Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why The Homeless Should Have A Voice in Your Church

From a paper by Alex Cole, "Church On the Streets", a student at Ambrose University College
          In the Bible, the descriptions of the homeless indicate that they are generally there to be helped, and that helping them brings blessing.  Isaiah 58:7 “Give shelter to the homeless.”  Matthew 25:35: “I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”[1]  There are few passages that speak directly of the homeless having leadership roles.  However, although many Biblical leaders were rich or powerful,[2] many of God’s leaders are taken from those who are poor.  The Israelites were slaves and then refugees in the desert.  Gideon was the least important member of the weakest clan in his tribe when he was called (Judges 6:13-15)[3] and Jephthah was the son of a prostitute and his half brothers’ chased him off his land to deny him his inheritance.[4]  David started life as a shepherd, and Amos was a shepherd.  Jeremiah found himself in destitute circumstances.   Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen.  John the Baptist adopted a life of poverty in the desert, and shepherds were chosen to witness the news of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus himself came from a poor family.[5]  This indicates that poverty and even lack of a stable home (the Israelites were refugees in the desert) are no barriers to leadership.

            Some biblical passages validate a homeless person assuming a leadership role.  Jesus was homeless for periods of time,[6] as was Paul.[7]  God chooses those who are powerless and despised and uses them to shame the powerless and to bring to nothing what the world considers important.[8]   James 2:5 says that God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and it is good to have someone who is rich in faith in church leadership.  Jesus spent a lot of time with the poor[9] and he even says that when people shelter those with no homes, then they are sheltering him.[10]  Therefore the poor are close to, or even identified with Jesus – and closeness to Jesus is also an admirable quality for those in leadership.  The kingdom of heaven will be inherited by the poor[11] and so presumably they will have a leadership or at least stewardship role there.   Jesus encourages not just the rich young ruler but all Christians to “sell your possessions and give to those in need”[12] and he himself “became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”[13]  In fact, some parts of the Bible almost militate against having rich people in leadership, because they foresee those who are rich “fading away”, and thus would foresee those in leadership naturally becoming poor. [14]  For all these reasons, it seems that the Bible would not be, as such, against having a homeless person in the leadership of a church.  

            In fact, in some ways, there are advantages to having homeless people being involved in the leadership of a church.  As part of the leadership, they would be responsible for teaching and preaching, and might have a significantly different perspective on Scripture from that of other populations.  In this way, another voice will be powerfully released in the church, speaking the gospel back to the rich so that the rich might hear the gospel anew.[15]  For example, the ‘gospel according to the homeless’ is more multi-faceted than many gospel presentations I have heard, may contain a clearer recognition of the reality of evil than other presentations of Christianity,[16] and may expose the nature of the spiritual “powers” described in Ephesians 6:12 more clearly.[17]   Homeless peoples’ analyses may elucidate the contents of biblical books more clearly.[18]  Justo and Catherine Gonzales paint a picture of the writers of the Bible being amongst those who are weak and powerless, and therefore “a more accurate interpretation of the biblical word can be gained by those who currently stand in a parallel place in our own societies [to the original biblical writers.”[19]  For example, whereas sin has become seen as sexual sin by some churches, they argue that the poor see social injustice as more blatant sin.[20]  Finally, some have even cast the entire bible in the framework of homelessness.  They describe God as creating a home (Eden) which the home-breakers (humanity) then wrecked and were cast out of (to become homeless).  Jesus then creates the possibility for God to be at home in our hearts, and God creates a renewed home for us after his second coming.[21]  In this way the voice of homelessness adds another perspective to read the Bible from.  To sum up, the Bible being taught by homeless people in the leadership of a church could encourage a voice that would help other churches to see the Bible and the gospel more clearly. 

