Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Really Good, Rough Week

Sorry for failing to post in my blogs this week. Not only did my computer crash a week ago, but Anawim has been receiving a record number of in kind donations. We've received dozens of sleeping bags, even more blankets and tarps, and a huge number of clothes.

Also, we've had to open up the Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter (GUESs) a for six nights in the last two weeks. While I'm not in the shelter every night, I do open it up and close it every evening and morning.

This has been really tough on all the Anawim staff, and we're pretty exhausted. And Christmas hasn't even come yet!

Praise God for His ample provision, though! This is the first year I can say that we've provided for our folks in East County according to their need after more than twelve years of ministry there. I pray that next year we will be able to provide more-- and have more staff to help us! And we also received a couple stove/ovens for the Yellow Church, just in time to cook four turkeys for Christmas!

Also a me and a couple other day shelter folks were able to meet with a representative of the Gresham police, and we were able to share our concern for the homeless community and how we are both trying to help them and the security provisions we have. We seemed to have reached a tentative agreement, or at least we had a pleasant conversation!

If anyone is flexible in time and has ample patience and some smarts and would like to help us, we could really use the help. We don't have any salary to offer, but the retirement package is unimaginably great!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Disrespecting The Poor

He who mocks the poor insults his Creator
He who rejoices at the destruction of others will be punished by God
But he who has compassion will find mercy.
Proverbs 17:5

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James 2:1-9

Why do you seek me daily and want to know my ways?
Why do you ask me for wisdom and think I am near?
I will not answer your prayers or listen to your cries
Because even as you pray you already have your desire
But you keep from the needy what they deserve.
If you give bread to the hungry from your heart
And satisfy the afflicted soul;
Then shall your light shine forth from darkness
And your darkness shall be bright as midday.
Isaiah 58:2-3,10

Sell your possessions and give to the poor
And you shall have abundance in heaven
Where no thief can steal
And no animal destroy.
Luke 12:33

Blessed are you who are poor
For yours is the kingdom of heaven.
But woe to you who are rich
For you have already received your comfort.
Luke 6:20, 24

The poor is detestable even to a friend, but many are they who love someone rich. One who despises the needy is at fault, one who takes pity on the poor is blessed.
Proverbs 14:20-21

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Peacemaking Isn't Easy or Obvious

A couple of our folks got a ride from a neighbor, whose name is Mort (name changed). Our folks brought their dog with them, who got out of the truck and ran over to another dog, who was easily four times his size. The two dogs scuffled a bit, and the owners separated them. Mort, however, was disturbed by the sight of a small dog he loved being "attacked" by another, larger dog. Mort is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and he just snapped. He talked about getting his .44 and shooting the other dog. When the owner of this dog heard this, he began to threaten Mort. And there was much yelling and many threats, even threats to kill people from Mort.

At this point I got involved and tried to talk to Mort about how we don't allow threats on the church property to which he responded, "I can say whatever I want. And if you try to stop me, I'll shoot you too!" I've been threatened before and it didn't mean much to me, but others in the church were very upset and they were ready to gang up on Mort for threatening the pastor. Then Mic, who is often problematic, goes right up to Mort with his hands outstretched and says, "Hey, it's okay, we don't want any trouble. We're not going to hurt you. We just want everything to calm down." Mic was so clearly peaceable and sincere that Mort decided not to make any more threats and just to leave to contact the police. Since Mort was speaking in such a crazy manner, we decided that him contacting the police wasn't much of a threat. Mort drove away. His friends said, "Did Mort just drive away and leave us? He has our bikes in his truck!' I told them that it was better for him to leave right now.

The incident seemed to be over, but Mort returned in just five minutes. I yelled at everyone, "Okay, just back off. I'll deal with it myself, everyone stay away." However, I was thinking that the time Mort was gone was just long enough for him to get a gun and to make his threats real. I didn't want anyone else hurt, and I didn't want anyone else to make the situation worse by trying to threaten Mort. Everyone backed off, and I approached Mort, saying, "Okay, Mort..." But Mort just looked at me with clear, innocent eyes and an open expression on his face and he said, "Hi! How are you doing?" I was surprised for a bit, but then I noticed that he was walking with a cane and a limp when before he was walking with no problem.

I responded, "Hi, Mort. Were you looking for your friends?" He replied, "Why, yes I am. I was supposed to pick them up." I said, "Why don't I go get them for you. They'll be right out." And I collected them and got them back with Mort and he drove them away, completely peacefully.

I am pretty certain that Mort isn't just bi-polar, but also has multiple personality disorder. If he had been approached with threats, he would have reverted back to the personality that was threatening. Instead, a peaceful approach allowed him to remain peaceful, even after his threats.

Our church is unique, but we have some interesting times. Very interesting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Plaintive Note From A Homeless Beggar

Get a job? Who has the time?
I spend my life standing in line,
waiting to be clothed or fed,
not knowing tonight where I'll lay my head.
What was that? What did you say?
Nothing to spare and I'm in the way?
i'm begging as humbly as I possibly can.
It's been a long day. Please understand.

A million times my feet slap the ground.
No reason to stop, no place to slow down.
I pound the pavement from morning to night,
easily spotting those with my flight.
Sleeping bags are a sure way to know
what they haven't any real place to go.
Backpacks are always a dead giveaway,
that they'll be standing in some line today.
Give them a nod, a laugh or a smile
because if they're standing in line,
they'll be there a while.

I just need a voucher or dollar to two,
to wash my clothes so I won't offend you.
Three hours spent standing in line
for 5 minutes to wash off the filth and the grime.
I look to strangers for kindness each day.
I need your help please don't walk away.
If you must keep walking, just pass me by,
but don't try to peek from the side of your eye.
I search all day to find a safe place.
Any hovel will do even the smallest of space.
Where I won't be told to "get up and go,"
where I won't be frozen and wet head to toe.

With the curb as my pillow and the street as my home.
I'm surrounded by people, but i'm always alone.
I know that sometimes I may not seem "right,"
please don't be rude, it's been a long night.

If I bum a smoke or ask for your name,
please don't ignore me, my needs aren't a game.

Poverty kills all hope and dreams
and being homeless is worse than I make it seem.
No hope for a mate, a family or life,
just me and the streets paved with heartache and strife.
I keep on moving while tragically knowing,
I'm headed nowhere with no place to go.

I can escape to the mall or the airport sometimes
and pretend for a minute this nightmare is not mine.
Sheltered for a night, a moment not more,
knowing the morning has nothing in store.

I'm not ungrateful, don't get me wrong,
it's just been a long month, it keeps dragging on.
Trying to search my way out of this hell
and forgetting that once my life was well.
All my efforts came crashing down.
I lost my house and my life without a sound.
If my house had burned down or a tornado had hit,
it would've been easier than my notice to quit.

All I want is a place of my own,
nothing great just a spot to call home.
I don't mean to sound trite when you have to say no,
it's just been along life and I've nowhere to go.
So please be kind it's been a long year,
one of these days it could be you standing here.
I pray to the lord it'll all end in time,
and I will finally reach the end of this line.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What is Poverty?

Most of us think of poverty as an economic problem. Poor people are people who don’t have enough money to live. And this is true, poverty certainly has an economic side. But the most significant issue of poverty is not economic, but social. If a person is unacceptable to society, they will never obtain economic increase. If a person is a serious criminal, or mentally ill, or is of the wrong ethnic group or has an irritating personality, they will almost never be able to create a sustainable income. Most people think of the poor as being lazy or simply unlucky. And while these factors may be involved, more likely the poor are those who have been deemed unacceptable by one standard or another.

If a woman is mentally ill, it doesn’t matter that she grew up in a wealthy household, she will not be cared for by her family. She will be institutionalized just as much as if she had been born in a middle class family. If a man is convicted for murder, even if he is innocent, and even if the verdict is overturned, his economic viability is over because no one would want to take a chance on him. If a person has a lot of money in the bank, but no one wishes to speak to him, then he is poor, although rich. Another person can be wealthy, but if no one will take her money because she has some unacceptable disease, then she might as well be completely impoverished.

