During the day today we received an email with information for directing the homeless to the emergency sheltering system that was going to be in place tonight since the forecast called for temperatures below freezing. Since we do not often get temperatures so low, they can be especially deadly for people unaccustomed to them since they likely have few clothes suitable for the cold. In the education system, homelessness has a broader definition than just people sleeping on the streets. While I work with a number of people experiencing homelessness, none of them live on the streets.
Driving home tonight, while stopped at the longest stoplight through which I pass, I glanced over and saw a group of people gathered at the edge of the scrub-brush that had overtaken an unused lot on one corner. They looked like a herd of wild deer, waiting for the sun to go down just a bit more before they ventured out into the clearing to forage. The reality was that they were huddled together, taking what shelter the brush provided. Farther back from the street is the camp where they live in cardboard and tarpaulin structures that provide protection from the sun, wind, and rain, but do little to protect from heat and cold.
The residences there are not new. The well-worn paths out to the street provide ample evidence of regular traffic. The presence of the people in the triangle clearing at the corner of the lot behind the bus stop remind all who pass that way that, while undeveloped, the lot is used. Throughout the day, the residents take turns on the concrete barrier separating the turn lanes from the oncoming traffic panhandling for change. They are hard to miss.
I could not separate the people clustered back at the edge of the grove from the daily Bible passages for this season’s Advent. Here are the poor, the needy, the oppressed, quite possibly the ill. One side of the social war says give me more and I will do more. The other side says take away more from the other side and we will do more. Nothing is being done. Where is the church? Where are the social services providers? Where is anyone who actually does more than use these people as a rallying cry?
Growing up in the country, I used to see just how close I could creep to the wild white-tail deer in our pasture. While they can be quite dangerous, I was not afraid because I knew at the first whiff of me, they would flash those famous white tails and high tail it to the other side of the meadow and beyond. The “deer people” at the corner are not those wild animals in the pasture of my childhood. We cannot wave our hands or walk by with our cologned selves and have them flee deeper into the urban forest, out of sight.
As I caught up on the news of the day, with politicians on both sides blasting the other side of the culture war, I could not help but inject my mental picture of those people from the corner lot into the story and ask who is looking at them when they speak? No one is. Neither side is ready to get their hands dirty and actually get into the trenches with the neediest among us or consider the hypocrisy that we as a society proclaim to value all persons while we daily drive by deteriorating lives and wish they were on some other corner.
The government cannot do it all. The Church cannot do it all. So both sides quickly give up and shift their focus to something with quick results that bring a nice warm feeling to replace the emptiness of that which continues to go undone. Together, though, more can be done than either side could ever do by itself. Governmental entities at the local, state, and Federal levels all have a role in changing the circumstances of the neediest residents under their jurisdiction. I use Church but really mean bodies of faith (churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) - all have commandments from God to serve the widows, orphans, and needy in their area.
There is room for the 100% to become involved. This is not a 99% problem or a 1% problem. It is not a problem for people of faith or the atheist. It is a people problem. The “deer people” are doing their part: they survive from day to day with remarkable resourcefulness. It is time for the rest of us to emerge from our own forest and do our part.