[1] Other scriptures that relate to the poor are that God protects the poor (Ps 12:5), provides a refuge for them (Ps 14:6), saves them when they pray (Ps 34:6), rescues them from those who rob them (Ps 35:10), helps them, thinks of them (Ps 40:17), provides for them (Ps 68:10), helps them to see him and hears them, (Ps 69:32-33), satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things (Ps 107:9), raises them from the dust and from the ash heap (Ps 113:7), secures justice for them and upholds their cause (Ps 140:12), watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and widow (Ps 146:9), provides a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat (Is 25:4), and re-creates the environment so they can find water and food, planting trees, turning desert into pools of water, making rivers flow, (Is 41:17 – 20).  The Bible also speaks of those who help the poor being blessed, for example: “If you … spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide always, he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the gage-old foundations.  You will be called repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings” (Is 58:9-12).)
[2] , For example Moses, Saul, Solomon and all the Judahite and Israelite kings, Nehemiah, Ezra, Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul.
[3]  When he was called he was threshing wheat in the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites, indicating a poor situation.
[4] Judges 11:1-2. 
[5] His parents brought two turtledoves or 2 young pigeons to sacrifice in the temple (Luke 2:24), which Lev 12:8 indicates were for those who “cannot afford to bring a lamb.”
[6] “The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20).
[7] “We have been homeless.” (1 Co 4:11).
[8] 1 Corinthians 1:27-28.
[9] For example, lepers, poor women (Mark 12:42), prostitutes, women with immoral marital pasts, the blind, and the sick.
[10] Matthew 25:36,40.
[11] In the Greek: πτωχός (Luke 6:20) – although notice that Matthew 5:3 says the “poor in spirit” so Luke 6:20 can’t definitely be used as a proof text that this verse is referring to the materially poor.
[12] Luke 12:33.
[13] 2 Co 8:9.
[14]             Part of the Bible’s teaching on money indicates that “the rich will fade away.” (James 1:11).  Paul started with status as a Pharisee but lost everything for Christ.  Barnabus laid the profits from his field at the disciples’ feet.  Many lost everything for the sake of the gospel, for example those mentioned in Hebrews 11:37 who became “destitute”.
                Many of the early church fathers also spoke against private property and condemned the rich.[14]  Ignatius and Hermas instructed Christians to care for the widow and respond to those in need.   Ambrose wrote “Why do the rich claim for yourselves the right to own the land …  When you give to the poor what is theirs you return it, not give it.”   He condemned the few rich people who claimed everything for themselves “not only the land, but the sky, the air, the sea …. every day are the needy murdered.”  Basil the Great wrote that the bread that we hoard belongs to the hungry.    “Those who attain a certain level of power use those whom they have already enslaved in order to gain more strength to commit every greater iniquities, and by using them they enslave those who were still free.  Then their greater power becomes a new weapon for evil.  And as a result those whom they just injured now have no other option but to help them, and thus collaborate in the evil and iniquity committed against the others.”  Augustine, Cyril and Gregory the Great didn’t believe in private property.  John Chrysostom wrote that “the earth is the Lord’s: … nothing is to be held by any as privately owned.  The rich are not really such, for what they have belongs to others.  Anything that one might have, even though legitimately earned in truth belongs to the poor.” These quotes are taken from Justo Gonzalez and Catherine Gonzalez, Liberation Preaching, The Pulpit and the Oppressed (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 55-57.  Basil the Great said that if I have a chest full of shoes that I cannot use, while the poor walking in front of my house are unshod, I am committing theft just as much as if I had actually taken their shoes off their feet. Chrysostom went further, declaring that allowing someone to die of famine is committing murder.  Information taken from Justo González, "Faith and Wealth : The Early Church and Ours," Living Pulpit 6, 3 (1997): 12. 
[15] An idea put forward in Lesslie Newbigen, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 196.  “The only way in which the gospel can challenge our culturally conditioned interpretation of it is through the witness of those who read the Bible with minds shaped by other cultures. We have to listen to others. This mutual correction is sometimes unwelcome, but is necessary and it is fruitful.”
[16] I conducted interviews with four different homeless people at the Mustard Seed in Fall 2011, simply asking them “Who is God to you? And “How do you understand the gospel / how are we saved?”  Their explanation of the gospel drew on the classic Christus Victor approach, and the substitutionary atonement perspective.  The real presence of evil was a strong theme that came through, because many of them had directly experienced the effects of evil on their own life.
[17] William Stringfellow, a lawyer who practiced street law in East Harlem for seven years, realized from those he spoke to that these “powers” are often, to the destitute,  the economic powers of those in charge of labor pools, landlords, police agencies, the city administration, and so on.  In this way these powers seemed more recognizable and insidious, in their effects on human lives.  This description is taken from Stanley Saunders and Charles Campbell, The Word on the Street, (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 62-81.  
[18]  Saunders and Campbell (2000: 52-3) argue that Revelation can only be understood properly by the poor, because Revelation describes the overthrowing of earthly political rulers, who are happy to keep the world poor.  The powers described in Revelation are those economic powers that have crushed the faces of the world’s poor in the dust.  So, for example, Revelation 7:16 says “they will never again be hungry” in reference to those who die in the great tribulation.  In other words, God’s redemption of his people shows that his persecuted saints are the poor, who will be cared for.
[19] Their arguments are that Israel was a weak and generally powerless nation, sandwiched between other, more powerful nations, and because they were at one point slaves and refugees, and later they were exiles.  It could also be pointed out that the early church was often, though not exclusively poor (1 Co 1:26: “few of you were wealthy”)  (Gonzalez, Liberation, 16).
[20] Gonzalez, Liberation, 23.
[21] This description is taken from Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008).  This is an outstanding Biblical look at homelessness throughout the Bible.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Mark

