but that I needed to see them, touch them, talk to them — that being with them is what I love, not doing politics about them.

I felt ill on the run, alternately sweating and freezing, thinking I might pass out.  There’s nowhere to sit on the truck, and the floor was slimy with spilled soup, so we volunteers slipped and slid around as it bumped along through the downtown streets.  One of the regular volunteers was tired, which made her very sharp-edged.  When she was rude to the rest of us one too many times,  I came within an ace of walking away and hitching a ride back to my car.  It was an unusually wretched start and middle to the run, and I was determined to just endure.

Then I began talking with Joe, a homeless man we picked up at the first stop to ride with us and help us feed. Wanting to get the real lowdown, I was asking him how things were out there.  It was a grim, unflattering and unsympathetic portrait of who was out on the street and what was going on.

As the van clattered and lurched along, between bouts of bending over to slop scalding soup into paper cups, as I sweated and froze and felt I’d faint, as the grouchy volunteer barked irritable orders at everyone, as an uncharacteristically-rowdy, block-long line of ragged people milled and pushed and shoved and shouted outside the truck in front of the Day Resource Center, I thought to myself, “Now, exactly why am I doing this?”

Joe offered to do the ladling, and I stepped away to rest my back.  He was so kind to notice I was tired.  Then the director asked me to come outside the truck and ‘work on the ground,’ which I love, so it was a relief to get outside and hand people food and talk to them a little.  “How are you?  How’s it going?”  “God bless you all for being out here!” they’d say, or  “I’m OK, but I could sure use some work.”  “Joseph, I’ll pray for you.”  “Oh, thank you.”  A man getting mock angry when I let a woman be served ahead of him.  The woman giving me a hug, and then another.  “Why do the women get to go first?” a man asks.  “Does it make you men feel like chopped liver?” I joke with him.  “You call them ladies, but you call us men.”  “OK, we’ll call you gentlemen from now on!”

I was starting to loosen up, to remember, to feel what this was about.

And then I began to look into their faces, one by one, as they stepped up in line to receive their soup, sandwich, cookie and banana.  A young woman with cerebral palsy, looking brave and dignified, not wanting to meet my eyes.  A man who could barely stand, trying to signal something as he swayed away, almost as if he were crossing himself.  A woman deathly pale with a yellowish pallor to her skin and a cap pulled down that barely covered the absence of hair.  People with skin leathered and hands swollen from the cold.  Someone blind.  Someone on crutches.  So many of them thanking us, blessing us, wishing us Merry Christmas.  Loving us for loving them.  Dark faces, pale faces, every kind of face in the world.

Broken faces.  Broken, as we all are.

Beauty.  Real beauty. 

We left, and as we rumbled back toward our starting point, I thought, “This is why I do it.  To be near them.”

But, still, why?  What is the Grace that’s near them, that spills over onto me, that makes me want to be out in the cold, ladling soup, giving away sandwiches?  When I try to pin down a reason, it slides away, like mine and Joe’s tennis shoes on the soupy metal floor of the catering truck.

And then, sitting here in Barnes and Noble, drinking my hot cocoa, feeling less at odds and less resentful of the middle-class Dallas culture than I did in my first entries into this journal a year ago — accepting it, even, and my place in it, and the fact that I drive a nice car while many people have no homes…  Remembering that driving here, I drove all the way down Beverly Drive looking at the stupendous displays of Christmas lights and didn’t need to turn away in frustration, accepting that that kind of wealth is part of life, too — just observing, not judging…  

Anyway, I got it, sitting here, remembering the beauty, the desperation, the softness, the fear, the humanity, the love, the blankness, the greed, the need — in those broken faces in the crush of people outside the Day Resource Center — giving to them out of my own brokenness, as they gave to me.  I got it…

The beauty, the grace is in the brokenness.

But it makes no sense!  And when I once read that Henri Nouwen said it, I thought, well, my great hero is just wrong on this one.  Beauty in healing?  in unconditional love?  in service?  Sure.  But in brokenness?  

