More Volunteers Needed To Serve
The Homeless All Year,
Not Just During the Holidays
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Another Thanksgiving has gone by, and I have once again seen the usual fanfare on various media about hundreds of volunteers coming out to feed the homeless this past week. It then occurred to me that, besides Thanksgiving and Christmas, what do all these homeless people do the remaining 363 days of the year? Before you say, “Get a darn job!”, allow me to point out that I once wound up homeless myself. I never thought I would end up homeless. I thought I was well educated and diligent enough to avoid that fate. I also had the opinion that, since I was in the computer field, there would always be plenty of work. It used to be that a busy man was a prosperous man, but that’s no longer true. It’s been over 7 years since I have been in that kind of potentially dangerous predicament, but the memories are still fresh in between my ears. After spending the final 7 years of my former IT career working a series of ‘temp’ jobs that eventually ran out in 2008, I wound up homeless after using up the last of my resources. I am far from being a lazy man – I worked for 35 years. But I developed significant medical problems when I hit my fifties, so now I’m semi-retired while trying to carve out another career as a writer and minister. But my point right here is that homelessness can happen to nearly anybody, except for the rich. My 21 years in IT and the technology businesses did not exempt me or insulate me from the effects of an American economy that has been in a tailspin for years. My current home and office, along with the church I attend, are located in what can only be described as a blighted neighborhood about 2 miles west of downtown Atlanta. I am seeing encouraging signs lately that this run-down area where I live is slowly undergoing a gradual transformation that will someday convert this area into a live/work/play green space surrounded by residential streets lined with newly remodeled houses, many of which date back to before World War II.
Unfortunately, the reality today is that about one third of the houses I just mentioned are currently boarded up, and some of them haven’t been lived in for many years. Since there are a lot of transient and homeless people in this poverty-stricken area, a lot of them are currently living in these abandoned homes with no electricity or running water. Consequently, we have men, women and children living in third-world conditions right here in the United States, even in our midst! The primary cause of this can be laid at the feet of the public education system in America, but also because of institutionalized racism. Over 95% of the homeless people in this area are African-American, and it is minorities and people of color who are being cheated out of higher education or vocational training opportunities. This is a social injustice, and my ministry is devoted to helping out those that I can, either on my own where possible or through my church. Are you going through hard times yourself right now? I’m now living in some HUD apartments and I’m still in recovery from my experience. I am where I am because Christ was with me every step of the way, and if He can do that for me, He can accomplish that for you too.
America was once called “the land of milk and honey”. It was so named for the prosperity and promise associated with the opportunity that was once available to anyone who, when willing to work, could acquire a piece of the America Dream. In contrast, the old notion of hard work in the 21st century seems to mean little in our current system, where the elite control all the money. The associated greed so intrinsic they have robbed good, hard working Americans of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just so they could squander the money on endless wars overseas that are becoming increasingly dangerous. After a lifetime of effort in the chase for their piece of the pie, some Americans are finding themselves out in the cold, having lost their jobs and their dreams in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Some have fallen victim to not only Wall Street’s criminal over speculation in a system that could not support such monetary betting, but to a banking system that committed wholesale mortgage fraud when looked to and trusted by home buyers for professional guidance! Many of these unfortunate people are quickly finding themselves added to the homeless numbers of America. Many are trying to survive the current economic depression by seeking federal assistance but have found, much to their dismay, that government programs, one of their only rays of hope during their time of tribulation, are being taken by the same group of people who assisted in their demise: Congress.
Those responsible for 2008’s economic plunge and the ensuing chaos are trying to phase out social systems that provide those who are suffering a lifeline in the ocean of betrayal they are drowning in. Even worse, it seems to not matter to those surviving the current economic disaster. The top 1% of America’s wealthy are scrambling to protect their own by supporting a political bureaucracy that has abandoned the remaining 99%. Like prisoners protecting their plate of food, these people are surrendering conscience for three squares and a warm cot of their own. In light of the actions taken – or inaction in some cases – by our governmental representatives, those from rural and suburban areas have had no choice but to abandon their townships and move toward the cities in search of shelter and whatever government aid they can get. They have migrated from everywhere to the urban centers of this nation in search of the remnants of their national security. But in place of the Golden Lamp, they have only found iron bars and cold, impersonal streets. In lieu of allowing the preservation of their survival, cities are beginning to enact anti-homeless initiatives to drive them back to where they came while those responsible for this treachery receive record bonuses and wallow in ill-gotten gains. St. Petersburg, Florida is a prime example of such inhuman approaches. The City enacted new laws back in 2011 towards the criminalization of homelessness. A report that same year by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, tells much about the current war on these unfortunates:
Since early 2007, St. Petersburg has passed 6 new ordinances that target homeless people. These include ordinances that outlaw panhandling throughout most of downtown, prohibit the storage of personal belongings on public property, and make it unlawful to sleep outside at various locations.
