Monday, June 23, 2014

Anti Homelessness & Our Response

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet, walk with you to the end of your road;
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands, teach you to serve each other;
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart, help you to love each other;
When you go out, may you see the face of Jesus in everyone you meet,

and may everyone you meet see the face of Jesus in you. Amen.

There are a significant number of people living on the edge of financial desperation in Belleville, and a lot of them gravitate to the downtown where there are rooming houses and store-top apartments. There seems to be only one individual who could be defined as a "street person" and her name is Pam. She is often panhandling along Lower Front St. and sometimes at the Farmer's Market.

Pam tends to be of "no fixed address" staying with various people, often with unhappy results. She also "sleeps rough" to use the British phrase for those who don't have accommodation or won't avail themselves of what is available. That often happens because of mental health issues.

Pam was in the other day looking for assistance. She looked terrible, as messed up as I have seen her. She had sores on her face, and on her arms and legs. She tried to up-sell me on what I was prepared to give her because she was coming up to her birthday. I asked her age and she told me forty-one. On that day she looked much older. I'm not sure I brought the face of Jesus into focus as I looked at Pam.

I thought of Pam when I read of the uproar in London, Great Britain, about the installation of anti-homeless person spikes around a new upscale development. It is in an area being gentrified, so time to push out the riff raff by making the new buildings inhospitable for those sleeping on the street. Fortunately there was a public clamour of indignation, the mayor got involved, and they have been covered up, to be removed. The same happened in Montreal not long ago.

Here is the reality though. During the time of Mayor Boris Johnston the number of homeless in London has doubled, according to those involved in support and ministry to this disenfranchised portion of the population. In most communities the homeless and the marginalized are considered a problem, an inconvenience, and governments don't know what to do.

Hey, if I'm honest I wouldn't be keen on a homeless person sleeping on my doorstep. I do believe that a civil society which includes those who worship a God of compassion and a heart for the poor wants us to figure this out. Jesus might say that "the Pams will always be with us" but that wouldn't be license to ignore or to try to eliminate them from sight. We are meant to be individuals and a society with hearts of compassion. I know that a few bucks here and there is not the answer to Pam's needs. I'm not sure what would be.

Are any of you as unsure as I am? Does the notion of those spikes unsettle you? How do respond with more than guilt?

Homeless Jesus Sculpture Timothy Schmalz

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