Cain killed Abel.  A pretty well known fact, it’s true.  And most of the time we focus on the “why” of it.  The text doesn’t really give a good answer for that.   Cain had a problem, I suppose, with controlling his anger.  But while Genesis doesn’t give a “why”, it does explain a “therefore.”  What happened to Cain because of his past sin?  He was eternally marked.  He displayed for all, for the rest of his life, a mark that showed his sin.  Why is that?  Because he refused to repent of his sin.  Just like his parents before him, he offered excuses, refusing to admit his sin.  So he was marked.

                The homeless are also marked.  They are marked by their peculiar style of poverty.   By the layers of clothes, by the long beards and hair, by the daypacks and shopping carts.  They are marked.  And just like Cain, they are rejected by other due to these marks.  They stand out as “the Other” and so they are repulsive to the rest of society.  When the police see them, they make sure to take down their names to see if they have any records.  When shopowners see them, they make sure they get what they want and leave quickly.  When they come into churches, certain members cringe inwardly, avoid contact with them and hope that being ignored will keep them from contacting any of them. 

                Why do the homeless have such a mark?  This mark is the mark of the society they have joined, the fellowship that they are partnered with.  But such a fellowship is not often sought or hoped for.  How did they join?  Different reasons…

Sam became homeless because his mother committed suicide while he was still living with her.  The trauma caused him to lose his job and his housing.  He’s been homeless for more than ten years now, nursing his wounds, wandering from meal to meal, because he has no energy or reason to do anything else.

Frank was a methanphetamine abuser for many years, from his childhood.  He pulled himself together long enough to get married to someone who nominally belonged to a restrictive cult.  They had two children. As he became stronger in the Lord, he began to teach his kids about the Lord and what the Bible says.  Their mother got deeper into the cult again and eventually the cult forced her to divorce her husband and not allow the kids to ever see him again.  This event drove him back deeper into drugs.  Now he’s been clean for a year and a half, but because of the damage the drugs caused him for so many years, he is unable to stay at any one job, wandering from ministry to ministry, seeking to serve and to hear the word of the Lord.

Joe had various jobs throughout his life—construction worker, volunteer fireman, shopkeeper.  He loves to quote his father’s pithy quips.  But the main thing he learned from his family is drug abuse.  Both of his brothers died due to some combination of drug abuse and cancer.  He is proud that he uses no illegal drugs, but he freely admits that he is an alcoholic.  He also has cancer.  He can’t handle regular treatment, and so he doesn’t know how long he’ll live.  So he doesn’t bother trying.