The worst kind of poverty is separation from one’s fellow human beings. And ultimately, the worst of poverty is characterized by this. Those who end up on the street are those who have no family or friends to support them. The deepest poverty in Africa are not communities in poverty, but those who are alone, desperate, without help. And often communities of poverty grow because of the isolation of those who become poor. When people are separated from their support network and hit a tough spot, they look for others to help them. And some of the most generous communities in the world aren’t benefactors or philanthropists or Christian communities. They are the communities of those who are struck with poverty.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Keeping Warm in the Cold

So, here in the Portland/Gresham area, we have emergency warming shelters. Basically, if it is freezing, especially if there is snow or freezing rain, then the city sponsor churches to open so that the homeless don't catch hypothermia or die in the cold.

However, there's a catch. If there's less than an inch of snow or no freezing rain or if the temperatures is above 25 degrees, then they won't open the shelters on the first or second night of freezing temperatures.

Now for us, we think that any night outside in snow, even if it doesn't accumulate an inch, that's... bad. And we think that perhaps freezing temperatures isn't the best to be sleeping in. So we are letting people in our church. It's not a huge number of people, and it's only for a night or two until the city system gets in gear.

And that's where I'm at tonight. I'm in Gresham, and Jeff Strong is opening up our SE center. If anyone is interested in helping us next time this situation happens, let me know. We'd love to have more volunteers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Emergency Winter Shelter

It's getting cold and it's time for us to start working out shelters for folks in East Multnomah County. We're trying to be better organized than in years past, and this year could be particularly cold. Please pray for us as we attempt to get our folks in warmth in the worst of the weather this year...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Anawim Church Model

Most Christians who visit Anawim have a question about how much of a "church" it really is. On a given Saturday, maybe only half the people who come stay for a worship service, and the service itself is pretty chaotic, with people walking in and out and perhaps talking to interrupt the service on occasion. And there is an invitation for those there to participate in the middle of the service, which seems odd to some. And some of the participants are drunk or even high on drugs. Can this really be a church?

This is because Anawim doesn't follow the traditional church model established in the second century AD. In the second century, it is felt that the church was too disorganized, both in meeting and in doctrine. So they established bishops or overseers over many congregations to give a sense of unanimity of doctrine and meeting.

However, in the first century, this was not the case. There were a variety of styles of worship, a variety of different kinds of people and a variety of doctrines, all under the basic creed, "Jesus is Lord". Anawim is attempting to get at a church model that has been rejected millenia ago, but one that was established by Jesus.

We, like Jesus, are trying to establish two groups at the same time-- a community of sinners and a community of disciples. Anawim is really two churches in one, each model based on four separate passages of Scripture.

1. The Sinner’s Church
He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Mark 2:14-17

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Luke 19:1-10

Principles of the Sinner’s Church
a. We invite the outcast and those whom society considers to be the worst of sinners to church
b. We provide a context in which the worst of the unchurched are comfortable
c. We meet their physical and spiritual needs.
d. We love them for who they are, not demanding anything of them
e. We teach the word of God
f. We encourage repentance and following Jesus by loving them, showing what a disciple looks like and teaching God’s word.
g. We only call for repentance from sins that Jesus taught us, not by the traditions of man
h. We only make rules to make it easier for us to love each other, not to create a human order

2. The Disciple’s Church
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:41-47

When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
I Corinthians 14:26

Principles of the Disciple’s Church
a. We share the word of God every time we meet
b. We have a meal every time we meet
c. We pray for miracles every time we meet
d. We give to the needy among us
e. We make a place for the needy so we can give and they can share their faith with us
f. We encourage everyone to participate in the service
g. We praise God through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
h. All disciples are equal in prayer, in love and in power.
i. We discipline only when necessary for everyone to feel save and for everyone to love each other

If you are interested in this model and would like to see it at work, we invite you to come to either of our main services.

Gresham service at Sanctuary
19626 NE Glisan, Gresham
1pm Saturdays

Portland service at the Yellow Church
1821 SE 39th, Porland
4pm Sundays

Sunday, November 7, 2010

God Loves the Poor (more than He loves you-- just kidding)

I'm reposting this from "This Too Is Meaningless" a blog by Mike. Check it out HERE

Don’t get me wrong God as we know loves all people red and yellow black and white we are precious in His sight, as well as the rich. However all through the Bible God seems to favor the poor and lowly people. Well I found ten reasons why God "favors" if you will. PS Please understand I am working with a public high school vocabulary so the word Favor was all that came to mind. Anyway here is the list;

1. The poor know they are in urgent need of redemption.

2. The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with one another. (My church Family for instance)

3. The poor rest their security not on things but on people. (My church family for instance)

4. The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance, and no exaggerated need of privacy. (My church family for instance)

5. The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.

6. The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries. (Think I learned that this past year)

7. The poor can wait, because they have acquired a kind of dogged patience born of acknowledged dependence. (Still need work here)

8. The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated, because they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.

9. When the poor have the Gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threat or scolding.

10. The poor can respond to the call of the Gospel with certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and ready for anything.

In summary, through no choice of their own-they may urgently wish otherwise-poor people find themselves in a posture that befits the grace of God. In their state of neediness, dependence, and dissatisfaction with life, they may welcome God's free gift of love.

My note on numbers 2, 3 and 4 give perfect example of how the church body in my opinion is to operate. We depend on God as well as each other, our security rests in our relationships rather than our millions, and we discuss our struggles, doubts and needs freely. It is very humbling to really ask for help as I have found out recently. Without my church family I really don’t know where I would be. PS any of you reading this, I/we LOVE YOU GUYS! We wouldn’t have made without you!

For the record I am in no way poor unless you compare me to the top 3% in this country but when compared to the rest of the NORMAL world all of us here are extremely wealthy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ending Homelessness, Final Stage: Getting Housing

After the homeless are accepted by the community and begins to accept the community around them, the final stage to ending homelessness is getting people homes. However, this is more complicated and more individual than any of the other stages.

Why is housing the final stage? Because if we don't meet the stage of meeting survival needs, the homeless don't have the time to take care of their housing properly. And if there is no community involvement there is no support to keep them in housing. And if the homeless aren't educated and trained, then they will not stay in housing. If we just give the homeless an apartment, most of them will lose it unless there is adequate foundation.

And even at this final stage, there is still work to do before housing is obtained...

An experiences social worker needs to sit down with every homeless person to determine a program to get them inside, permanently. An interview will need to be done, discussing the homeless persons’ struggles, needs, employment history, family, housing history, health and more. After the interview, the social worker might make an overall recommendation for a track that the homeless person might go in. One track might be employment, another mental health, another rehabilitation and another social security. Then the social worker and the homeless person can determine what specific programs the homeless person might need in order to reach the goal of escaping poverty. The overall plan might include many steps, including obtaining ID, support groups, a mental health evaluation, addiction assistance, volunteer work, education, employment assistance and a housing recommendation.

There are many different kinds of addiction helps out there, and every person has different kinds of needs that the rehabilitation could assist. For many people, especially serious alcoholics and hard drug users the first step is a detoxification program—this assists a person with a medical detox so they don’t die in the midst of kicking their addiction. After this, there are many options for those struggling with mental addiction. There are work rehabs that offer a combination of full time work and twelve step programs (Salvation Army’s ARC). There are religious programs that work on relationship and religious education (Victory Outreach). There are outpatient rehab support that offer the most flexibility (Many hospitals). There are other kinds of in-patient facilities that provide basic structure and some freedom (DePaul Center) There are also low-key communities offering support and help with life skills. And, of course, there are 12 step programs and other kinds of support groups, religious and secular. For those seeking rehabilitation, the right program should be sought. This means that familiarity with all the programs in a broad area should be known and discussed with the person seeking rehabilitation.

Like rehabilitation, housing is not something that can be determined on a cookie-cutter basis. For some, an apartment is too complicated or too enclosed. There are a variety of different kinds of housing that might work for someone who has lived on the streets for years. Some might want to live in a drug and alcohol free community camp (Dignity Village). Others might want to live in a “halfway” house, which offers some of the flexibility of homeless culture, but some of the security of the middle class (Anawim Christian Community). Others might need to live in homes that focus on living in a clean and sober environment (Oxford Houses). Others might prefer to live with family, if that is offered. Others might want to live in religious communities (The Simple Way). Again, the many options should be available and sought.

