No matter the size of the bandage applied, homelessness is too great a wound to cover. We think we’re winning the battle, but just as the wound is cleansed and redressed, infection sets in.
Failure is not due to lack of trying—we disinfect, apply pressure and wrap the wound with shelters, street ministry and warm meals, care packs, money and prayer. Such bandages and dressings are not all bad, but only when used sparingly. Used too often, they do more harm than good. Throwing a bandage on homelessness only spreads the infectious cycle.
It’s about time the wound was cauterized, and for that to happen, the church must return to a previously abandoned post. Sure, the government could and should do more, but the cessation of the cycle of homelessness demands that the local expression of the church step up and assume its charge to “act justly and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8).
When I was blind, I too, like many, thought that the best fix for homelessness was for government to throw resources at it, however, now that scales have fallen from my eyes, I’ve gained fresh perspective. Instead of championing the cause, the church has simply avoided its mission to the poor—often times, enabling the propagation of homelessness by throwing yet another Band-Aid at wounded flesh.
The Stories behind the Faces
Each of us has something in common: no matter where in the world we’re located—a metropolis, city or town—homelessness is inescapable. And for many, homelessness has been reduced to a bothersome nuisance or eyesore that we intentionally avoid.
The truth is, the marginalized have a face. And behind each face there lies a story—an account of a life most would rather avoid than hear; besides, are these so-called encroacher’s even worth the time? Sadly, the act of caring, for most, is demonstrated through the act of throwing a fiver at the person on the street rather than stopping and offering a moment of compassion through conversation. The next time you come face-to-face with homelessness, do the radical thing and get to know the man or woman behind the look and label.
For years I avoided homelessness. Sometimes, as an attempt to inflate my self-worth, I too threw money at the problem. Mostly though, I chose to look past the marginalized. Back then, if you were to ask what I thought of homeless people, I would have responded with the following: “they’re bums—a subhuman eyesore, responsible for their miserable lot in life.”
Each time I passed a panhandler, the same script ran through my mind: “Get a job. You people are such a lazy bunch. I work my but off while you beg for money. (To think, this situation started as a tiny speck. In time a speck became a stain, and now … a stain has matured into an all out nightmare).”
Before Christ entered my life, I could care less about homelessness. It wasn’t until I came across the verse listed above, from the book of Micah, that I realized I had a responsibility to help those I once marked futile. For me, helping meant accessing the heart of the stories behind the faces of those involuntarily occupying the streets. Helping meant mustering the courage to go eye-to-eye with homelessness.
The problem with confronting homelessness is that it pulls you in. It’s as though the pull of humanity scoops you up and changes you for the better. In a moment, the trajectory of your emotional reach suddenly takes a one-eighty. When I let compassion lead and landed on the other side of homelessness, denial was no longer possible.
After hearing the story of a man I once referred to as a leech on society, I could no longer brush off humanity with carless acts of indifference. The more God’s grace washed over me, the more I realized my duty to my fellow man: to inspire and uplift others through the act of being, giving and receiving the same all in, and all consuming love that had been freely given to me by the Father.
What follows is a snapshot of two stories. After reading about Laurna and Sterling, perhaps you’ll perceive the homeless community in your city differently.
“I’m on the streets, but I’m not a bum,” Laurna replied. “I lost my husband a couple months ago … they took the house … they took everything.”
I was with my wife and mother in law when a divine hand led us to Laurna. You could tell she was cold, strung out—living in survival mode. The deeper she delved into her life, the more our hearts broke. In a moment like this, your mind races, often reflecting on those times when, like Laurna, your story could have easily taken a turn for the worst. Laurna’s story is not so far removed from our own. Two months before we met her, Laurna’s life was, by her standard of the word, normal.
Repeatedly, Sterling, a 35-year-old struggling artist, was molested between the ages of three and four. By the time of his seventh birthday, he had fallen victim to numerous beatings at the hand of his mom’s on and off again boyfriend.
“Can you imagine a grown man beating on a little kid like that? What a cowardly act,” explained Sterling.
As he shared about the molestations and the beatings, as though ashamed by what he was sharing, his gaze left my eyes and dropped down toward the sidewalk. Suddenly though, his eyes met with mine and he said, “My life’s pretty sad eh… a real train-wreck.”
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Stories matter. How many people have taken the time to hear yours? How many times have you stopped long enough to hear the story of another … not just the story of a friend or relative, but of a stranger stuck to the streets?
I’m not asking you to eradicate homelessness—it’s a task too enormous for the efforts of one person. Although, I am demanding you do more! As a Christian, you’re called to “pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted (Isaiah 58:10).”
As the church, let’s change the future and rewrite the script on homelessness. Like I was once guilty of, let’s not turn a blind eye; instead, let’s be courageous enough … godly enough to look homelessness in the eye and do more than apply another Band-Aid. Let’s reach out and demonstrate human connection through compassion and make more of a concerted effort to relate to those who the world has rejected. Simply making do is no longer doing enough.