The stories go on and on.  Trauma.  Hopelessness.  Disconnection.  Lack of trust.  Just like Cain.  And they are marked like Cain, by the society we are a part of. 

How did Jesus treat those who were marked?  Because many in his society had the mark as well.  In Jesus day, prostitutes and tax collectors, Gentiles and “sinners”, beggermen and cripples, they all had the mark.  The mark of separateness.  The mark of not belonging to “righteous” society.  How did Jesus treat them?

Jesus ate with them, a cultural symbol of partnership.  Jesus called them to repentance.  Jesus healed their wounds and cared for them.  Jesus gently offered them hope.  He offered them God.  He offered them himself.  He was the servant to those with the mark.  And that is what Anawim does.  They minister to one of the groups in our society that have the mark of Cain.  They feed them.  They clean and dress their wounds—both physical and emotional.  They offer hope in the midst of misery and tell the marked, “Jesus is for you.  Jesus came for you, more than for the people in the churches.  Jesus has strength for you.  And Jesus will bring you close to God.  And God will heal you of who you are and where you have come from.” 

The question is not: "How do we get rid of the mark?"  The question is whether we will forgive them for that which is not a sin.

Paintings by Michael Sherriffs Hall.  Find more here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Permitted To Be Nowhere

The cities of Multnomah County are like a lot of other cities throughout the United States.  They like to look like they are helping the homeless when they are actually oppressing them.

According to The Oregonian,  the owner of some private property has decided that he would temporarily allow the homeless to camp on his unused property in downtown Portland until he sells it.  "I'm willing to let them out of doorways," says Michael Wright, pointing out the benefit to the community.

The city of Portland, however has a problem.  There is no permit for it, they say.  And no one is allowed to camp, not even on private property.  Of course, that is the city ordinance.  That camping outdoors without a permit is illegal in Portland.  Remember that when your kids decide to camp in your backyard.

Or, perhaps, the activists of Occupy Portland should be informed as well.  They have been camping in public areas, not just private.  I want to make it clear, I am not opposed to protest.  I am opposed to the city's hypocrisy.

Or let's take Gresham.  There is at least two police officers, on city time, that have been going to homeless camps and ripping up their tents, sleeping bags and tarps.  They are vandalizing private property.  This is nothing new to the homeless in Gresham.  Those that lived on the Springwater Corridor would have their personal possessions ripped up and thrown in a dumpster by a county paid official.  Or there is the camp under a bridge in Gresham that came back to find their possessions thrown into a pit and burned up.

Many of the homeless are given tickets by a variety of Gresham police.  These tickets are sentences to leave Gresham and not come back.  Yes, they aren't binding by a court, but some homeless just follow it so as not to cause more trouble for themselves.  Many homeless claim Gresham as "home" and have no where else to go.

Okay, okay.  The homeless get the idea.  They aren't wanted here.  Somehow they are considered criminals just for living outside and trying to survive.  Look, if you can arrest them for drug use or for violent activity, no one is really complaining.  But the fact is, the homeless are being targeted as criminals because of what they don't have, not what they do.  They don't have four walls and a roof and that makes them criminals.

Oh, sorry, the camp in downtown Portland on Mr. Wright's property DOES have walls.  Made out of doors.  The City of Portland says that it is not according to code and must be torn down.

Look, here's the point.  You don't want the homeless to be hanging around on the streets?  THEN GIVE THEM A PLACE TO GO!  It is not enough to deny someone a place.  A body takes up room and space.  The cities of Multnomah County have basically denied the homeless the right to exist.  Can this really be legal?

The city of Portland just built a facility that houses 130 homeless and shelters no more than a hundred more. Where are the thousands of other homeless supposed to go?

Let's be completely frank.  The majority of homeless in Multnomah County have lived in the county since before they were homeless.  They became homeless here.  This means that these homeless are our responsibility.  We cannot deny them the right to exist.  The right to sleep.  The right to live.

We must work on a plan to live with the homeless because they aren't going anywhere.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Worst Case Senario

A month ago I met a couple named Rian and Kim.  Like many people, they were moving from Texas to Oregon in order to have a better shot at jobs and a better life.  And like many people making that move, the cost of housing and the difficulties finding economic stability surprised them.  They thought they could get housing easily, but it wasn't so easy.  So they ended up homeless.

