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How Can Churches Respond?

Proverbs 21:13 “Whoever closes his ear to the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”

Proverbs 14:31 “Whoever oppresses the poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy is honored.”

Luke 4 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…”

Abraham Kuyper “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence of which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, mine!”

Over the last year we have seen an influx of homeless people everywhere. There is no denying it has become a great issue in all of our communities, everyone is affected and there are so many different responses these days. There are people who hand out resources every day, there are people who try to affect the systems that creates homelessness, there are stories of abuse of generosity by the homeless, and there are people who are very angry and want nothing to do with the homeless.

Speaking as a former homeless person I think we sometimes miss the deeper issues: The mental, spiritual and emotional health of the homeless person and of us, as providers of care.

There are homeless people who are comfortable being homeless, it has become a way of life. There is a freedom that comes with no responsibilities, there are relationships and friendships that many of us only dream of.

There are homeless people who are dealing with deep PTSD, ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) or any number of hurts that are just not overcome by a visit to Mental Health or a church. There is often pain involved that they don’t even know is there and so it is hidden behind homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and an unstable environment.

There are others who fell through the cracks…. a layoff, a divorce, or a single crisis can put people in a place where they lose everything.

There are people who are addicted and prefer living that way at this point.

I think the question is not how do we solve the homeless issue, as much as how do we engage in deep relationships where we learn from each other?

It is often easier to find housing for a homeless person than to help with their process of healing.

I recently connected with a Church in San Josewho had a homeless man (and significant other, at times) living on their church campus for over 2 years and no matter what they tried the person did not move away. They provided resources, repairs on his vehicle, invitations…… But in the end, he would just stay, hidden in the bushes, and live his life there. What is a church to do when the homeless and his belongings become a danger for staff and community members, and an eye sore for the community, and the loss of good witness to the neighbors?

How do we follow God’s mandate to care for the homeless without missing to care for our neighbors? How do we wrestle with the discomfort of being confronted with pain and suffering and not being able to ‘fix’ it? How can we use it as a learning opportunity?

Homelessness does not have an easy fix. It is complicated and messy and at times tough love is needed to help people live in their own discomfort. I think sometimes we want to put a band aid on a situation while God wants to do heart surgery.

It takes a larger approach. Here are just some ideas on what can be done:

  1. Be informed! Know what is already being done to address the homeless issues in your city.

  2. Join a team that addresses the systems that foster homelessness (higher rents, increased costs in medications for seniors, lack of jobs……)

  3. Find a way to be involved in the ‘Continuum of Care’ efforts most bigger cities have to end homelessness.

  4. Make smart decisions yourself - your purchases impact homelessness!

  5. Find ways to be a good steward - many stores, schools and restaurants are willing to donate their leftovers, see what can be done to harvest good food.

  6. Know what resources are available and have information readily available to give to people

  7. Have an open heart, sometimes God will ask you to invite a person for lunch, sometimes He does not, keep in tune with God to know where He is leading.

  8. Be an open church that does not create barriers. People are struggling to be part of your family.

  9. Be a safe church that also has good systems in place to ensure that you don’t endanger the congregation and community around you.

  10. PRAY! Have open eyes and an open heart to do what God asked you to do. Live out the Good News of Jesus Christ that He moved into the neighborhood.

Do you wonder what happened with the homeless person from the church? After many more conversations, they started taking his belongings away…. We will see what happens next. It sounds harsh but for the safety of other people this was not an option any longer.

As I am writing this we are also dealing with a similar situation in front of one of our community centers. Many conversations, love and care and yet it has become very a dangerous situation for our community. J., our friend and beloved by God, is not a safe person at this time and we need to take actions.

Yes, we can care for the homeless and poor and yet set strong boundaries.

Yes, we can love people and yet not allow them to squat on our properties. Pray that God’s Kingdom will be more reflected in every aspect of life, from our personal relationships to our systems of government.

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