Post-homeless counseling-- One of the greatest crisis periods for a homeless person is when they are able to obtain housing. Often, when the homeless get housing, the recently homeless develop depression, guilt, illness and recurring addiction issues. An additional support group helping the post-homeless to deal wit their issues is essential if the homeless are to remain housed. A post-homeless plan should also be laid out and support should be given to achieve it.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ending Homelessness, Part II: Community and Independence

It is easiest just to provide basic services, but poverty will not end for those in need if their basic needs are just provided for them. There must be larger support networks. Just as one of the ways people become homeless is by not having a support network, even so, a support network of community must be formed if the homeless are to escape poverty and to be accepted in the community. So this means that the there must be a variety of ways that the community and the homeless can associate and be educated about each other and how to live together. Also, besides simply providing for the homeless, the community must be providing means for the homeless to help themselves, so they can be independent, even if they are still living an alternative lifestyle.

Welcoming communities—The homeless need communities that they can feel welcome in. There are so many communities that look at them askance or are so formal or well-dressed that the homeless don’t feel comfortable. Some communities need to be open and willing to even seek the homeless to join them. This could be churches, synagogues, or other faiths. It could also be book clubs or chess clubs. It could be 12 step meetings or other kinds of help groups. As long as the homeless know they are welcome, a few will seek the shelter and comfort of community. As well as the coffee.

Community education—Every community has their own misinformation about the homeless, and most housed communities are fearful of the homeless. Education pieces in churches, community groups (such as the Optimist Club) are essential. But to connect to the entire community, it would be helpful to have newspaper articles or even television ads.

Advocates with local government—The homeless and those who work with the homeless should have a group that communicates their needs and concerns to city hall, local police, neighborhood associations and even the state government. This may not change policy, but it can communicate that the homeless are equal citizens with everyone else.

Volunteer Training: For those working with the homeless in day or night shelters, there should be training opportunities, or even required training in the following areas: Basic information about homelessness, preventing prejudice against the homeless, conflict resolution and preventing conflict, relational v. service mentality, preventing burnout.

Service opportunities—It is essential that the homeless feel ownership in the services that are providing for their needs. This gives them self-esteem and it assists how they are seen by the community. Not only that, but the services themselves benefit by having those receiving the services providing input in how services are given. This means that the homeless should be volunteers in shelters, serving food, working on community projects and being on advocacy and networking groups.

Labor—Since one of the most important issues for the homeless is un- or under-employment, there should be programs to give the homeless opportunities for employment. However, different homeless have different labor issues. Some need day labor, but others can’t even work for a whole day. Also some are able to have full time jobs and so just need employment services to assist them in obtaining labor, who will help with resumes, interviewing and other job seeking skills.

Financial services—Some of the homeless cannot trust themselves with finances. They know that they will waste their finances when they get some from labor. They might benefit from some financial services that could help their bills get paid.

Counseling/Support Groups: There are many issues that can be dealt with in a support group level. Not only living homeless in general, but it would greatly assist the homeless to have support groups or counseling services dealing with anger issues, addiction issues and stress management.

Education: Some of the homeless simply need some education to help them get a new start on life. One of the basic classes a number of the homeless could use is basic computer skills. But other classes that might prove beneficial is critical thinking skills (which might be taught through a literature course or a course on everyday logic) or basic life skills, especially in preparation for living indoors. It might be good if a local community college could offer job training skills to those seeking other full time employment. Also, for homeless teens there may need to be a program to get them into public school or to help them obtain a GED.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pieces of the Puzzle to End Homelessness, Part 1

Ending homelessness is like a puzzle. Each puzzle has areas of the puzzle that are easy to see and to put together, and other parts that aren’t as obvious and more difficult to fit together. But all are necessary if we are going to finish the puzzle. Even so, ending homelessness is complex and some parts of the solution are difficult to piece together. But if we do not have all the pieces together, then the goal of ending homelessness will not be accomplished. If we put someone in a apartment, but don’t give them assistance with food and counseling, they will not be able to sustain their place in a home.

The basic steps of providing the needs of the homeless is fundamentally providing survival for the homeless. It is meeting their basic needs so they can go on with the business of putting their lives together. It is best if an entire community work on this as a whole, rather than piecemeal. A piecemeal approach will mean that there is a lot of overlap and unnecessary redundancy. It also means that where some services will be provided in abundance, other services will not be provided for at all. For this to happen, one of the foundations of helping the homeless is a networking group that will keep all the groups in communication with each other.

Food: Providing food is the easiest and most basic level for most people who want to help the homeless. Many churches and community groups provide meals, sack lunches, sandwiches or simply snacks for free. With only a few exceptions, food is the one need that is met for most homeless people in urban areas.

Clothes: This used to be a basic resource for the homeless, but having room to store a variety of clothes is becoming more difficult.

Showers: No one can find a job or feel good about themselves without a shower. For most of the homeless, a shower is an occasional luxury, rather than a part of a daily routine. Only a few centers have the resources to provide showers, so this continues to be a need.

Laundry: Because of a limited amount of clothes, the homeless desperately need laundry facilities. Especially during wet weather, when their bedding and clothing is in need of drying.

Basic Supplies: Some of the basic supplies the homeless have are razors, deodorant, sun screen,

Day shelters: The homeless need a safe place to be during the day where the police and the community won’t be harassing them, and a place where they can have some structure. It is also good to have a central place where they can be found to do labor or provide services.

Night Shelters: Of course, the homeless are most vulnerable to the weather and those who wish to harm them at night. A place where they can sleep safely is important.

ID assistance: Every community should have one or two experts in obtaining one’s identification if it is lost or destroyed. The homeless are especially vulnerable to losing ID, and will need to have both assistance and small financial help to obtain their ID back.

Health clinics: Free health care with doctors on staff is important for any group that does not have insurance.

Mental health clinics: Given the large number of mentally ill on the street, it is important to have a mental health clinic, which includes mental health evaluations, available to those without insurance.

Dental health clincs: A significant area of health that is often missed is dental health. Poor dental health can not only effect one’s teeth, but lead to other kinds of illness and mental health issues.

Medication aid: Most hospitals and clinics don’t have a program for a full run of medicines, even antibiotics. A program should be established for those with low income to obtain prescriptions at low cost.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Culture, Gospel, Homelessness and the Middle Class

Some may be offended by my description of homeless culture, because I am giving to them a cultural norm which, in some ways, seems immoral. Some may feel more distant from the homeless than they were before. Some may feel justified in blaming the homeless for having the culture they do. What I have tried to do is to explain why they have this culture, not to justify it, but to explain it. Yes, some of these cultural mores are strictly immoral, no matter how I may explain why it seems necessary to the homeless.

However, to blame the homeless for these cultural mores is to neglect our own cultural excuses for immoral behavior. Why do we think that if a person is unable to pay a utility company that they should be charged more? This is not only immoral, but idiotic. This would make sense if the person was refusing to pay, but if they are unable to pay, why charge them substantially more? Because, in our society, money is the base commodity of value. This means, first, that to charge someone is to communicate the value of something, whether it be an ice cream bar or a late payment. But this means that those who have less money are fundamentally less valuable, and so they have less say as to how society runs than those who have more money, who are clearly more valuable. This is a value of American middle class and upper class society, and it is basic to how it works. This leads to immoral actions because it is a fundamentally immoral principle. We can justify it by explaining economic theory or the development of politics in American society, but we cannot justify it.

The fact is, Jesus and the gospel stands apart from every culture. Every culture, from the standpoint of the gospel, has positive points and negative points. Every culture has their ethical aspects and their immoral aspect. From Jesus’ perspective, one culture has no real right to judge another culture, because they are both blind to their own immoral presuppositions.

For this reason, Jesus’ first public word is to repent and believe in the gospel. We need to look at our own culture and see the repentance we need to do, more than point at other cultures and complain about how immoral they are. We need to recognize what Isaiah recognized, “I live among a people of unclean lips.” Our culture has corrupted us by their own evil standards and thus we have participated in the everyday evil of our culture. It doesn’t matter if you are homeless or wealthy, white or black, immigrant or citizen, European or Asian or American or Hispanic or Slavic or Indian (East or West)—every culture is immoral, every culture has its good points. We can analyze them objectively against either a common standard or God’s standard as communicated by Jesus, but we cannot say that our culture is better than theirs. Nor do we have a right to swallow up one culture because of its immoral aspects or because of its incompatibility with our own.

Rather, we need to encourage all cultures to follow Jesus. Yes, we want people to believe in Jesus, but we also need for the world to realize that Jesus points us to a better way for us to live with each other. Not everyone will believe in our theology about Jesus. This doesn’t mean we need to write them off as human beings. Not only do we need to give them assistance when they need it, but we can show them the way of Jesus as a way of life.