The difference between them and others is that they are deaf.

This may not be such a big deal, but think about it.  In the middle of the night, you can't see anything and you can't hear who's coming.  This couple could only communicate through sign language and writing, so they couldn't get information easily.  If the police caught them in the middle of the night, what would happen to them?  What if someone attacked them?  They were especially vulnerable.

But at least they were in a car.  Oh, until it got taken from them as a repo.

We were able to bend a couple rules and let them in a house over the weekend, and they were certain that they could get housing on the Monday after through disability services.  However, on that Monday, the apartment manager (to whom they have already paid application fees, been accepted, and given a deposit), refused to give essential, basic information so they could get the apartment.  Disability services couldn't pay their rent if the apartment wouldn't give this information.  So they were stuck homeless for the rest of the month until they received their next checks, for two and a half weeks.

What were we to do?  So I wrote a letter (which I almost never do) giving them permission to sleep on our property for the rest of the month.  Then I left for two weeks on a long planned trip to Pennsylvania, praying that they be safe and that they don't take advantage of others.

In the middle of the first week, they did have to move from the hidden porch I put them on to the back of the church building because the rain on the porch flooded them out.  But when I saw them again, they were safe, healthy, and had just moved into their new apartment.  The two weeks they had spent at Anawim they were very helpful, cleaning up and assisting Linda when they could.

It was a terrible situation, but all worked out in the end.  Praise God. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Poor and the Rich

Who are the poor?  They aren't just people who are hungry or house-less or dirty. They are people who are seen as being socially inadequate  because of their poverty.  They are the people who are called "lazy" and "untrustworthy" and "hopeless" because of various social factors, but partly because they are hungry or house-less or dirty.

Who are the wealthy?  There are lots of different definitions of that.  They are the people who not only aren't hungry, but they don't ever have to wonder where their food and housing and clothing is going to come from.  They can't be measured simply by income, but by the confidence with which their maneuver through their society.  Some people, even if they don't have much financially can be powerful in their cultural circles.

The poor envy the wealthy.  This isn't always true, but it is true enough to make it a force in any society. The poor want the prestige and resources and wealth and power that wealth accumulates.  Many of them think that if they win the lottery or obtain money by some other magical means that they would be of the wealthy.  That simply isn't true.  This doesn't mean the poor must live an impoverished existence.  Absolutely not.  Most people have the possibility of having all of their needs met.  But having money doesn't make one wealthy.

The wealthy distrust the poor.  They think that they use their resources badly.  They believe that their power and abundant resources come from hard work and that they deserve all they obtain.  They don't realize that most of their resources comes from luck-- the luck of birth, the luck of relationship, the luck of personality traits that work toward a narrow minded concept of success.  They think that anyone could do what they have done.  They don't understand the social barrier that keeps the poor from having enough resources to live on.

The poor need the wealthy.  They need the resources that the wealthy provide.  Not just the money, but the relationships, the jobs, the social know-how, the education, the authority that comes of being wealthy.  With these resources, the poor might no longer be poor.  

The wealthy need the poor.  The wealthy think they need no one, but they need people to focus on details so they can focus on bigger projects.  The wealthy need to use their resources for others so that their compassion and empathy may grow into a full human soul.  They need the poor to grant them the joy of giving to those truly in need. 

The poor would like the wealthy, if they got to know them.  The wealthy are nice people, if perhaps a little naive about real life.  

The wealthy would trust the poor, if they got to know them.  The poor are hard working, friendly people.

We need to get these people together. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Applied Bible Passages

You have heard that it was said, "Do not oppress the poor." But I say to you, if you have as much as voted for one who 
would kill an innocent person, then you are complicit.

