Fired up about homelessness

I’ve been pondering two timely topics that sort of come together here in sad way: Homelessness and the California Wildfires.

These topics came together due to the fires, of course, and a recent groundbreaking for a homeless facility – not a shelter.

The facility, designed to help the homeless, is in one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing communities in the U.S. – Loudoun County, Va. (where I live).

Neighbors protested at the groundbreaking.

The NIMBY banner flew.

Then news of the California Wildfires broke.

Having once reported on wildfires and moved in for photos a tad too close at a Texas blaze (amazing how the fire looked, smelled and felt as it jumped over me and singed my clothes) the CNN images caught my attention.

Many area residents here have volunteered to head for California and help in relief efforts.

There was even an offer for counselors to go help residents left homeless by the fires.

Hmmmm….

Fortunately, volunteers have stepped up at the local level through Good Shepherd Alliance, the group building the facility, to both counsel and provide the homeless here needed services.

I witnessed that firsthand. From late July until Oct. 10 I was sleeping in my car with no where to go. I was mighty happy to go shower at the current facility for Good Shepherd Alliance that offers showers, laundry, meals and computers for job hunting. My co-workers were happy too.

My homelessness came from health care bills – uncovered by insurance – that resulted in garnishments that devastated my paychecks. That combined with day care bills for my children and an illness with delayed disability checks led to an eviction for me. The rest of my family found another place to stay.

Hopefully, the Good Shepherd’s new digs will rise smoothly after a rough groundbreaking.

Despite those wishes and the above, being homeless and meeting others homeless does not mean the residents near the site have nothing to fear. Their compassion should well be tempered with caution, but a caution tempered with courtesy shown anyone new who comes into a neighborhood.

At http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/post/index/843/Homeless-Kicked-out-of-Illinois-Starbucks a writer details an incident during March at Starbucks. The blog is interesting, but the responses more telling.

My own experiences reporting on the homeless way back in 1989 revealed much the same.

The homeless there could not be stereotyped. There were many interviewed who were homeless for different reasons. The population at the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth featured an element of both the mentally ill and criminal. Many there were fleeing domestic violence.

As the homeless checked in, it was fascinating to watch as their personal belongings, including weapons, were catalogued and put into a safe.  The homeless claimed they needed the weapons to protect themselves. That was in 1989.

This week a story at www.christiantoday.com read:

Earlier this week, Jeremy Reynalds, advocate for the homeless and director of Joy Junction, the Southwest’s largest family homeless shelter, is calling for increased protection of the homeless by government officials across America, ASSIST News Service reports. “Physical attacks against the homeless are increasing,” said Reynalds, “and they must come to a halt.” He called for police to take extra steps to protect homeless people. He agrees with some observers, including Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless, that attacks on the homeless are a new type of hate crime. Reynalds, author of “Homeless In The City: A Call To Service” said, “There were 76 [murderous] hate crimes of all kinds recorded between 1999 and 2004. In that same period, 156 homeless people were killed, simply because they were homeless.” Reynalds, who was once homeless himself, but now holds a Ph.D. from Biola University, said, “Our culture is becoming increasingly violent as Christian values fade. Many killers of the homeless believe they are doing a service to humanity by ridding the streets of homeless people in this way. Attacking the homeless is becoming a new urban sport… The homeless are not disposal people,” said Reynalds. “They are people for whom Christ died, and we want to help restore their God-given dignity.” 

That “God-given” dignity is the key. The Golden Rule should rule.

And that leads back to the other topic at hand – how do Christians respond to disasters?

The same site quoted earlier, christiantoday.com, has a story about what the response is here:

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christian.relief.workers.offer.help.to.california.wildfire.victims/14186.htm

A favorite blog site by John Shore, a Christian author, features in the comment section an account of the wildfire’s scene from San Diego and responses.

That site is here:

http://johnshore.wordpress.com/2007/10/22/san-diego-is-on-fire/

Prayers are appreciated for those in California. Hopefully, any dross of looters will be burned away and pleasant memories of those volunteers’ golden deeds will remain.

 

 

 

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