An excellent example of this is Alcoholics Anonymous. Almost every principle of the 12 steps are actually principles of Jesus that are re-contextualized to secular language for addicts. It speaks of dependence on God, repentance, reconciliation, community, accountability, forgiveness and even evangelism. It is not a complete gospel of Jesus, but it is a contextualized semi-gospel that speaks to and revitalizes a hurting sub-culture. A gospel of Jesus, as marginalized as it is, as weakened as it is, is still powerful enough to bring healing.

When most people approach homelessness, they do one of two things. Most will just try to meet the most basic needs that are easiest to fulfill. This helps the homeless in their day-to-day needs, but it does not, in reality, alleviate their poverty, nor bring real transformation.
The second approach is to try to make the homeless middle class. This approach is done by both Christians and non-Christians alike because our cultural values and beliefs are actually stronger than our gospel values and beliefs. We don’t see Jesus’ gospel as actually redeeming the homeless in the needs they have, and so we offer them the middle class, which specifically meets what the middle class thinks the homeless needs most, which is, interestingly enough, accommodation to the values and standards of the middle class.

That which is most frightening to the middle class is that the homeless might not want their values, that they are fundamentally of a different culture. So they want to train them to be like the middle class, and give them “mentors” or teachers to train them to be middle class. I think this is in error, for they will be teaching them not only the positive aspects of the American middle class values—hard work, following laws, etc—but also the weak aspects of the middle class—self-reliance, importance of the nuclear family, a skewed money value.

Rather, we need to do as Jesus said. We need to first evaluate our own culture by the gospel, repent of our own wrong values, before we can tell others how they should rightly live their lives. (Matthew 7:5—“First take the beam out of your own eye and then you can see clearly to take the speck out of theirs.”) We need to repent of our own cultural blindness.

Then, when we approach the homeless or any other culture, we must attempt to give them the values of the gospel and not our own cultural values. We can offer them the deliverance of Jesus, not the deliverance of our powerful, but oppressing, society. We must separate our culture from our gospel, to offer a pure, undefiled religion that comes from God and not our values that mix in.

Then, when we truly understand the gospel apart from our values and have repented of our immorality, can we translate that gospel into the language and culture system of another culture. When we have gone through the process of cultural repentance and gospel conversion ourselves, then we can understand what it means when we ask others to do the same. And when we do so, we do not do it on the basis of a culture that feels that they have a “burden” to replicate their culture, as if their culture is what saves. Rather, we offer the gospel as those who are poor ourselves, and in desperate need of the salvation of Jesus ourselves. We come, not from a place of power, but a place of humility, seeing our own weaknesses and seeing Jesus as the real answer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Shelters Dehumanize

Please read these two descriptions of nights in a shelter:

Shelters Are For Someone Else 1
Shelters Are For Someone Else 2

However we treat the poor, that is how we treat Jesus. When Jesus or His angels come to visit us, is this how we want them to be treated?

When we establish a shelter, let us treat people with dignity and respect. This means that our context has to be one of dignity as well. Posting a hundred rules communicates something. So does insisting that people listen to a sermon before they fill their empty bellies.

We want to help, so let us help. If we want to show Jesus, then let us show love.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Homeless Culture: Not Responsible For Debt

A street person might collapse. Someone calls 911. An ambulance comes and takes them to the hospital and they are treated. About two weeks later, they receive a bill. Actually, a number of bills. All together they equal a minimum of a thousand dollars. But the street person has no money, no regular means of income. Rather than burden themselves with guilt about a debt they cannot pay, they ignore it. The bills keep coming and they keep throwing it away. Perhaps there is a slight amount of guilt about the bill, but the practical fact is, they can’t pay it.
Most hospitals have programs to help pay for such bills. But with those programs come a lot of paperwork, which most people on the street can’t fill out on their own. Soon, if there is any bill, any debt, it is routinely ignored. They figure that they wouldn’t have much use for a good credit number anyway.

But there is still a small amount of guilt about the debt for many of those on the street. For this reason, they generally avoid any kind of debt. If they are sick, they try to care for themselves, rest and take what few medicines are available to them. But they don’t go to the doctor, because that requires money—a lot of it. And they just don’t have it.

Interestingly enough, even after a person is off the street or obtains a regular income, this attitude persists. Debts are something to be ignored, not held responsible for.

What Kind of Water Do You Drink?

World Water Day Video

Did you know that a billion people in the world today don't have safe water?

That millions of people in China and Bangladesh have natural arsenic in their water?

That one fifth of all children under five in Africa die because they don't have access to clean water?

Pray for those who need clean water, that they might obtain it.

Support organizations that create clean water for those who need it.

Learn more about the need for clean water

Act now to assist those who need water

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Homeless Culture: Telling Authorities About Crimes

Probably the worst crime of any homeless person is to be a “rat”, that is, to tell the authorities of a crime of another. This is because most of the homeless see everyone on the street as some kind of criminal, so to be a rat is hypocrisy. But it is also a general acknowledgment that injustice should be dealt with inside their own community and not to bring in outsiders.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Homeless Culture: Distrust of Societal Authority

The homeless have been roused by the police in the middle of the night to be told to move, or simply to be threatened. They are often rousted by the police, even if they are doing nothing that would even give suspicion of criminal activity. They could be ticketed or arrested by the authorities which puts them into the justice system. Once in the justice system, they are often given fines or requirements they cannot fulfill, which keeps them in the system and frequently gives them jail time. Churches may seem to want to help, but most volunteers, secretaries and even pastors are overly authoritative, disrespectful and angry to even be dealing with the needs of the poor. Government help is bureaucratic and often too complex and insisting in too many requirements for the homeless to fulfill.

All of this builds onto a basic distrust of all authorities. Among the homeless communities, authority is not questioned because it is already assumed that authority is manipulative, self-serving and rejecting. This does not mean that there is not the desire for justice, but it is rare that one of the homeless community sees that there is a possibility of justice in societal systems.

This also leads to a resistance of authoritative action. If someone insists that another obey them because they have authority, the homeless person will automatically resist this approach. They will insist upon reasons they can understand, not yelling, not a title, not violence. While someone with a gun or a title might convince them to act in a certain way, it will never develop into respect or obeying the authority for authority's sake.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Homeless Culture: Regretful Use of Violence

Almost all of the chronically homeless decry violence, but they almost all acknowledge that violence and threats are at times necessary. Almost every female homeless person carries a weapon for protection, although they rarely find it necessary to use them. Many of the male members of the homeless community find it necessary to defend their honor or the honor of their closest companions through violence. Most of the leaders of group camps find it necessary to occasionally use violence to create order. This may belie the statistic above which states that the homeless are convicted of less violent crime. What that statistic really means is that the homeless have learned their place in society, and they will rarely, if ever, use violence against the middle class. But violence between the homeless isn’t that uncommon, but because violence is seen as a form of communication or even sport, then violence within the homeless community is not reported to the authorities.

Homeless Culture: Honor Highly Valued

As part of the patriarchal system, one’s reputation and show of respect is primary. Every member of the society expects a basic amount of respect given by all. Respect is granted through proper acknowledgement, requesting and acknowledging favors. Disrespect is the worst kind of sin in the homeless community. Disrespect can be shown through insisting upon authority not granted, taking of one’s property, disregarding one’s good act, ignoring another’s presence, insults, or speaking negatively about another person.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Homeless Culture: Patriarchal Culture

The chronically homeless is almost the only segment of society which is dominated by single men. In the broader homeless population, single men make up 51 percent of the population, but most families, women and children drop off in less than a year. It is mostly single men who find homeless to be an option for survival. This does not mean that women do not also find themselves to be homeless for more than a year, but it is more rare. Among the chronically homeless, in my observation, women only make up less than a third of the population.

Because of this, chronically homeless culture is testosterone-driven. Because of the lack of children, men are less providers than protectors, but they are primarily protectors of their own reputation. Although women are not considered property, women are often expected to follow the values established by men or to face violence. Physical abuse of girlfriends or the girlfriends of friends is relatively common.

On the other hand, some women adapt to the patriarchal value system by taking on male power traits. These women are treated as equals, or even superiors in a matriarchal sense. All women also are protected by the ethics of the society from violence from outsiders or rape from anyone.

Homeless Culture: Infrequent Bathing

One of the hardest aspects of living on the street is taking a shower. Showers are available, but they are either infrequent or not free. Thus, showers more than once a week are seen as a luxury. Over time, some homeless might seen cleanliness as simply unnecessary, and won’t take the effort to get a shower, even if one is available.

