Getting in touch with the power that drives the Universe...
I never cease to be astonished by the ability of artists to capture messages of the Spirit. A song of Martina McBride's has had a profound effect upon me. You can view it here:
When Martina sings those lyrics, I am stupefied by the depth of meaning there:
These thoughts were in my mind as I recently went to a community forum in Oceanside which dealt with the ongoing social, political and economic challenges of homelessness in that community. I was there out of personal interest developed through my interactions with homeless people during my church's urban mission trips to inner city San Diego which I organize and lead. I was at the forum to gain perspective about how I can personally engage the homeless, understand their plight and address their needs. Also, I wanted to help my own community of Fallbrook understand the problem and perhaps begin a dialogue about how to meet the needs of our own homeless population.
A panel of experts introduced themselves and the work that they do for the homeless, as well as their perspective on the problems and opportunities they envision in working with that group. When a call for audience questions and comments was made, a senior woman remarked that she wished "we could give each homeless person a plane ticket home" to rid ourselves of their burdens.
I was shocked.
I couldn't believe that anyone would have the audacity to express such an oversimplified solution to a difficult, complex people-problem in a such a public place. I was embarrassed by her insensitivity and ignorance. Panel and audience members countered her hurtful remarks with a calmness and understanding that perhaps she didn't deserve but nevertheless reflected well upon their own gracious spirits.
Later, there were comments made about providing centralized tent communities, transitional housing and the federal Housing First program that has had wonderful reviews from participating communities. It seems to me that such programs see homelessness as a matter of "carpentry." And indeed, houses are a significant part of the solution. The panel shared that rent prices are at all time highs, as vacancies are historically low. The housing market in San Diego city and the county as well present formidable obstacles to providing a house for people without a home. But it dawned on me that with a homeless population of some 10,000 people in the county, we could easily accommodate them by inviting them into our spare bedrooms! So to me, while the housing problem is a necessary component of any solution that addresses homelessness, it is not in itself sufficient to solve the problem. For that, people need a home.
As the evening progressed, thoughtful professionals and community members worked their way forward to define the homelessness problem and brainstorm about what worked and didn't work. Slowly, through communal effort, people began to recognize that the homeless were having difficulty accessing the services offered to them. While issues of health, safety, transportation, feeding, mentoring, education, and disabilities were clarified, it became clear that homeless people can't access services over time; that once they commit to getting help, the social systems are not able to give them immediate service. Participants and panel members wondered whether a "hub" or "one stop" model of services might meet homeless' needs in a more organized and timely manner.
Some homeless people have difficulty remembering and then making their way to future appointments. Others forget to take their medications or lose them. Some simply don't know what to ask for in terms of help. They can't get to their appointments. Their lives are disorganized and they don't have the personal resources or support systems to enable them to get out of poverty. Kind of like the infirm, sick man at the pool of Bethesda who couldn't get into the healing waters fast enough!!!
It was a breakthrough moment, when forum participants realized that our best efforts were being thwarted by the realities of life on the streets. We realized that by seeing the world through homeless eyes we were better able to understand and support them.
Soon, two exceptional people added their voices and experience to the dialogue.
One, a young woman, expressed the difficulty of addressing her mentally ill brother's homelessness. She shared her fear and frustration of not knowing the right questions to ask nor of whom to ask them. She spoke of the emotional toll of just dealing with his illness and his inability to advocate for himself. She pleaded quite tenderly and eloquently for people to understand the pain involved not only in dealing with a homeless family member, but also dealing with the societal condemnation she felt on her brother's behalf.
Then, quite unexpectedly, a middle-aged man named Dan rose and spoke about his own homeless experience. He said that he himself had been a raging substance abuser who lived on the streets in filthy conditions often appearing naked in public. He, too, couldn't advocate for himself even when he was rarely taking his appropriate medications. It took the work of family mentoring and sheltering to counsel and restore him to the point where he now heads his own shelter for people with mental illness issues. He is the author of seven books. He completed a college degree. And he has been restored to become a vital component of the Oceanside community.
Something dramatic changed with their testimonies.
People in the auditorium now had a face and a story to relate to homelessness. They had stepped into the shoes of homeless people and their families. They came to see homelessness as more than a problem to be solved; a project to be completed. Homelessness is a relationship to be restored. And the homeless themselves are part of the solution. They know each other's needs. They know what works and doesn't. They know how to direct the system and each of us to give our best effort. They don't need an airplane ticket out; they need an open, welcoming heart. They need a home big enough to take away all the pain! A home we can make with the capacious love of the Father.
It was a magnificent, edifying way to end the forum!