Iraq Body Count

Afghani Civilian Deaths in 2011

 If you take a poor man's tent or sleeping bag or coat, even in the name of a government, that poor one will cry out to Me and you shall be homeless and helpless. For what else are they to keep warm in? (Exodus 22:22-27)

God takes his stand among the judges, police and council members. "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the mentally ill and homeless, do justice to the afflicted. Rescue them out of the hands of the wicked, those who are willing to harm the ill and pitiful for the sake of themselves."(Psalm 82)

‎"The outcry against them is very great. I shall go down and see if they have done according to the outcry, and I will know if it is true"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why the Poor Don't Vote

Some reasons why poor people don't vote as much as wealthy people:

Because there really isn't much difference between voting for one prep school grad or another.

Because the discussed issues aren't really significant enough.  Sure, there a talk of "more jobs" but the poor know that they won't see a whiff of it.

Because felons aren't allowed to vote.  And because a percentage of the poor are in jail or prison, whether misdemeanors or felonies. They don't get to vote, either.

Because working and cooking for one's family and helping the kids with homework seems like a better use of time.

Because many of the issues are esoteric and require education as well as the ability to be functionally literate.  Almost no one wants to vote on what they see on the TV or hear on the radio.

Because when the poor do vote, and their candidate wins, nothing changes.  So why vote next time?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Bud Clark Commons

Pretty, isn't it?  It's the Bud Clark Commons, and it is a fine-looking addition to Portland's downtown area.  It has a day shelter, a 90 bed shelter and a hundred and thirty single resident apartments.  Those hundred and thirty apartments went to the most needy homeless residents of Portland, mostly to folks who struggle with both mental health issues and addictions. This has been and is a noble project. The idealism and care for the most needy is truly inspiring. 

What is also inspiring is the price tag.  Altogether, it cost the city fifty million dollars to build it.  I don't know how much it will cost to maintain it, but that's got to be a pretty penny.  The city plunked down 29.5 million dollars for it and they obtained other grants for the balance.  *Loud whistle*  That's a chunk of change. It must show how much Portland cares about homelessness. 

That's certainly what Steve Rudman, Excecutive Director of Home Forward said:  "This new building underscores that homelessness is at the forefront of our community's priorities. We are excited to be part of the solution that continues the city's momentum towards ending homelessness."  

Hmmm.  That's interesting.  The goal of the city is to end homelessness?  And this is part of the solution?  Wow, that's really generous of the city.  So their goal to end homelessness is to provide housing like this?  That's great.  However, that comes with quite a price tag.  

In Multnomah County, according to the latest street count, there were 4655 people sleeping on the street or in shelters on January 26.  Of course, there are less people homeless in the winter than in the summer when people don't feel as guilty putting family members on the street, but let's just work with that figure.  If the city was going to spend as much money on all the homeless as they did on the 220 people they just provided housing and shelter then that would be... $1,057,955,815.  A billion fifty eight million dollars.  That's more than half of Portland's annual budget.

That doesn't seem rational, especially in these times of tight budgets and frugal spending.  This must not be Portland's plan to help the homeless, to provide them all with housing.  Perhaps what Steve Rudman said is completely accurate: Homelessness is a focus of the city, not the actual population of homeless people

I suspect that the Bud Clark Commons wasn't developed at the request of homeless people.  Frankly, homeless folks are pretty frugal as a group. If the city were to ask them-- the actual people who are homeless, not the "experts" on homelessness-- how to help the homeless, they would have gotten a lot of answers.  "Tell the police to leave us alone," some would have said.  Others would say, "Get us jobs."  Some would say, "Let us have our own space to build up and to keep secure."  Perhaps some of the less thrifty would say, "Rent us all apartments."

However, not a single homeless person would say, "Spend fifty million dollars on a facility to house 220 of us."  

The Bud Clark Commons only makes sense if you take actual the actual homeless population of Portland out of the equation.  It seems like a great opportunity for the city to show that the city of Portland has the issue of homelessness as a focus.  But more than 95 percent of the homeless population aren't touched by the fifty million dollars spent.

I think next time the city wants to spend fifty million-- heck, even 29.5 million-- dollars on the homeless, they should get together the leaders of the various homeless communities in Portland (yes, there are leaders), and create a series of project that could help literally thousands of homeless folks.  When we see that happening, perhaps I would believe that Portland is actually interested in helping the homeless instead of just creating an expensive facade of care. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Much Is A Dollar Worth?