Most of the homeless love the opportunity to get bathed, however, and see it as a comfort. I have heard one person on the street say, “If I had my own place, I would take five showers a day.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Homeless Culture: Loose, Rough Clothing

The homeless have a “look.” This look is practical for the weather. They tend to wear layers, with the outside layer being loose fitting. The homeless also tend to wear military gear, because it is made to be durable and good for outdoor living. Because they get clothes from thrift stores or for free, many of their clothes have holes and thin patches, which is another reason for layers. Many of the homeless wear many layers of clothes even during the hot months because they don’t have a closet to store clothes, so they wear them all.

It is important on the street to be practical, because survival is most significant. However, some homeless aren't just interested in surviving, they want to look good, too. As one of my friends told me, "Just because you are a bum doesn't mean you have to look like a bum."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Homeless Culture: Disrespect for the Homeless

It is a common concept for most communities to have prejudicial ideas about the homeless in general. The homeless are considered lazy, addicts, criminals and general ne’er-do-wells. These stereotypical ideas do not cease necessarily when one becomes homeless. The ideas persist, because they see some people who meet these qualifications. This means that the homeless will often define themselves as a group by these same stereotypes that they are wrongly characterized by.

One of the ways that we know that it is not true is that individual homeless usually see themselves as being the stand out from the rest of their community. “Sure, they are all like that, but not me. I’m still the same as I used to be.” They see themselves as hard working, while others are lazy. They are moral, while others are immoral. This is partly because in these areas there is such a variety of work and a variety of moralities that it is sometimes difficult to see others as actually having something that they have an alternative form of.

And when a person gets off the street they either look at their friends still on the street with either disrespect or pity. But they see themselves as “different” now that they have an apartment or a job.

Blaming the Poor for Poverty

This is an article I wrote for Leader Magazine, an MCUSA publication:

As we are driving down the road, we approach Tom. He is on the street corner, holding a sign, which says “Homeless. Anything helps.” He looks dirty and disheveled. His face is sad and tired. Just as pity rises in our hearts we think, “But what made him homeless? What keeps him homeless?” And the first thought we come up with is addiction.

Now we see Tom in a different light. We look for indications of alcoholism or drug use, as if we could see into his soul and see a black patch of wickedness. Somehow, we shake off this idea. We remember that we don’t have the right to judge another human being. So we take a bold move. We decide to park and talk to Tom.

“Do I drink?” Tom chuckles at the question. “Well, sure. I drink a 40 ouncer every night so I can get to sleep. Overnight, when it’s so cold that it creeps into your bones you need something. Some nights, I just sit up wondering who is going to approach me. The police might come with their dogs. I’ve had friends attacked by strangers in the middle of the night. I realize that it isn’t likely for these things to happen, but I don’t want to be kept awake by my thoughts. So I drink a beer every night. I can’t afford sleeping pills.” He laughs. “Heck, if I could afford that, I’d probably spend the money on a motel room!”

“Yep,” Tom admits, “some of my other friends drink a lot. And some of them use drugs. But I haven’t met too many folks who came to the street addicted. I can’t blame the ones who turn to it. It’s a hard life. And we spend a lot of our time just on surviving. I suppose they do that stuff so they can forget who they are and where they are. To take some joy in their lives. I don’t like to have my head in a daze, but I can see why they do it.”

In our society, poverty is blameworthy. Rarely is the attitude stated so plainly as by Bill Cunningham, “People are poor in America ... not because they lack money; they're poor because they lack values, morals and ethics.” We certainly don’t agree with Mr. Cunningham. But we know there must be some reason for poverty. And our society all too often blames the poor for their poverty. Thus is the connection between homelessness and addiction born.

The statistics on homelessness and addictions are difficult to pin down, just as most statistics about homelessness. Some say that only thirty percent of the homeless are addicted, others say as many as sixty five percent are (National Coalition for the Homeless). However, the number is far less than a hundred percent. And it is clear that rarely is addiction the cause of homelessness. It is estimated that at least half of the general population of the United States have some kind of addiction issue, so the homeless statistics are probably more than the general population, but not remarkably different.

To paraphrase James 2:2-4, if we look down upon the homeless, assuming their immorality, but we welcome the housed and middle class with open arms, have we not made false distinctions and become judges with impure motives? Our task is to welcome all like Jesus. Our task is to love our neighbor, providing what help we can.

This does not mean we should act foolishly. When I pass someone like Tom, I keep in mind that my pity wants to give him money, but perhaps money isn’t always the best thing to give him. I’d have to know him better to know for certain. But this doesn’t mean I can’t love when I see my neighbor or fellow Jesus follower holding a sign. I carry breakfast bars or pairs of socks in my vehicle so I can give him something he could use now.

There is always a way to help if we set aside thoughts of blame. “Blessed is he who makes plans for the poor…” Psalm 41:1

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Homeless Culture: Flexibility Concerning Addiction

The homeless find themselves in great stress daily. Their stress is not just about other’s behavior, but about life and death issues. This stress builds up over time and creates depression. Pretty soon, the homeless person is desperate to find some joy in their lives. And they can find temporary joy in alcohol or in drugs. Almost none of the homeless are interested in making drugs or alcohol a lifestyle, but a good number of them fall into that, almost by default.

Because of this, the homeless are accepting of other people’s addictions. They will complain about other’s addictions and occasionally make compassionate statements about their friends stopping a life-threatening addiction. But there is little moral quandary about drugs or alcohol. Everyone recognizes it as a survival mechanism, or self-medication.

And yet, at the same time, there is an underlying current of people constantly trying (and usually failing) to quit their addictions, for personal reasons. And the homeless community support these efforts, even if they find themselves unable to do this themselves.

For all this, it must be admitted that there are a number of the chronic homeless who are not involved in drugs or alcohol in any way. Being a part of the community doesn’t necessarily mean that addiction is required. The actual number of addicts on the street is almost impossible to determine realistically, however.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homeless Culture: Ethics, Not Law

A person who becomes homeless quickly learns that their economic situation automatically makes them a criminal. It is illegal in most cities to “camp”, which means to sleep outside, even in one’s own car. The intent of these laws is to allow the homeless to be moved about as necessary by the city. Because the homeless are treated as criminals, they develop a casual approach to the law. The law itself isn’t a standard of morality, because they know that not all “criminals” are immoral. Instead, they follow their own morality, without regard to what is legal or not. However, the idea of what is ethical behavior varies greatly, as it does among the general populace. This means that the homeless might be more willing to do actions that are considered unacceptable by other groups. However, statistics show that the homeless are less likely to participate in violent crime than other groups.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Homeless Culture: Immediate Use of Resources

Because resources are scarce amidst the community—money, food, etc.—and the needs of the community are always there, many resources get used up quickly. But because more resources become available quickly, even daily, there is an expectation that resources can be gotten and so they are used up. In the homeless community, resources are not to be saved or reserved, but used. This is connected with the low-level fatalism in the homeless community, for what happens tomorrow is in the hands of fate and what happens is what will happen.

This idea is also given because of the nature of the items the homeless obtain. That which is given to the homeless, or obtained through inexpensive or free means is low quality and is not meant to last over the long term. Food is on the edge of going bad, the socks they are given are cheap, and even tarps and blankets are usually inexpensive and some are even unable to be washed. This only firms up the idea that what one gets is for today, not necessarily tomorrow.

This also adds to one’s ability to give to others. If resources are not for the morrow, then they can freely share with others what they have today.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Homeless Culture: Freely Sharing What One Has

Once a person is homeless, they tend to be with others who are struggling with poverty issues. They will meet at soup kitchens or other services for the poor. And as sad as their story is, there are others who have more tragic stories than they. They soon realize that the poor are a community together, and if they do not stand together, they will all fall. At this point it begins to be a habit of taking whatever you have and are not currently using to give it to others. In middle class society, we have a tendency to save items because we might need it in the future. And there are some who store items (see “pack-rat mentality”) who are homeless. But if someone needs something, it is usually given freely and easily. You see the homeless asking and receiving cigarettes all the time—but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Bike parts, food, beer, information, camp sites, even sometimes one’s tent is all shared property for those in need. If there is someone in greater need, or lacking something essential, then it is freely shared.