The only connection I can make is with Christ’s broken body on the cross.  But wasn’t the beauty in the resurrection?  The brokenness of Christ’s body I find devastating!  Do we have to be broken first in order to be healed?  Is it because only through brokenness comes the possibility of Grace?

The Spirit of Love is out there on the street, for sure — in the people themselves — surrounding them, hovering near them.  I feel the intensity of Christ’s Love there, have always felt it.

It a mystery, a magnificent mystery.

And our street people show it to me.  Every time.

KS

 

Liturgy and Action May 12, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 6:17 pm

 

       “Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ?  Then do not allow it to be scorned in its members, in the poor, who have nothing to clothe themselves with.  Do not honor him in church with silk and then neglect him outside when he is cold and naked….  

       What does Christ gain from a sacrificial table full of golden vessels when he then dies of hunger in the persons of the poor?”

                                                                                       ~~St. John Chrysostom, Fourth Century

 

Thanks for the quote to Father Bob Johnston, Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) newsletter, The Angelus.

 

Services Provided by The Bridge May 3, 2008

Dear Readers,

Here’s a link to the website of a group of people who have generously allowed me to work with them on Friday nights at the Day Resource Center for the last couple of years while they serve dinner and give away clothing.  They provided me with a way to give away the clothing I like collecting, which opportunity I lost when the homeless camps were razed by the city in 2005.

The post gives a list of the services to be provided by the new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, when it opens in May.

http://www.ourcalling.org/2008/04/25/the-new-center-will-provide-what/#comments

KS

 

 

Suffering and Compassion May 1, 2008

Suffering and Compassion

       “Compassion is a mind that removes the suffering that is present in the other…We can nurture the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return and therefore does not lead to anxiety and sorrow…. The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the…suffering of others, to put ourselves ‘inside the skin’ of the other.  We ‘go inside’… and witness for ourselves their suffering….  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the object of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us.  Compassion means, literally, ‘to suffer with.’”

       “We have to find ways to nourish and express our compassion.  When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept.  We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.”

                                                                                     ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step  (81-83)

 

Worthy or Unworthy…Is That the Question? April 28, 2008

“It’s not about whether people are deserving. It’s about our compassion.”

Journal Archives

Monday, 5/9/05

When the subject of  the homeless comes up in general conversation, people frequently want to discuss ‘Unworthy Homeless Persons I Have Encountered.’  Often that single, and sometimes unpleasant, experience with a street person becomes a certain knowledge of the ‘ubiquitous homeless.’  The ‘shiftless’ mother who, babe in arms, asks for money for formula and takes it straight into a liquor store somehow becomes every woman out on the street who has a child and asks for help.  The stories may well be true, but they miss a couple of points.

Helping the homeless is not about their worthiness.  It is about our giving.  If receiving blessings were dependent upon worthiness, would you and I have all that we have?

If you see someone misusing a resource they’ve been given, that’s not a reason to refrain from helping the person in need that comes along.  What if she’s in earnest?  If you give aid to five women in a row who buy liquor with the money and meet a sixth who’s on the level, would you deprive that sixth hungry child of the help she’d receive from you?  Or, if you want to be sure of how what you give is used, you could go and buy formula for the child yourself.

This is one of the reasons I have liked working with mobile soup kitchens, who go to feed the homeless where they live.  There are no questions asked, as Jesus asked no questions when he helped the poor and the sick.  The worthiness of the recipients is not at stake.  The work is about compassion.  There are no qualifications required except that a person be hungry, thirsty, cold, in need of solace.  “Ask, and ye shall receive.”

There is no single profile for a homeless person.  There are hustlers, manipulators and thieves on the street, yes.  Ditto drug addicts and alcoholics.  There are also veterans:  about 40% — people broken by war in body, mind and spirit, the same people who were heroes when they went off to war.  There are families who lost their jobs and missed a few house payments, finding themselves on the street.  There are mothers with children who ran from an abusive husband in the middle of the night and didn’t know how to seek out a shelter or couldn’t get in.  Do I want to feed and clothe these people if I have the opportunity?  Yes.  Do I want the woman who lives under a bridge because her ex-husband tied her up in their basement for a long period of time and she can’t bear confinement to get treatment for her trauma?  Yes.  If she doesn’t or is unable get it, do I want to offer her a sandwich?  Yes again.

