homelessness

I’ve been thinking a little about homelessness lately. Not for myself, but the concept. Many of Boston’s 5,000 homeless men and women are beginning to take a more prominent role in the city’s landscape again as we emerge from the deep freeze we’ve been under. I overheard an interesting conversation between two of my co-workers the other day about whether or not we should give handouts to those who ask (they had very different opinions). Yesterday, for the first time in months, I gave a man 50 cents. What’s more, my company sent a contingency to the Pine Street Inn, a multi-function agency that has been serving the homeless since the early 1980s, to serve dinner. (I’d love to go, but I have a prior commitment)

All this has me thinking about the complicated issue of homelessness: the facts, the causes, the solutions, the “Christian” response.

Consider these findings from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Coalition:

  • The average age of a homeless person living in the US is nine years-old.
  • 3.5 million people (1.35 million of which are children) will experience homelessness in a given year.
  • Children under the age of 18 account for 39% of the homeless population. 42% of these are under the age of 5.
  • 43% of the homeless population are women; 40% of these women are unaccompanied. 22% of homeless women claim domestic abuse as reason for homelessness. 25% of these claim to have been abused within the past year.
  • Families with children comprise 33% of the homeless population.
  • Vets constitute 40% of the homeless population.
  • 1 in every 5 homeless persons has a severe or persistent mental illness.
  • 25% of the homeless nationwide are employed.

The aforementioned co-worker who holds a more antagonistic view of the homeless actually said, “If I’m going to give one of those bums any of my money, they’re going to work for it.” He went on to spew some things about the homeless learning to “help themselves.”

One would think Christians, supposedly extending love to all people with no strings attached, would have a better attitude than that of my co-worker. But I have heard the same sorts of comments — and even worse ones — made not only about the homeless, but about all people living in poverty. We can certainly do better. As Shane Claiborne and others have said, “Jesus was homeless.”

On a similar note, go read Jim Clark’s post about poverty. I had the privilege of serving as an intern under Jim at the Christian Service Center in Abilene last spring (it’s hard to believe it’s been a year!), where I learned a great deal about working among the poor. Jim has such a passion to see the spiritual and physical needs of Abilene’s “poor” met.

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