Homeless Culture: Respecting Ingenious Survival

Survival is a necessary preoccupation on the street. So when someone comes up with an ingenious way to survive, it is praised and spoken of highly to others. A group of the homeless were honored when they developed a Hogan to live in. Back ways into abandoned houses, shelter in blackberry bushes, camping for months in the woods are all considered praiseworthy, if not always copied.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Homeless Culture: Alternative Labor

Almost without exception, the homeless are not lazy. One cannot be lazy if it is necessary to walk miles for a plate of food. While one is homeless it is very difficult to obtain a full time job even if one was able to work such a job. So the homeless instead depend, for the most part, on alternative kinds of labor. This includes recycling cans or scrap, begging for change, dumpster diving, busking, day labor through an organization or through personal contacts, or stealing. Some would say that some of these kinds of labor isn’t really work at all, but only those who haven’t done it could say so. Just like any other job, the labor might take mental exertion—like begging— and some might take physical exertion. Some might simply be disgusting, like dumpster diving, and some might be immoral, like stealing. Some may not pay much for the effort involved, like recycling cans. And different homeless do different kinds of labor, based on their gifts and moral ideals, but it is all work. There is labor involved, not leisure. No one would be doing it if what they needed were easily available to them. And some of it is really difficult work. Just alternative work.

(I want to make a point that I am not supporting stealing, nor do most homeless people accept stealing as a way of life. I am just saying that it is one example of what some think of as alternative labor, the category is accepted by almost all homeless people.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Homeless Culture: Respect for Hard Work

Often being homeless throws one into such a depression that there is only enough energy to survive and not more than that. Other homeless work hard to maintain whatever kind of positive life they can. Some homeless work hard so they can have a few beers at the end of the day. But pretty much without exception, all the homeless respects those who work hard and accomplish something for their work. They do not always respect those who have jobs. But they respect labor, especially manual labor. If that manual labor just means a nice camp, it is respected, even if no money comes from it. The work is enough. And the homeless might do volunteer work just for the self-respect it brings (although they would prefer to work for money).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Homeless Culture: Lack of Fear

When one lives in a certain context, then that context lacks fear. If one hears gunshots on a regular basis, then gunfire loses all power to cause fear. Even so, those not homeless are scared of living on the street and one can’t imagine how one lives that way. The homeless are scary because they are strange. When one becomes homeless they are nervous about who they will meet and the tragedies that will follow.

Eventually, one learns that homelessness is just another way to live, with its pluses and minuses like any other way to live. But there is no fear of homelessness. For many people who had been homeless and then lived back in a middle class lifestyle, they know that homelessness is always an option, if necessary, and not a frightening one. I know of one man who was homeless and then ended up in an apartment. He couldn’t afford dentures, so he became homeless a while by his own choice so he could save up for a set of dentures. When he was ready, he moved back into an apartment. It was just an option for him. I know of others who become homeless for a month or two every year because they miss the kind of choices it afforded them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Explanatory Note

I just want to explain the reason for giving a description of homeless culture.

This is not in praise or condemnation of homeless culture. I am just trying to describe it. I do this so that we can better understand the cultural changes that happens to one when they become homeless. Some might have had part or all of this culture before they became homeless, but most develop it as they lived on the street over time.

I have heard many people either condemn the homeless because they are "different" from them, or other say "we are all the same." Frankly, the homeless ARE culturally different from the middle class, and if the middle class wishes to help them or condemn them, they should do it with understanding, not ignorance.

Homeless culture is simply a culture. It has good aspects and bad aspects just like every other culture. Just like middle class American white culture has good aspects and bad aspects. And we need to understand that a homeless person isn't "fixed" if they become middle class. And we also have to realize that in certain aspects they won't accept all of middle class society. And that is okay, because homeless culture has some good aspects that we should all accept as normative. And it has some aspects that traps one into homelessness.

I'm just writing this to open our eyes, a little.

Homeless Culture: Fatalism

Culturally, the homeless learn that for people who are free, they have very little control over their lives. They don’t know whether they will be woken from a sound sleep, whether their possessions will be stolen during the day, or what resources they will gain that day.

Because of this, there are two cultural consequences of living on the street. First is a certain kind of angry fatalism. That they have little control over their own lives and they feel that they should. At times this lack of control leads one to feel furious at others who one feels should provide them what they need. Thus, a homeless person might become angry at service workers or fellow homeless or God because they think that someone is ultimately in control and thus responsible for their lack.

Secondly, there is a dependence on Fate or God. Each day brings its own stresses and joys, its own lack and supply—yet somehow the homeless survive. Ultimately, there is a gratitude to life and what little is given.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Homeless Culture: Dependence

The homeless also have an equal amount of dependence on the kindness of others. One’s kind heart provides food, another provides funds, another provides clothing. The homeless soon learn that while they are free from the tyranny of middle class life, they are enslaved to the good intentions of strangers.

Homelessness is a certain kind of slavery. Because when one is unable to control the resources they need to live on—food, clothing, etc—then one must do whatever is required in order to obtain these resources. This may mean walking miles, or it may mean holding a sign indicating one’s pathetic state. It may mean humiliation or it may mean standing in a line. Or it may be listening to a sermon. Whatever is required, some will do it. Every “gift” has a price and this price eats at the “freedom” of the homeless.

Just like all life, it is a balance between freedom and tyranny. The homeless have chosen, for the most part, the tyranny of the good hearted.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Homeless Culture: Independence

There is a sense of freedom that the homeless have that no one else has. No need to pay bills, to clean up house, to deal with neighbors, to mow the lawn, to get up for work at a certain time, to deal with all the stresses that accompany daily middle class life. A few mistakenly assume that homelessness is pure freedom from responsibility—that it most certainly is not. One’s camp still must be cleaned and there are still people to deal with (in some ways more difficult people), but there is certainly less responsibility being homeless than being housed. And this freedom is frustrating at first. Freedom is, of course, a two-edged sword, for less responsibility means less control, less opportunity for self change. But it can mean a reduction of a certain kind of stress, which, over time, the homeless appreciate and cherish.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Homeless Culture: B-Type Personalities

Our society rewards those who thrive on stress. They are the ambitious, the driven, the go-getters. They are called “A” type personalities. “B” type personalities, however, tend to not be as success-driven. They are content hanging with their family and friends. But they also tend to be not as successful, and so we find that people who are chronically homeless are almost always “B” type personalities.

The same holds true with the Meyer-Briggs personality dual “J” and “P”. The “J” personality is task-oriented, not wanting to finish work on a project until it is completed. They also tend to be on time or early for appointments and scheduled events. The “P” personality is more event oriented. They tend to be late to appointments and they will end a task when their attention is drawn elsewhere, whether the task is done or not. “P”s are not as time-focused as “J”s and are more flexible about… everything.

The homeless tend to be Ps as well as B-type personalities, if only because Js and A-types have a better success rate and if they fail, they tend to get back on their feet easier and quicker. B-types and Ps are more willing to go with the flow, and though they certainly wouldn’t want to be homeless, they find themselves less motivated to do the extra effort involved in no longer being homeless.

Culturally Homeless

When someone becomes homeless, it is a tragedy, both for themselves and for society. When that person remains homeless for a long period of time, for the sake of survival, they become acculturated to their situation. At this point, homelessness is not simply a situation—tragic or otherwise—it becomes a lifestyle, and that lifestyle eventually becomes a way of looking at life. This would happen to any of us, as human beings, for we are adaptable to various environments. Even the most socially awkward and mentally ill, as long as they aren’t severely developmentally disabled, is able to handle a difficult survival situation. I have seen people who have severe schizophrenia be unable to distinguish the difference between the people in front of them and the ones in their heads, but still be able to survive in the third world context on the street.

Following this, I am going to be posting a number of characteristics of those who are chronically homeless-- homeless for at least a year. These characteristics become a part of their cultural landscape, not just a temporary response to one's circumstances, but a way of looking at life. For this reason, if one becomes homeless long term, they don't just leave it once they are off the street. Homelessness stamps them, changes their outlook permanently.

This needs to be remembered as we offer services to the homeless, especially if we are working on "ending homelessness." In the end, there is no such thing as ending homelessness. Because even if you find a chronically homeless person a home, they still have the culture of a homeless person. Some of this we may want to help change, but much of it we do not.