Do I want to interview each of these people when I encounter them to determine whether they fit someone’s profile of worthiness?  Definitely, no.

KS

 

Christmas Angel April 12, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 4:22 pm

“Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescendence… Compassion means to become close to one who suffers. But we can come close to another person only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves.”
                                                                                                            ~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

Journal Archives
Christmas Day, 2004

Christmas Angel

I went to noon Christmas Mass by myself today, the first time in years we haven’t gone to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass as a family, as my grandchildren, at age two, are too young to be out that late. Church was lovely, and, as I drove away, I took with me the special joy of receiving the Christmas Eucharist amidst the radiance of the beautiful sanctuary, awash with green pine garlands and banked with red poinsettias and white candles.

At the intersection of I-75 and Mockingbird Lane, I pulled up near a stop light beside a woman who was begging. I happened to have some extra blankets and sweatshirts in the car, so I rolled down the window as I approached the light and offered her a stack of these things.

The most beatific smile crossed her face as she took them, and, as she tried to thank me, I realized she could make sounds but was unable to speak. It seemed as if perhaps she was missing part or all of her tongue, I couldn’t be sure. But she opened her mouth and attempted to thank me, taking my hand warmly in her weathered palms. I was able to understand, “God bless you! God bless you!”

I pulled forward to the red light and turned to watch her as she walked away. She went over to a low concrete wall and laid the stack of clothes and blankets on it. Bending over the pile and beginning to sort through it, and evidently pleased with what she found there, she suddenly raised her arms and face toward the sky and began a joyous, wordless dance! I will never forget the look of bliss on her face, the brilliance of her smile, the ecstacy in her body over the stack of clothing.

I began to cry as I headed to meet my daughters and their families for Christmas lunch, and I couldn’t stop. There was something about this woman that stuck with me, the image of her wordless praise, her arms reaching toward heaven. She broke my heart and touched me so deeply that, opened by church and the Eucharist, I was suddenly emptied of whatever concerns I’d had before I’d met her, to be refilled with a scalding mixture of pain and joy that would sting me for weeks whenever I thought of her, which I often did — this miraculous Christmas angel.

KS

 

Rightness April 7, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,healing,peace — Karen Shafer @ 9:09 pm

       “My Father, open the eyes of my soul. Cause me to see that any issue that causes distrust or anger between me and another…even my own iron ‘rightness’ on matters of faith…can cause me to make a desert ‘in the name of the Lord.’”

                                                                                                            ~~St. Augustine

 

Guest Writers From the Street? March 29, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,healing,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 1:08 pm

I have long wanted to have guest writers on this blog — especially people who live on the street — but never got down to figuring out how to implement it. Perhaps this will be the way!

Today I received this comment on ‘Blogger Profile’ from my friend, Reagan, with whom I work on Friday nights at the Day Resource Center. She is one of a very dedicated group of people from Northwest Bible Church, who bring dinner to over 200 homeless individuals every Friday and have done so for many years.

These people do much more than serve dinner, however. They befriend street people in a very personal way, pray with and for them, and many of their number support homeless individuals quietly and without fanfare, helping them in countless ways with transportation, doctor visits, clothing needs, paperwork issues, and, above all, love, support and genuine friendship. The word ‘volunteer’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. They enter into real relationship and commitment with people from the street. [Website: http://www.ourcalling.org]

“Hi, Karen-

I’ve been thinking about you lately and have missed you the last couple of weeks at the DRC Friday nights! 

I met a woman tonight, Sherry, who lives on the street and writes about her experiences. Prose and poetry, and I really enjoyed hearing some excerpts. Do you know a way or a connection so that her stuff might be read? either on a blog or in a publication? Just a thought.

Reagan”

“Hi, Reagan,

It’s great to hear from you. I’ve missed being there on Friday nights the past few weeks, but will be coming next week.

