Responding to the Homeless
You may call them unsightly, disgusting, sad, dirty, or intolerable and yet, they are full of people whom God loves and Jesus came to save. Homeless camps are common in America. America appears to the world to be affluent and has unending resources to prevent the tragedy of homelessness. How does the Christian respond to the ever-growing trend? Do the unsheltered prefer to stay that way?
There have always been those who are lacking in resources. “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”(Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV) Recently, new titles have been given to the sector of our population who are without a permanent address. Two of those are unsheltered and unhoused. To those titles add “unfamilied” as a huge percentage of the homeless are without family support. There are almost 600,000 unsheltered people in America.[i] Where does a Christian begin to help?
The situation is critical and complex. It is not a matter of activating more and more programs and handing out more and more money. The real issue is that many of the homeless prefer to be homeless to continue addictions, which is a huge component of homelessness. Some of the cities expressly plagued by thousands of homeless are Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Sacramento, and Phoenix. Millions of tax dollars have been spent on trial-and-error programs to rehome people who prefer staying homeless. Sacramento recently provided 15 travel trailers that had been used for quarantine housing during the pandemic to a homeless encampment. This “drop in a bucket” is lost in the ocean-sized problem. Says Mayor Steinberg “The people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento aren’t really accepting mental-health assessments and referrals and instead are allowed to continue loitering…breaking into homes and urinating in public.”[ii]
With the relaxing of legal action towards the use and distribution of hard drugs, there is little the cities can do to control the growing “addicted homeless” encampments. Oregon passed measure 110 treating drug addiction as a health problem and not a crime. The measure eliminated criminal penalties for possessing illegal drugs.[iii] Those people coming out of incarceration are also at risk for homelessness.[iv]
It is important to seek guidance from the Lord and those with experience when attempting to minister to the homeless population. Many a well-meaning Christian has stumbled blindly attempting to help and, instead, caused further dependency.
Donating food, money, and time to organizations like your local Rescue Mission is a good way to start helping within your community. Churches can offer food banks. Faith-based Mobile Loaves and Fishes is a ministry with food trucks, a mobile home community and a vocational training program. They serve thousands of meals and provide homes for over 300 people.[v] There is an application process for such programs and those who are granted homes must adhere to the ministry guidelines. They are the people who want help, want to be trained, and want to be back on their own two feet.
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[i]https://usafacts.org/articles/how-many-homeless-people-are-in-the-us-what-does-the-data-miss/ [ii]https://californiaglobe.com/articles/sacramento-homeless-drug-addicted-transients-getting-fancy-new-trailers/ [iii]https://www.opb.org/article/2023/03/29/measure-110-oregon-drug-decriminalization-treatment-changes/#:~:text=Passed%20with%20more%20than%2058,small%20amounts%20of%20illegal%20drugs. [iv]https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/housing.html#:~:text=While%20we%20found%20that%20203,every%2010%2C000%20%2D%20were%20housing%20insecure. [v]https://mlf.org/