There should be approximately 20 characteristics of the chronically homeless. If you can't find them all, check the tag: Homeless Culture.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poverty In the United States

From Religion News Summary at

The number of people in poverty in America increased to its highest recorded point last year, and the poverty rate rose to its highest level since 1994, according to Religion News Service. The Census Bureau released data Sept. 16 that showed the rate of poverty increasing 1.1 percentage points to 14.3 percent in 2009. A total of 43.6 million live in poverty -- the highest since recording began in 1959 -- and up from 39.8 million in 2008. Social service programs such as Catholic Charities USA are faced with the challenge of increased needs from individuals and working families, budget cuts and a decrease in individual donations. The Rev. Larry Snyder, president and CEO of Catholics Charities, said that while the statistics were staggering, they did not come as a surprise to those who work with people in poverty on a daily basis, especially after two years of recession.

The United States is not a third world country. But there is a third world country within the U.S., and it is growing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Home In Gresham

Today, the East County Day Shelter Network expands. Anawim has been able to open up two more days of the day shelter, Wednesdays and Fridays. This means that the day shelter is open now five days a week!

This means showers for homeless folks in Gresham three days a week, instead of just one.

It means that the outcast in Gresham have a safe place to be five days a week.

It means that more folks from different churches have an opportunity to serve the poor.

Praise God for His provision! And we thank the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference for giving this opportunity!

Creating Justice

I just read an interesting discussion between Mark Dever and Jim Wallis about their differing views on justice. You can read it, here: Leadership Interview About Justice

Their perspectives are interesting. Dever, a pastor of an important congregation in D.C. says that though his faith isn't private, yet it doesn't extend to creating justice in society at large. Our responsibility, he says, is to be just in the church. Wallis, long time leader of Sojourners, disagrees. His whole life has been a reflection of Martin Luther King Jr.'s form of spirituality, which is to create justice in the church and society simultaneously by changing the whole political outlook on what justice is.

I would take a third way. I think that we should begin, as Dever says, with creating justice in the church. I don't think that the church can tell society not to be racist as long as we are not firmly confronting the racists in our own church. We cannot tell society to accept the homeless and the mentally ill as long as they are marginalized in our group.

But in confronting racism among our own, and in accepting the outcast, we will find ourselves acting. Creating justice is not a matter of speeches or opinions, but a matter of action. This is what Scripture teaches-- that justice is feeding, welcoming, healing and empowering, not just having the right ethical position. As we work for justice, we will find that justice is not found in individual action, but in community. Thus, to create justice, we will have to create just communities that include the outcast. And it is in this arena that we will find ourselves intersecting with politics.

The governmental arena and the religious arena are not and cannot be completely divided. The interests of government and religion intersect in the area of poverty and how to approach it. And, of course, the government is full of religious people whose religion informs them, although doesn't decide for them, in areas of ethics and justice. And democratic government is made up of communities. Thus, as the church creates communities of justice, they will have to interact with the government, if only to survive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anawim Newsletter

Thanks to Samantha Childress, who is staying at our house right now with her fiancée, Tim and her newborn baby, Paloma, we are soon going to be sending out our first monthly Anawim newsletter!

We will try to make it informative, entertaining and visually interesting. We're planning on sending them out early in September.

If you want to make sure you're on the list for the newsletter, please send me an email at and you'll be among the first to receive it!

A Successful Campaign!

In talking to some folks on the street, holding signs, it seems that our campaign to encourage people to keep breakfast bars in their cars and give them to people on the street has been successful! I heard some sign holding folks say, “All we get are bars now!” So he asked, “What about socks? You want some people to give you that instead?” They both answered, “Please!”

Give socks to people holding signs! Just buy a package or two of socks and keep them in your car. When you see someone holding a sign or begging, give them a pair of socks. I promise it will be appreciated!


One of our folks on the street came to the day shelter with her eleven year old nephew. He came to her the other day saying that because he doesn't have a dad, he doesn't have anyone to take him camping. So, he said, "You're homeless, so you know how to camp. Could you take me?" She laughed out loud and agreed. They spent a few days at the Sandy River near a homeless camp.

One of the jokes the folks on the street say every once in a while is, "Hey, let's go camping!"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Causes Homelessness?

When we ask this question, we are usually asking behind it the question, “How do we end homelessness?” Because we believe that if we know what causes homelessness, then we can just reverse the process and voila! Homelessness is taken care of. However, this discounts the fact that once a person is homeless for a period of time, they change. Almost no one wants to be homeless, but everyone, in a given situation, adapts to their environment.

Even so, this doesn’t mean that the cause of homelessness isn’t an important questions. It tells us the kind of person who is likely to be homeless—apart from just a person with a low income—and it gives us an idea of how to prevent homelessness, possibly, which is key if, in the end, we wish no one to become homeless.

To answer the issue of what causes homelessness, we would have to do something more than simply interview every homeless person and ask them how they became homeless. We need to pay attention to the stories of the homeless and make a determination of the common elements. If we see the elements that all homeless people have in common, then we might have a deeper understanding of this problem.

a. Loss of housing
Of course, a person becomes homeless when they lose their housing. That seems obvious. So the cause of homelessness is inadequate housing. But how do people lose their housing? Many in apartments lose it because they weren’t able to pay their rent within thirty days. In an age of managed apartments instead of dealing directly with an owner, renters are seen as debtors instead of people. They are given a notice which the renters are obligated to fulfill. Perhaps the renter might appeal, but they would often rather be looking for ways to pay the rent instead of spending time in court.

The other issue is inadequate housing for people with particular difficulties. If someone has a severe mental illness, one which, perhaps, occasionally causes them to tear out the walls of their apartment, or if someone has a social dysfunction, like an addiction, then even if the rent is guaranteed, they may not be able to stay in housing which has close quarters with others. Since low income or subsidized housing is often put together, that means that those who have difficulties are often housed on top of one another, which increase the difficulty of housing even those with a mild dysfunction. In this way, loss of housing is often due to a disconnect with other people rather than simply the lack of four walls and a roof.

b. Labor difficulties
Almost everyone who is homeless have problems either obtaining or keeping a job. In order to have housing, one must be independently wealthy, have multiple incomes, have a regular social security check or be able to obtain and keep a forty hour a week job. Thus, if one is single and a forty an hour a week job either isn’t available to one or one is unable to keep that job, then housing isn’t possible. Many people on the street are hard working, but they can’t find enough work. Many people have social or mental issues that do not allow them to work forty hours a week. Some can find work, but their personal issues don’t allow them to keep a job for more than a month or two. The basic standard of a forty hours a week job isn’t always possible, and any little disaster for a minimum wage earner can tip the balance and push them on the street. Work isn’t always easy.

c. Lack of community
However, we note that many people who are mentally ill or jobless often do not become homeless. This is not because they are smarter than others, but usually because they have family or friends that help them in the tough times. They have friends who will drive them around and help them figure out the system when depressed. They have family that will keep them until they get on their feet. Those who are homeless often tell of broken ties with family, or having been deeply hurt by those they loved. Often they are people who are released from prison and no one will help them get back on their feet. Or they have such severe social problems that no one feels adequate to the task of helping them. Thus it is that the homeless are the outcast—because they already were before they even became homeless.

d. The Gauntlet of Getting Help
It has often been mentioned that many of the mentally ill are homeless because of a lack of funding from the government. This is true, but it is changing. Social security, for the most part, assists anyone who can prove that they are mentally unable to hold down a job. However, to go through this, the mentally ill person, who qualifies, must first fill out the large amount of paperwork, and keep all the appointments they give them. The mentally ill person must wait for a year until the paperwork is processed. And then the mentally ill person will be denied. In the first stage of the process, almost every mentally ill person is denied for disability. At this point, many people who are on the street and mentally ill decides that it is too difficult—if they haven’t already. But perhaps they decide to appeal. If they do, they will need to find a lawyer who will take their case (every town has at least one firm who specializes in disability cases), if they can find them. And then they need to sit in court before a judge while many witnesses—some of them are their friends and family—tell the judge that the person being examined that day is a societal failure and cannot do the minimum of what our society asks of them—to keep a job. Perhaps after that they will obtain assistance from the government. Is it no wonder that many mentally ill people—even those with severe disabilities—choose to stay on the street rather than run through that gauntlet?

Most programs—whether for the mentally ill or for those in prison or for those with addictions—are long and difficult. One will end up on the street while going through them.

e. Fear and Disgust
The main thing that will send someone on the street, however, is the “normal” peoples attitudes toward those who become homeless, even before they get on the street. A felon will have a difficult time finding housing or a job of any kind after they get out of prison. And if they fail in either of these basics, it is considered “their due”. The same for anyone who has a sex tag, even if they were only convicted of a misdemeanor. It is assumed that they are a pedophile or a rapist, even if they are not, and so they will be punished as such. Some people welcome former addicts, but just as many refuse to have anything to do with them. It is so easy to be judged in our society and so many people are willing to hold others accountable for a crime they don’t even know, that living becomes difficult.