I would love to invite Sherry and other people who live on the street to write guest posts on this blog! What do you think?  Leave it to wonderful you to help create another level to this blog which I had in the back of my mind when I began it but hadn’t thought how to implement! Synergy and Spirit, eh?

Blessings! — which you and the amazing Friday night crew from Northwest Bible Church bring in spades to our friends at the Day Resource Center!

Karen

 

Are You Willing To Be Transformed? March 5, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,mobile soup kitchens,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 9:31 pm

       “…Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to help you change?

…It is not a question of willpower. You have to trust the inner voice that shows the way. You know that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. Thus you become entangled in countless often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lose touch with the God in you. And you end up dependent on all the people you have gathered around you.

Only by attending constantly to the inner voice can you be converted to a new life of freedom and joy.”

                                                                                                        ~~Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

Journal Archives
Saturday, 4/23/05

Church and Candace

When I last saw Candace a couple of weeks ago, she asked me to take her to church with me sometime, and I said, “Sure!” There is something unique about Candace. She feels like my daughter. And Patrick is someone I think I might be proud to have as a son-in-law. But I can’t help but wonder, is it wise to take a virtual stranger in my car, even one who feels like family?

I asked my friend, David, for his opinion, as he is familiar with street culture, and he responded:
“You asked if I thought it would be a problem with you taking Candace to church. No, I don’t see a problem there. I think this would be a very kind thing to do for her. However each case is different. There are definitely some individuals on the street that I would not want you to take anywhere in your car. My sense for Candace is that it would be fine for you to take her to church.”

So I’m going to try to arrange to take her to church with me on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 4/27/05

Losing Track

This early evening, during which I’ve done a fair share of crying, proves the point of the above Henri Nouwen quote on transformation, it seems to me, with unusual clarity. I’ve lost track of Candace and Patrick, and the impact of the loss feels overwhelming. Now they’re gone, and I have no way to find them.

I had asked David to tell Candace when he went by their camp yesterday that I would pick her up for church today at 5:30 P.M. But he didn’t see her, so I drove to their little house at that time to see if she could go. I pulled up beside their lot and they weren’t there, so I stopped to ask two people who were sitting on the Stairs Going Nowhere, waiting for the bus.

“Candace isn’t here,” they said. “Are she and Patrick still staying here?” “No, she and Patrick have sort of split up for a while.” “Do you know where she is?” “No.” “Is Patrick still here?” “He’s around.” I knew they didn’t trust me enough to say more. The street’s a closed society until people know you. “Please tell them Karen said hello,” I said, as there seemed nothing else to say.

I pulled away and began to cry — ‘the ugly cry,’ as Oprah calls it, face all distorted, nose running, the works. On my mobile, I tried to call both of my daughters for comfort — no answer.

I drove around, feeling I’d lost track of something of irreplaceable value, feeling so lost myself, drowning in the conviction that I’d missed something vital with which I was supposed to connect. So odd and inexplicable, how one can love certain strangers after knowing them such a short time. I had met hundreds of people while going out on the street to give away clothing and food, but Candace and Patrick had drawn me to them and their little home like a magnet. Our meeting on that Holy Saturday seemed providential.

It had taken me two weeks to get around to taking my new friend and surrogate daughter to church with me. I had kept thinking about it but not getting it done. And my friends who felt like family had slipped through that small crack in time.

[to be continued]

KS

 

Waxing Philosophical February 14, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 2:33 am

Giving Freely

“…a nun once said to me, ‘Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them things free.  They are losing their human dignity.’

When everyone was quiet, I said calmly, ‘No one spoils as much as God himself.  See the wonderful gifts he has given us freely.  All of you here have no glasses, yet you all can see.  If God were to take money for your sight, what would happen?  Continually we are breathing and living on oxygen that we do not pay for.  What would happen if God were to say, ‘If you work four hours, you will get sunshine for two hours?’  How many of us would survive then?’

Then I also told them, ‘There are many congregations that spoil the rich;  it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor.’

There was profound silence;  nobody said a word after that.”

