Tag: 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…)

Can You Spare Some Compassion?


By Pierre R. Berastain

I walked through the streets of New York City where incessant noises stand as the backdrop of everything that occurs. “You don’t know what it’s like to be homeless!” screamed a voice painfully, breaking the indistinctiveness of noises, “I hope it never happens to you! I am just hungry.” The woman was responding to a man who had berated her and her plead for money. He had shouted something degrading without looking at her and continued to walk undisturbed.

I hope it never happens to you. The words echoed in my mind as I walked down an entire block.

I hope it never happens to you.

The determined voice in my head insisted on a response, like a nightmare interrupting my sleep or a crying baby pleading for human warmth. I had just been confronted by the other, and that other engaged me with compassion rather than anger. She did not reproach me. She just wished me well. She had called me, named me, and demanded I turn around.

As I walked back to the woman, I recalled the homeless in Harvard Square. How often do we pretend to be busy on our cellphones so that we do not have to engage? How often have we heard, “Can you spare some change?” and avoided the gripping eyes of a person in need, pretending the words fell on inattentive ears? With our actions, the most visible humans in the streets become the most invisible ones in our hearts.

Yet, the woman in New York did not respond to this human neglect with anger; she responded with compassion. She extended it to the man, to me, to everyone around her. Where, I wondered, in the midst of her hunger, did she find the energy and love to show it? Sometimes, the ones who need compassion the most are the ones most willing to extend it.

“May I buy you something from this restaurant?” I asked.

I soon learned she could only have soup because she had lost all her teeth. I soon learned she had not always been homeless, that amidst economic struggles and distressing circumstances, she had lost everything and had no one to turn to. “We are a landscape of all we have seen,” once said Isamu Noguchi, Japanese American artist and architect. If we ignore those gripping eyes, what landscapes and narratives are we missing?

I am not suggesting we give money to all homeless individuals or that it is our duty to feed everyone around us. It is our response-ability, however, to recognize the humanity in others. The man did not have to say something disparaging to the woman. He could have simply looked at her and said, “I’m sorry.” We do not have to ignore a ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ from homeless individuals. We can choose to smile and wish them a good day. Sometimes, recognizing the humanity in others is worth more than what money can buy.

Shelley recognized the man’s humanity — his vulnerability and the possibility of his homelessness — and she extended compassion. That Thursday afternoon, as I walked to the subway station, I wondered how much compassion Shelly would extend the rest of the day. And how much she would receive.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Follow Pierre R. Berastaín on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pberast