I feed the homeless last night in downtown Dallas. As I drove nostalgically to the first stop, the “Bunk House,” white faces and pretty stone facades greeted my eyes. Gentrification has begun.
Two cop cars hummed lazily near the abandoned liquor store adjacent to the vacant lot where we prefer to feed. Apparently, the police escort has become a common phenomenon these days. The yuppies dwelling in the stone facades around the corner from the liquor store and the Wrigleyville-like bozos on the roof of the three-story loft behind the liquor store apparently moved into the neighborhood for its potential, not its reality. They want nothing to do with the homeless and therefore complain to the police that we are feeding (now illegal in Dallas without a permit thanks to the city’s little beautification project – aka push to end poverty). Luckily, the policemen couldn’t care less. So, to follow protocol, they just show up and ask what we’re feeding tonight. Once their obligatory “harassment time” is up, they leave – giving both our ignorant neighbors and us much satisfaction.
What is the meaning of public care for the homeless? Dallas has built a new shelter for the homeless thanks to $26+ million federal funds that increasingly arrive based on your ability to document the total number of homeless you serve. So why not build a shelter and bring more revenue into the city? Discarding the cynicism for a minute, why not build a shelter? Homeless persons are notoriously difficult to track down and a centralized location enables public services to easily access this illusory population. Medical care, job training, substance-abuse programs and the like can all congregate at this one location to equip these neglected souls. Besides, the new facility in Dallas is gorgeous with a cozy pavilion in the center and 100 apartments for the “chosen.” If “The Bridge” (this facility’s name) wasn’t already over double its capacity within a three months of opening (600+ individuals sleep here where only 300 cots have been supplied, 200 of which are open air barracks), shouldn’t this be the model for all cities to embrace? My soul sits uneasy with the idea.
Some would say sleeping on the cement motivates the homeless. They would argue that people need incentives to light a fire under their butts. Others would cite the high prevalence of co-morbidities among homeless populations as proof of the need for more social services, especially substance-abuse programs (over 50% of homeless individuals have a substance-abuse addiction in combination with a mental illness – a co-morbidity). Philosophically, I’m not sure where I stand. I think people do need incentives, but I also know that without basic support incentives are stuffing lollipops into mouths with rotted teeth that can only chew beef. What should society do?
Well, I think this is the wrong question. My opinion is that individuals should act. In particular, I think Christians must act. God commands Christians to care for the poor, not for us to outsource the government. Sure, we should study and advocate systemic methods of change politically, but maybe the Church could have such a global impact that the issue of God in politics could be side-stepped. If brokenness were dealt with locally, maybe mass poverty wouldn’t even be an issue. Imagine church congregations where homeless individuals freely entered. Imagined attendees who shared their home computer and personally trained a homeless man how to write a resume. Picture soccer mom’s asking Tom Thumbs and Jewel Oscos across the city if their stores had openings for their friend. Would the city of Dallas even need to be involved? Maybe. But maybe not.
Really, what scares me most is this:
“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3
If we are going to deal with the homeless corporately (through city government), then I think there is a corporate obligation to do so in love…or else we are collectively profiting nothing for eternity (not to mention not really showing anyone we actually care). Do I even need to ask whether the yuppies with their Miller Lites in one hand and a video camera documenting our license plates in the other have love – as part of the collective society – for the poor Dallas is feeding? Maybe I am too quick to judge, or maybe the everyday Christian needs to step to the plate and learn how stewardship could turn our world upside down.
“And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ ‘The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'” – Mark 12:28-31