Category: homelessness

Only a homeless Jesus can change us

The Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C.

By Alan Bean

Was Jesus homeless?  Yes, he was.  In Matthew 8 we read:  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  

And then there is that startling passage in Matthew 25: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Jesus of Nazareth was an itinerant preacher, walking the dusty roads of Palestine with an odd assortment of men and women.  He never worried where his next meal was coming from, partly because his friends provided food and drink for the journey, and partly because he learned how to live with hunger.

So it is entirely appropriate that St. Alban’s Episcopal Church should depict Jesus as a homeless man wrapped in a blanket in a piece of public art.  And it is also appropriate that a woman driving by should pick up her cell phone and call the police.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross for identifying with the poor . . . but it was certainly part of the mix.  Had he identified with the wealthy, he would have avoided the cross and his message would have been the mirror image of what we read in the Gospels.

In his book, Doing Justice, Congregations and Community Organizing, Dennis Jacobsen talks about what happens when white and black professionals abandon inner city communities by incorporating separate municipalities.  When that happens, tax money flows to affluent neighborhoods (like the real estate surrounding St. Alban’s Episcopal Church) while inner city communities wither and die.  It doesn’t have to be that way, Jacobsen says:

David Rusk argues for a policy of regionalization of planning, taxing, and spending.  He points to Indianapolis as a positive example of regionalization.  when now Senator Richard Lugar was mayor of Indianapolis, he finessed a state legislative action that made the boundaries of Indianapolis and its surrounding county congruent, creating a ‘uni-government’.  The effects have been dramatic.

The Christian gospel doesn’t damn the wealthy (although it comes damn close); the gospel is a call to repentance and a call to take responsibility for the men and women who sleep on park benches and undergo similar forms of humiliation. (more…)

It’s time to end homelessness

By Alan Bean

Nobody is a fan of homelessness, but we’ve learned to live with it.  We are most adept at living with it.

I will never forget my first encounter with homelessness.  I was visiting Washington DC with my wife and three children in the late 1980s.  We were walking through a park en route to the Mall and the kids were amusing themselves with a game of hide and seek.  As my daughter Lydia searched for her brother Adam, she happened upon a large square piece of opaque plastic lying on the grass.  Thinking her brother might hiding under there, she lifted up the plastic sheet and discovered an old man fast asleep.  He had obviously spent the night sleeping in the park.

I had spent most of the early 1980s in Canada or in isolated places like Glenrock, Wyoming, so I had no idea what was going on.  I rememb.ered speaking to a weeping nun in Louisville Kentucky when I worked as a social worker at a mental hospital.  She told me that federal funding for mental health services was being cut back and soon there would be nowhere for people to go but to the streets.  The woman was inconsolable with grief.  This was in 1980, before Ronald Reagan had worked his magic on the safety net.

As I looked down at the sleeping old man under the plastic in a Washington park, I realized what the sister was talking about.  Frankly, I was horrified.  I was also embarrassed to be living in a country that tolerated such horrors.

But I got used to it. (more…)


The view from our motel room

By Alan Bean

Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

These old Paul Simon lyrics have been running like a soundtrack through the back of my mind for the past few days.  My wife and I are homeless.  We moved out of our old home late Friday night and can’t occupy our new place until Tuesday afternoon.  Don’t ask how this happened.  It’s a long story.

A technical and temporary kind of homelessness, to be sure.  Not at all like the real homelessness some of my friends are forced to live with.  We are staying in a motel that serves a hot breakfast.  The Quality Inn is surround by The Highlands, a comically upscale shopping area where the muzak runs day and night and you can find an old-main-street shop hawking every imaginable kind of food and supplying every sort of consumer item.

We have two cars at our disposal, and plenty of credit cards.

We have wonderful friends who have helped with our mad dash midnight move and invited us to share fine meals in their gracious homes.

I have my father’s old classical guitar, so my musical addiction has been regularly sated.

We have H. Stephen Shoemaker’s wonderful God Stories to feed our hungry souls.

All our worldly belongings have been stuffed into a 17-foot U-Haul, a 26-foot Penske, and the garage and shed of our old home.  Tomorrow, a team of movers will help us transfer this decadent haul into a lovely new home  with four bedrooms, granite counter tops, and an over-the-top master bathroom.

Our real estate agent is even springing for the motel room, and most of our out-of-pocket expenses are covered during our brief time of exile.

So why do I feel so lost?  Why has the mere fact that I have no home to go left me dazed and disoriented? (more…)

Jobs, housing and public safety

By Alan Bean

America’s punitive consensus is counter-productive.  We don’t want to be victimized by ex-offenders, so we exclude them from the job market and bar access to low-income housing.  Left without viable options, they re-offend.  Maybe they write a hot check, or they resort to nickel-and-dime drug dealing, or they break into the neighbor’s home and haul the loot to the nearest pawn shop.  Policies designed to lower exposure to ex-offenders, breed criminal behavior.  Street crime rises, recidivism rates soar, and incarceration rates are stuck in the stratosphere.

Mitch Mitchell, a crime reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, does a terrific job of documenting the plight of the ex-offender.  For decades, politicians have been competing to see who can be toughest on crime; gradually, Mitchell’s article, suggests, they are beginning to grapple with the consequences of their punitive policies.  

Mitchell should be applauded for emphasizing the housing issue, a piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked.  Here’s the thesis paragraph: 

Finding housing and employment are crucial to an ex-offender’s successful reintegration into society, experts say. But after serving their time, many ex-offenders find that they cannot get a job without a home address and cannot find a place to live without the money to pay rent. So they may end up roaming the streets.

Ex-offenders in Texas often can’t find housing or work

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

By Mitch Mitchell

For a brief moment, Tim Baker considered that death might improve his situation.

“Suicide is natural for someone who is depressed,” Baker said. (more…)

Mass incarceration and the criminalization of homelessness

By Melanie Wilmoth

Exacerbated by the economic recession and increased home foreclosures, the homelessness crisis in the U.S. continues to grow at an alarming rate. According to a new report published by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), over 650,000 individuals in the U.S. are without a home on any given night. The report, “Criminalizing Crisis,” highlights the increasing criminalization of homeless individuals.

NLCHP reports that, despite the knowledge that there are inadequate services for those who are homeless, cities continue to prohibit activities that are essential for survival:

“Criminalization measures often prohibit activities like sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or begging in public spaces and include criminal penalties for violations of these laws…Many of these measures appear to be designed to move homeless persons out of sight, or even out of a given city.”

Once individuals are criminalized (and, therefore, have a criminal record), they face more barriers when trying to obtain employment, housing, public benefits, and healthcare.

In a recent survey of large employers, “over 90% performed a criminal background check on some or all job applicants.” Moreover, individuals with a criminal record may be suspended from or ineligible for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food stamps. Furthermore, many Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) have policies that disqualify individuals from housing based on arrest records. Thus, criminalization serves to preclude individuals from working toward economic self-sufficiency, further perpetuating the cycle of homelessness. (more…)