This week is National Homelessness Awareness week. The epidemic that is homelessness certainly warrants at least a week of thoughtful conversation and prayer. It’s a problem all over the world and impacts even small cities like mine. My small community of 21,000 people has a real problem with homelessness. It’s often connected to our massive substance abuse problem, but what surprises me the most isn’t that this small town has drugs and homeless people. What surprises me most is how little people in this community know about that problem. It seems, however, that it is this way everywhere. Homelessness is rarely discussed and often never addressed.
Perhaps it is a genuine lack of ignorance. Most homeless individuals are isolated to certain parts of a community and unless you’re intentionally looking for them you may not find them. More likely this ignorance is self-induced. The reality is that homelessness is real, it’s ugly, and there are no easy answers to helping homeless people. Throwing money around doesn’t seem to have aided the situation much. Shelters are only a band aid (even if a very important one). Most of us don’t even know what to do to care for the homeless. The solution, however, has to begin with being more honest about and conscious of homeless people. And it is important that we speak of them as homeless people, and not just generically as “the homeless”.
When we forget that the homeless are real people we can feel no real pressing need to address the problem of homelessness, or (perhaps worse) we can address it in ridiculous and asinine ways: like making it illegal to be a homeless person. For Christians there is no excuse for ignoring the realities of homelessness and the people it affects. God calls us to care for those who are the “least” among men. He calls us to compassion and love. We, above all people, must be motivated to think hard and pray hard for the homeless in our communities, and then we must act where we can.
A number of years ago a New York mayor had determined that if every church in the city would adopt two homeless people and care for them they could at least nearly, if not totally, wipe out homelessness in their city. Even if the idea was a bit overly optimistic the response was sickening. Only three churches responded! Christian, Christ has called you to love the “least of these”. Whatever that looks like, whatever that means for your context, it must mean that you respond. The real problem with homelessness is that few people seem to care enough to do just that.