It looks like unless something changes in society, homelessness is here to stay.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homelessness in Oregon 2010

This is a summary given by Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner here in Multnomah County:

"Last month the Oregon Housing and Community Services reported that homelessness in Oregon is still on the rise. Most notable is the increase (33%) of homeless families with children. One out of every three homeless individuals in Oregon is a child.

"For the first time, community partners collected information about the length of time that individuals experience homelessness.
· 66 percent of the people counted had been homeless for six months or less.
· 77 percent of children have been homeless for six months or less.
· 14 percent of children have been homeless for more than a year.
· 4 percent of children have been homeless for more than two years.
· Seniors (70+) have been homeless on average for 41 months."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Ballot Is In!

I sent this letter out yesterday, talking about the Peace Property I mentioned a few posts ago.

Well, I received a phone call today with the Mennonite Conference’s response. In the board’s confusing lingo, this is what they said: “The board was energized by your proposal and saw great promise in it. At the board meeting July 10, 2010 the PNMC board decided to focus on your proposal in moving forward…” In summary, the Mennonites have accepted our proposal! Yea!

As stated in the proposal, the property, for the present, will still be owned by the Mennonite Conference until we are able to purchase it. What the PNMC has decided is that they would set up a “task force” group to assist us in establishing the management and in making this proposal become reality. I am very enthusiastic about this because it means that I don’t have to do all the “heavy lifting” myself. I’ll have experienced and sympathetic persons helping us establish the property as a base for peace and ministry in East Multnomah County.

They have also told us that Bethel may meet on Sunday mornings beginning in August and at the same time Anawim may begin opening up a day shelter two more days a week. Other parts of the proposal—the peace center, the community options and the winter shelter—will follow along in a timely fashion.

For those of you who have offered finances to assist us—thank you! You, along with all those who sent letters, were essential in making the vision seem realistic. If you made a financial pledge, we ask that you begin sending in that money beginning in August, and then each month after that, in accord with your pledge.

And if there are individuals or congregations who have been considering assisting us financially, we could still use your help! Whether a one time gift or monthly support, we could use whatever help you can offer to assist us in maintaining the property as well as paying for the property as a whole.

Also, in order to open up more times as a day shelter, we will need more volunteers, so any local folks who would like to help us out with that, please let us know!

There’s a lot of details yet to work out, and I will be sending more updates as necessary. This is only the first step completed in a long process!

Thank you all for your prayers and support! This was very much a team effort and every single prayer was necessary! Thank You Father for Your grace toward the poor and the immigrants, the hungry and the homeless, the beaten and the faint of heart! May we use Your gifts with faithfulness!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Does It Mean To Be Homeless?

This question seems obvious. Clearly, homelessness is being without a home. But what is a “home”? And what does it mean that someone doesn’t have one? The problem with using a term like “homeless” is that it means so many different things. And one must solve the problem of what a thing is before we can begin discussing how to solve it. If you have five people and they all mean something different about homelessness, then how can they agree how to solve it?

Homelessness is inadequate shelter
The broadest way the term “homeless” is used is for those who have inadequate shelter. These are people who may have a family taking care of them and a roof over their head. But they are considered homeless because they don’t have adequate shelter. These are folks who have a job or is physically and mentally able to get a job, but perhaps they sleep on a couch, or they live in a shelter or they sleep in a vehicle with a bed. Many of these people may not consider themselves “homeless” because of the stigma attached to it, but they are technically homeless because they don’t have even a room to live in.

Homelessness is no shelter
A more precise use of the term “homeless” is for those who have no permanent shelter whatsoever. These are folks who may sleep on the street, in a park, in the forest, in a tent, under a bridge, in a car or wherever else they can sleep. Some of these homeless are without shelter for a week, some for a month, some for years. Some of the homeless are young, some are families, some are women, and about half are single men. More than seventy percent of these homeless get off the street in a matter of months. But the important characteristic of these folks is that they have no where else to go. A very small percentage may have chosen homelessness as a lifestyle, but most were forced on the street because they had no other choice.

Homelessness is a culture
What is often forgotten by most is that homelessness describes not only a physical condition, but a social reality. Over the years, a distinct set of cultures emerged for those who have lived on the street in a long term capacity. Others, especially youth, have participated in homeless culture, while not actually being without a place to live, dressing like the homeless and participating in the homeless community. Some of the characteristics of homeless culture is: dependence on others, especially other homeless, to meet one’s needs; alternative labor such as dumpster diving or canning; not participating in the social structures of broader society, such as many holidays or formal religion; and open sharing with those in need. To be homeless, for many on the street, means a participation with the community of the homeless, a subculture and a family for those without family.

Homelessness represents extreme poverty in the West
In the West, especially the United States, homelessness is a symbol. It is a representation of extreme poverty in the West. Even as the famine-starved child is a symbol for the poverty of developing countries, so the haggard homeless man is the symbol in the United States. Homelessness is seen as the lowest one can hit in the West. If one becomes homeless, they are at the end of their rope—there is no where else to go but up.

Homelessness is rejection
Because the homeless are the symbol of extreme poverty, they also represent failure. Either homelessness is a failure of society, or it is the failure of an individual. Because many do not believe in the failure of their society, they choose to believe in the failure of every single individual who became homeless. Thus, because poverty is often seen as a failure as a person in the West, the homeless are rejected as inadequate people. The homeless can be seen as an object of pity or an object of scorn, and either response lessens them as equal human beings.

What does it Mean to End Homelessness?
All of a sudden there are a number of goals to realize. It is not just about getting people housing. Rather, it is putting a potion of a fractured society back into a proper place. Not only does there need to be healing of the homeless, but a healing of society. Not only do physical needs need to be met, but we need to learn to be more culturally inclusive. Ending homelessness is not as simple as it seems on the surface. Instead, it seems that how we end homelessness is a test for our society. How we approach the homeless is a test of just how broad and intelligent our compassion is. Keep reading this blog to discover possibly the most inclusive plan to end homelessness ever. I think.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Befriending The Poor

I wrote this as a response to an excellent article about ministry to the poor, here:

Befriending The Poor

I feel sorry for the people who have been hurt in attempting to help
the hurting and so reject the whole business. When my wife and I started
working with the needy, inviting them into our home for meals, we had our
checkbook stolen from us and someone wrote checks upwards of a thousand dollars,
which we never got back. From this, we learned that it was foolish of us to
leave our checkbook in a place where it could be stolen. Sometimes, having the
needy around is like having a toddler in the house-- our lives have to be
restructured for their safety. But it is worth it to participate in Jesus'
ministry. Praise God for His grace in allowing us to be with the people of
struggle and faith.

Illegal To Be Homeless

Every major city in the U.S. have ordinances to make homelessness illegal. Boulder is just one of them. Read here:

No camping means the homeless are illegal

Should we make it illegal to be hungry, also? To be thirsty? To suffer oppression?

Laws are supposed to create justice, not victims.

Feds, States-- make it illegal for local governments to create ordinances that oppress a group in need, without regard to any illegal activity.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Radical Changes in Anawim

I sent out a letter requesting pledges for finances so that Anawim might obtain management over the Peace Mennonite property. One of the churches we sent the letter to asked for more information about our financial accountability. This is my response:

The fact is, up until this point, Anawim has only received less than 10,000 a year. With this budget, plus "in-kind" donations, we have been able to maintain three places of worship/meals and a community house. Now, with this new opportunity, should the Lord provide it for us, it will no longer be a "family budget" ministry, with minimal financial accountability, but a larger income. With this in mind, we are meeting with an accountant tomorrow to try to set up guidelines for financial accountability, and to set up our books in a proper way, which has not been necessary before.

If you have any recommendations of what you think we ought to have for financial accountability, please let us know. We have not, up to this point, been "money people". We've been collecting donations and getting them out the door as quickly as possible-- housing, feeding and spiritually feeding people with all of our energy. And while not cutting back on any of our ministry, we plan to add more ministry in. For this we need not only finances, but we need counsel to help us provide balance to our finances, our volunteers and our ministry growth. Any help you could give us would be welcome.