Solving the Homeless problem...but for whom?

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Everyone agrees that homelessness is an expanding problem for our city and for our nation in general.

Even though we are experiencing one of the more prosperous periods of economic growth in the history of our nation, the number of homeless persons keeps increasing! This doesn’t seem to make any sense. It won’t make sense if your underlying assumption is that the solution to homelessness would be simply providing access to tangible resources. However, it appears that there are lots of resources available but only a small portion of individuals seem to take advantage of these resources.

In some cities, hypodermic needles and human feces are a common sight on busy streets; disease bearing pests carrying medieval diseases are making a comeback in these cities, and now municipal governments are in a state a semi-panic since the Martin v. City of Boise appeal decision was announced, prohibiting enforcement of anti-camping ordinances on public property.

 The answer lies in the fact that homelessness and addiction are not primarily societal problems, but rather are primarily, personal and spiritual problems. If you are not addressing the particular needs of the individual person, you are not truly addressing the problem.

 But further, the phenomena of homelessness is a symptom of an even larger societal problem. Another way to say it, is that there is a philosophical and foundational disagreement as to the nature of the problem. Secularist/rationalist modern culture loves macro solutions, and so governmental responses are usually mandated into a one-size-fits-all policy. This perspective illustrates the point that there is a disregard for the unique problems and needs of the individual. The truth be told, is that there is no single macro solution to the “problem” of homelessness.

Homelessness is not primarily a deficit of life-sustaining resources, but rather a deficit of life-sustaining relationships. The decline and deficit of meaningful and life-sustaining relationships in our culture is becoming a huge societal problem.

 Our frantically paced, and increasingly outraged culture is rapidly devaluing human life, in favor of individual power, autonomy, and acquisition of pleasure and wealth, all at the expense of human dignity.

 When we talk about the homeless “problem” just exactly whose problem are we talking about? For the average citizen, the problem is seeing more shopping carts loaded with trash being pushed down the sidewalk or ramshackle encampments in the riverbed. For the business owner or manager, it may be having someone sleeping in your doorway as you arrive in them morning to unlock your door.

If you are a parent, it may be the sight of discarded hypodermic needles lying on the grass. These are legitimate concerns.

 From the point of view of most people experiencing homelessness, the problem looks far different. The majority are dealing with personal demons of regret, guilt and repeated failure thereby are creating coping strategies to deal with these emotions through addiction, self-destructive behavior and isolation from all the meaningful relationships in their lives. The life of the addict is full of fear and anxiety, which reveals itself as anger, rage, and anti-social behavior. It is no wonder no one wants to house them. Those who have been in the Rescue Mission ministry know these things all too well.  We know that the core issue is spiritual and not merely resource based. We know no one can end homelessness entirely, homelessness has been around since the existence of civilization. But we also minister to the homeless and addicted community convinced that from that sector of our society, God is calling a people for Himself to save them and transform them into trophies of His grace.