                                                                                ~~Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World

Journal Archives

Tuesday, 12/23/03

 

To my surprise, feeding the homeless is controversial. I did not know this, although, being oppositionally-defined as I can sometimes be, it would only have encouraged me. Nonetheless, I’m surprised that not everyone thinks hungry people should be given food.

 

‘People should get their needs met through the institutions and organizations we’ve already created to deal with the problems of hunger and homelessness,’ an acquaintance recently told me. But what if they’re not going to? What if the organizations, excellent though they may be, are woefully inadequate to the scale of the task, which is clearly the case in Dallas? What if significant numbers of people fall through the cracks? Some are not going to get their needs met with current resources; some are unable to; some — many — do fall. And for those, another approach is required.

 

To me, feeding the hungry seems self-evident, especially as a person who calls myself a Christian. “Feed my sheep,” says Jesus in John 21. He doesn’t say, “If my sheep are employed, or at least job hunting,” or “If they can conform enough to live in a shelter,” or “If they promise to take their antidepressants and visit their psychotherapists on a regular basis.” Jesus states simply, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord…you know that I love you,” Simon Peter replies. Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”

 

And even more direct is the bit in Matthew 25: “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Then follows the horrific fate awaiting those ‘goats at the left [hand]’ who decline to offer these kindnesses to their brothers and sisters — read that passage if you want to tremble!

 

The argument that feeding street people enables and perpetuates homelessness confuses me. Can you look for a job when you’re starving? Dirty? Freezing? Without an address? Did Mother Teresa perpetuate starvation by going on the streets of Calcutta and feeding the ‘poorest or the poor?’ Did she encourage the sick to get sicker because she tended to their medical needs?

 

Or does our plenty somehow shame us, that we are willing to let children live cold and hungry on the streets of Dallas while we buy designer tennis shoes and IPods for our own kids? Is this moral? Is it correct human behavior, religion aside? Is it even reasonable?

 

If rational self-interest is our guiding principle, does the terrible reality of homelessness and poverty in our own city and around the world serve that principle? Sometimes I wonder if our collective anger towards street people has something to do with their reminding us of the ludicrous, wasteful splendor in which most of us live, and perhaps also of the ubiquity of vulnerability all humans share.

 

True, feeding the homeless is only one part of the puzzle. A comprehensive plan is required to get people off the streets and into housing. Enlightened self-interest tells us that to do everything we can to solve the problems of homelessness and hunger in our city benefits us all. It tells us that that there are many paths to this desirable conclusion, that all kinds of help is needed: shelters, job training, treatment centers, rehabilitation programs, housing — yes, but also, surely, the simple service of alleviating people’s suffering directly, wherever they are, by giving them food when they’re hungry, a smile, a hug and a kind word when they’re lonely, a blanket and clothing when they’re cold.

KS

 

Resisting the Call February 13, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness — Karen Shafer @ 3:15 am

       “Today I stand before you to make a just, useful, and suitable intercession, I come from no one else; only the beggars who live in our city elected me for this purpose, not with words, votes, and the resolve of a common council, but rather with their pitiful and most bitter spectacles.”
                                                                                                            ~~St. John Chrysostom

Journal Archives
Wednesday, 8/27/03

I walked out of church last night and came face to face with a stained glass window I’d been passing for years but hadn’t noticed. “Feed my sheep!” it fairly shouted. Felt it was an Executive Order — that I was meant to begin volunteering again — this time with people who live on the street, the homeless people in Dallas.

Talk of ‘callings’ often sounds pompous, but I’d been feeling this prompting for some time, (though maybe not in such a clear way as a church window jumping out at me.) Then, tonight, I passed a shelf in the bookstore where I often go to write, and I was arrested by a book entitled The Heart of Henri Nouwen. When I took it from the shelf, it fell open to this passage:

       “Jesus did not say: ‘Blessed are those who care for the poor,’ but ‘Blessed are the poor.’… Here lies the great mystery of Christian service. Those who serve Jesus in the poor will be fed by him whom they serve… We so much need a blessing. The poor are waiting to bless us.”
                                                                                                             ~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

Serendipity. Time to act.

KS