My job takes me into downtown Denver. I observe the homeless persons and wonder about their paths that led them to where they are. Some are truly in a bad place psychologically. Others are simply trying to survive.
Friday morning I saw two people asleep on the sidewalk, up against a building. It was about 6:30 in the morning (I was 30 minutes into my own 2-hour-each-way commute). A pair of police officers rode along the sidewalk waking them up. I was watching, wondering about how the two would be treated: the officers were concerned about the men, asking if they were OK. The men roused themselves, picked up their few belongings, and left.
Denver has a housing lottery that, yes, I’m registered for but only a small percentage of persons actually get housing every year. The apartments are scattered through the area.
I’ve been thinking about this lottery.
Whether we want to acknowledge it, the homeless do have a community. It may be loose or close or both but people without homes have connections to others.
When we place a person in housing our task is complete. (Please observe the patronizing way I just said that. Place? A person is not an object to place on a shelf). Our job is successful: this person has housing.
Except we may have just removed that person from their community and from their support system.
Is this truly a good way to approach the very real problem of homelessness?
I’m certain that some persons move into apartments with support services because those persons are in need of counseling or other social services. The man with the very long unkempt hair and beard who was dancing on the 16th Street Mall is someone who I would hope would have a place to live like this.
But for many of us, is the loss of community more important than gaining shelter?
In my post about being othered I talked about being viewed differently. I’m wondering if this difference extends to the need for community. I think it does and the feeling is that we are not in community therefore there is no need to be concerned about disrupting community.
Perhaps we can pay attention to that first. Perhaps instead of taking our ministries out of the church we invite people in. We stop caring if they obviously haven’t had a shower in months and welcome them into our churches. We go find them and bring them in. We welcome them to Christ’s table. We let them line up for communion as many times as they want and hand them a hunk of the blessed bread rather than a small piece.
We become part of THEIR community fully accepting of them and before long they will stop being “them.” We will all become us.