A great post by Pad's Chicago Blog, which can be found at this link.

How much is  a dollar worth?  Just ask a homeless person.
For just $1.00 to $5.00 a homeless person for  1 to 2 hours can:
  • Drink a coffee or eat a meal.
  • Sit indoors.
  • Have access to a clean bathroom and sink to watch hands and face.
  • Be out of the rain.
  • Be safe from severe weather.
  • Watch a movie matinee.
  • Buy a ticket and ride the bus or train.
  • Do laundry.
  • Make calls on a pay phone.
  • Put a small amount of gas for the day in their car’s gas tank.
  • Access pool and shower facilities at a local park.
What a person can get out of it:
  • Food.
  • Shelter.
  • Clean clothes.
  • Hygiene care.
  • Entertainment.
  • Transportation to shelter, an interview, a job, and other appointments.
  • Access to a toilet and facilities to do hygiene.
  • A visit with family and friends, call to schedule a job interview.
  • Social interaction and networking.
  • A sense of normalcy (whatever normal is)
  • Happiness.
  • A love and gratitude for fellow man.
What you get:
  • Happiness.
  • God’s love and blessing.
  • A love and gratitude for fellow man.
  • Social interaction and networking.
  • Increased self-satisfaction, self-love, self-worth, self-value

Pulling It Together

It is a great thing to see a community at work.

Yesterday, we had two homeless men and two people who moved into our community house and two of my children all working together at Anawim's facility in Gresham: improving gardens, spreading wood chips, getting rid of termites, organizing our online message, playing with a baby: all for the glory of God and the benefit of the poor!

Last week our vegetable garden was planted, the huge lawn was mowed and blades were sharpened.  And, of course, hundreds of people were fed, dozens of showers provided and people worshiping, same as every week.

Today, we have our homeless sponsored BBQ at 4pm.

Anawim is just so cool!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Answering a Phone Call

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a nervous neighbor.  She was polite enough, "I'm glad that someone is helping these people," she said, meaning the street folks.  However... yes, when we get a call from the neighbors there's always a "however".  She saw some folks pushing each other out in the street, cussing up a storm.  For herself, she might have been irritated, but her young daughter was there "and she could have been watching through the slits in the fence".  And she certainly heard the language.

Investigating the situation, it turns out that there was a person who was not a regular who was drinking in the church.  He was also lightly groping a couple of the girls.  Because he refused to desist, he was asked to leave. He also refused to do this.  So they had to work with him, getting him out, and this led to the front of the church, next to the street, where I guess it devolved into a pushing and cussing match, where at least one person was almost pushed into traffic.

Not good.  We need to do something about it, and we must. And I told the neighbor this.

But she was not satisfied.  She said, "Why can't these people act better when they are at the church?  Are they receiving this help for free or do they have to work for it?  My daughter said that she saw a drunk person vomiting on the church grounds while she was at the park a couple years ago?  Are people sleeping there? How many people do you have there, anyway?"  No matter what I said, I couldn't ease her upset about the fact that she is in a community that has an unwanted population that our church is pulling in.

What I couldn't say is that if we weren't creating a place for folks that has rules and food and people to watch over, then they'd be out in the community, without rules, hungry and with no one they trusted to suggest they act differently.  They'd be in someone's front yard or street-- if not yours then someone else's.

Instead, with the day shelter, they are in a safe place-- safe for themselves and safe for others.  They have a place to cook their own food, to connect in a non-violent place.  They can be respected and so not find any reason to be violent or dangerous in any way.  Sure, a few of the people will occasionally act out, but the community as a whole teaches them that such behavior isn't welcome.

Very rarely we have situations like yesterday when those who are helping snap and act in a way that in not in accord with the church atmosphere.  But that's rare, very rare.  The fact is, without the day shelters, the community would be in a worse state.

