I had this cute little 500 word blip all ready to go today. A piece of lightness surrounding the kamikaze nut hunters flinging themselves relentlessly into the path of death and slowing my morning commute. Black, grey and red squirrelly little buggers out in droves trying desperately to stuff their pantries with food for winter. Every morning I’m forced to a near screeching halt at least once to avoid the - back and forth, back and forth… go left, go right, wait for it……wait for it…..now! No not now, not NOW….go back! Go BACK! GO BACK! Which way is back? - Game of chicken that lunges out of the right shoulder and tugs at my human instinct to preserve life. These random encounters rarely attack me from the left which is odd and leads me to believe they are far less ‘random’ then the rodent populous wants us to believe.
Where was I going?
…The cute little piece about the cute little rodents da da da….so on and so forth. Like I was saying, it was going to be a cute little collection of words. Then I read D’Amato’s opinion piece in today’s Record about our local churches closing their doors to the Out of the Cold Program. One by one; facing the surmounting challenges of increased client participation, increasing mental health and substance addiction issues, decreasing legions in their armies of human kindness; many churches don’t have a choice. While I believe that the church in the very foundation of its’ doctrine has some moral obligation to perform the services of human kindness many homeless people in our city have come to rely upon, it is not difficult to see that physically, they simply can’t do it. Without people, without resources, without the proper training how can they?
I suspect that they have for a great number of years been pulling it off in a ‘silk purse from a sow’s ear’ fashion. Quietly, doing the best they can with the skills, resources and manpower they have had. I am sure too that the decision to close church shelters is as devastating for the volunteers as it is for the clients they service. The choice by Church officials could not have been taken lightly, made without contemplation or regret. But I also believe that they’ve done the right thing, made the right decision. They have done what a Church should do and have acted in the best interest of the people they serve.
In this case, the homeless.
In many ways these shelter providing churches have been enabling the bureaucracy of homelessness. Taking care of the problem so it never really reveals its’ full magnitude to the public. They’ve been shouldering the burden for everyone. Mainly the local government who consciously or not has come to appreciate that caring for the homeless, or better yet preventing homelessness, is not a front burner issue for them, not while someone else is willingly stepping up to the plate. The results are proving themselves; mental illness and substance abuse that leads individuals to the street, poverty that leads individuals to the street, those issues haven’t been getting the attention from the bodies with the resources and the purse strings that they should; consequently the instances are growing exponentially. No problem—no worry—no programs—more problems.
By quitting, the Churches have just ripped off the Band-Aid and exposed the issue, the reality of it, the enormity of it and the inhumanity of it. It’s out there on public display. Closing the shelters has said “Here is the real magnitude of the problem, we need help. Help at the source, help to end homelessness not just care for it, help from the string pullers and decision makers.” They’ve said, “This is everyone’s problem—now what are we going to do about it?”
The timing is harsh, but I don’t think it could be timed with greater impact. The cold weather is approaching. And I agree with D’Amato on that point, we can’t let people freeze. Clearly we aren’t alone in our thinking that even one day a week is unacceptable to be out in the cold, let alone four. The government and agencies know it too. Otherwise everyone wouldn’t be scrambling for a solution, trying desperately like our squirrel population to get it together before the mercury falls. Right now there is the bureaucratic collection of data, focus groups, discussion, planning, and finger pointing. - back and forth, back and forth… go left, go right, wait for it……wait for it…..now! No not now, not NOW….go back! Go BACK! GO BACK! Which way is back? Everyone has a opinion and a solution, some people even have the means to effectively implement a plan but eventually the cold is going to come and when it does the problem will be people. People who need help and care and a warm place to spend the night. It won’t be an ‘issue’ anymore it will be a matter of humanity.
When bureaucracy yields to humanity eleventh hour solutions emerge; even if they are transitory and unsustainable long term—one will emerge this time as well. People will help people; it’s what we do.
And there is the concern. There are temporary solutions to every problem. You can stick a bucket under a leaky drain and that will work for a while to keep a puddle off the floor but eventually you have to fix the leak.
I feel the fear and the senselessness of the situation but I don’t think the Churches are out of line, I think they are far from abandoning the fundamentals of their religion or turning their backs on the needy. I think they have done the right thing. I applaud them for making a giant stand at solving a tremendous problem. I love that D’Amato asks (and I paraphrase) “what would Jesus do?” If the ultimate solution to caring for homelessness is to find an end to homelessness, these Churches have done exactly what I believe Jesus would do; they’ve taken away the bucket and called a plumber.
1030 words plus....maybe I should avoid opinion columns.