In January 2007, the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender announced that he would no longer represent indigent people arrested for violating municipal ordinances to protest what he called excessive arrests of homeless individuals by the City of St. Petersburg. According to numbers compiled by the public defender’s office, “the vast majority of people booked into the Pinellas County Jail on municipal ordinances were homeless individuals from St. Petersburg.”
This is not the only American city to turn its back on those in need. Across America, the painful cries of economic injustice coming from America’s working people is being called to the forefront as the newest form of white-collar crime. Many laws have been put into place to criminalize people living in the streets, thereby dissuading them from coming to their cities at all. Both sides of the Congressional aisle have argued the semantics of the deficit crisis and the current economic strife, but the blame for the downfall of this once great nation means nothing when one is huddled beneath a dirty blanket trying to survive the cold or going hungry. The homeless only know that their basic American rights have been denied. Even cave men lived in caves! Are they better than us? Adding insult to injury, those Congressional representatives who were put into office to ensure the continuation of our American system, are trying to take even more from them.
Many conservatives have complained that the US has become a “nanny state”. They expound upon the belief that we must no longer allow the expenditure of US tax dollars to go to those who supposedly will not help themselves. This may have been a valid approach in strong economic times of yesteryear when work was plentiful and the American Dream was alive but now, in the shadow of Bush Era gluttony and growing neo-liberal faux patriotic oligarchy, it stands as a slap in the face of hard working Americans waking to the American nightmare. Some on the left, voted into office by an American public that needed to be protected, are making deals to further empower the elite in order to acquire their own earmarks and campaign contributor benefits. They too, seem to have lost sight of what America used to stand for. The only security this country seems to care for anymore is the one that allows for funds to be taken from social services and used for illegal and unnecessary wars, Patriot Act driven oppression and corporate welfare entitlements. Those unfortunate souls who have to stand in line for a warm bed in an overcrowded dormitory or in a food kitchen line to get a modest meal, are painfully finding that many of their lifelines are being denied by the very country they pledged their allegiance to. Instead of solutions, politicians are only delivering rhetoric, excuses and false promises. In this, our country’s greatest time of need, they would rather protect their own than fight for proper provision for the American people.
Many try to ignore these people as they represent the errors and gluttony of a nation lost but they are still American citizens and need to be cared for. The religious right and their Tea Party counterparts vehemently expound upon the protection of our borders against illegal immigrants, terrorists, foreign influences and protecting the Constitution for the preservation of America’s citizens, but in the same breath they condemn or cut funding to social services that support Americans in their time of need. The simple reality is this: American governance has become detached from the lives lived by those whom it has been charged the protection and care of.
In America today, people who have been misguided enough to believe in the American system and lost their piece of the “American dream” because of it, are now increasingly angry and have become significantly more demanding about implementing some sorely needed reforms. We are insisting on genuine, authentic reforms to a broken government and to our economic system, which seems to work very well but for only an elite few. We as a nation are quickly falling into the realm of the second world – we are no longer a superpower. Those who continue to blindly follow the myth of American exceptional-ism will end up starting World War 3 and charbroiling the entire planet. The future of this nation and the world will indeed be dim if this bloodthirsty insanity is allowed to continue. The book of Isaiah says, “’Come now, let us reason together, you and I’, thus says the Lord.” This is perfect advice for our modern times. All of humanity had better stop and think about what we want to do next.
Let’s take a look and see what the Bible has to say about all this. First, an example from Christ himself. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’, Jesus replied. There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments,’ ‘Which ones?’, the man inquired. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these things I have kept’, the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’.” (Matthew chapter 19, verses 16-26)
Now let’s look at what the apostle James had to say about homeless people. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James chapter 2, verses 14-17 NIV) Homelessness has in the past been viewed as a state of laziness, but today it is a growing condition that represents a dying world power. The elite persist in the denial of this national illness, since its recognition would admit fault. At the end of the day, ignoring it will not lessen the inevitability that this, our once great nation, is now a declining empire. Many are on the brink of bankruptcy in this country – so are many small businesses – and where once lay the promise of prosperous times for all, there now exists the reality that we are all only one paycheck, one medical emergency or one misfortune away from being homeless in the land of milk and honey. Plus, one out of every four homeless people are minors under the age of 12. This is no way to run what is allegedly the greatest country in the world. Homelessness in America is inexcusable, and it’s the government’s fault.