I want to keep everyone safe, and I'd like to have the neighbors be content with our work.  I am hoping that we will all be working together to create a unified community of peace and everyone working together.  I heard today that the police are directing the homeless to the day shelters to keep them out of the community at large.  That's fine with everyone.  Praise God there's a place for everyone to go.  It is our hope that our folks will eventually work for these neighbors who have problems with them now.  Maybe even to be paid.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vital Statistics: A Summary of Portland's 2011 Street Count

Some facts from the “2011 Point In Time Count of Homelessness in Portland/ Multnomah County, Oregon”
All statistics reflect the state of homelessness on January 26, 2011.  This doesn’t give an accurate overall picture of homelessness in Multnomah County for many reasons, but the three primary reasons are:

-January is one of the lowest counts of homelessness of the year
-It is very difficult to find all the homeless.
-Many homeless ask not to be counted

Even so, this count is important because it gives a general idea of homelessness in the county, it is helpful in comparison to other cities and it helps us see the trends of homelessness.

The Statistics:

2,727—People counted who are sleeping on the street or in vehicles or in shelters on the night of January 26.

1,928—People in temporary transitional housing on that night.

35—The percentage of increase of families who became homeless since 2009

751—Homeless children

9—The percentage of increase of homelessness since 2009

12—The percentage of veterans who are homeless

More than half of those living on the street were living on the street two years ago.

The count in East Multnomah County (East of 182nd) increased to 92 from a single individual in 2009. (A personal note: this is because of the participation of the day shelter programs in East County)

11- Percentage of homeless in all of East County (East of 82nd), where services for the homeless are scarce.

46—Percentage of homeless that have been homeless for more than 2 years

69—Percent of homeless that have been homeless for more than 1 year

52—Percentage of the homeless who have lived in Multnomah County for more than 10 years.  However, the majority of the general population of Oregon do not originate from Oregon.

101—Increase of beds in shelters from 2009

53—Percentage of the homeless in shelters who are a part of a homeless family

37—Percentage of homeless women

35—Percent of homeless woman affected by domestic abuse

46—Percent of communities of color (non-white) on the street.  In the general population, 29 percent are communities of color.  African Americans and Native Americans are more represented on the street than other groups.

Teach How to Fish Revisited

Probably the most popular blog post here is the article by Pam Wilson of Operation Mercy about the phrase "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  It's a great article you can read here if you like.

Even though I have a lot of questions about this proverb, people have been quoting it a lot to me lately.  A friend of mine recently posted on my Facebook page, "We need to teach the homeless how to fish."  This is a summary statement, which really means, "We need to train the homeless so they can get jobs."   Getting the homeless work is essential, no question. Labor is a big issue among the homeless, especially with the increased competition as many people are losing jobs.

But do the homeless need to be retrained?  Sure, some could benefit from some training.  But frankly, almost all of the homeless have skills that could be used in jobs today.  I know mechanics, landscapers, carpenters, roofers, painters, bike mechanics, general handymen, and many other occupations.  These are jobs that need to be done and there is a lot of work for this kind of work.  Perhaps having regular work this way takes some time, but our folks are ready to build up a clientele.  They've got time and aren't in a hurry.  But they'd like work.  Today, if possible.

So why don't they work?  Because no one will hire a homeless person.  Employers are looking for people who are already settled.  They don't want to hire someone who might be difficult.  Even people looking for work for a day are nervous about hiring a homeless person to do work.  Or perhaps they think that a homeless person would do shoddy work.

Let's face it, the homeless don't need to "learn to fish." They need to be given a chance.  They need to be given jobs, or at least some day labor.  

If you have ever even thought about a homeless person, "That person needs to get a job," then stop and reprimand yourself for your hypocrisy unless you have hired and paid a homeless person for work. Do you want to have a church ministry? Hire the homeless to care for your church property, even if only for a day.

Don't know where to find homeless people to hire to do work for you?  If you are in the Portland area, contact me.  I'll get you a worker.  They can clean your house.  They can clean up your yard.  They can repair.  They can build wood tables.  Don't think that the homeless are inadequate.  Most of them aren't.  They just need a chance.  And maybe a little patience.