Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Way I See It: Homeless People

This blog is meant as a medium that I can use to get all the opinions and feelings about the world and life out into the open. I will blog about things that are fairly trivial, then blog about matters that are important in the grand scheme of things. I want to share my views on things that make me happy, but also on things that make me sad, angry, confused, etc.

The subject of homelessness brings a lot of sadness to my heart, but also some fond memories. When I was growing up in Frankfurt, Germany- a fairly big city- I spent quite a substantial amount of time with people who lived on the street. Some of them had chosen to live outside of society, but most had ended up there involuntarily. One thing that can be said for most of the homeless people I have met is that they were unable to live a 'normal' life, i.e. a life as a functioning member of society with a job, place to live, etc. The reason for this inability was of a psychological nature. There were some who had been badly abused their whole lives, some who had lost their job and fallen into a big hole of depression. Many had addiction issues or were in some way physically ill (e.g. one man had HIV and was unable to cope with the reactions he got from his surroundings) Whatever the reason for these people's life on the streets, it was usually not their choice. And they were nonetheless wonderful human beings.

Fast forward to my life now. In South Carolina, I keep encountering people who call themselves Christians, but who condemn homeless people and are unwilling to help them in any way. In a discussion with a lady some months ago, she tried to convince me of the fact that people who did not have a home were simply lazy. My counter to that was that if they are so lazy, and you can get so much money if you are on welfare (haha...), why don't they go and get that money? Her response: they are too lazy to go fill out the paperwork to apply for assistance. Really??? I asked if she believed that a person would rather sleep outside in the cold or heat or rain without food, etc. than fill out some paperwork? She does. I almost have no words for this point of view. And I had to avoid any further discussion with this lady on the topic.

I believe that we, as Christians (or as persons belonging to any religion, really- all major religions share the belief in compassion and love), should never try to judge another person's situation. We can never honestly say where we would be if our lives had taken a different turn. If we want to really do what Jesus wanted us to, we have to help the poor, regardless of the reason they ended up where they are.

In Germany, homelessness is a problem that could easily be eradicated if people made use of the social network. However, as I mentioned earlier, for different reasons they are unable to do so. Even if you provided a homeless person with a job, a fully furnished apartment, new clothes, food, etc., eventually, he or she will probably end up on the streets again because they do not know how to function within our society. Extensive therapy would probably help these people, but is very seldom available, nor do they seek help often.

In the US, the story is very different. How many of us would be in serious trouble if we lost our jobs? Or got very ill, having to pay enormous medical bills? There are countless scenarios I can picture in which a family could end up being without a roof over their heads. And it breaks my heart. All the foreclosures in our neighborhood make me wonder: where are those people now? Do they have a roof over their heads? How horrible must it be for the children, not having a safe environment to grow up in?

The next time you see a homeless person, I hope that all you see is a person in need of help. And I hope that if it is within your means, you will find it in your heart to help a little.

Imagine what kind of a world we could live in if all the Christians (and members of other religions) stopped focusing on all the things they want for their own churches- and how righteous they themselves are because they can quote Bible verses- and started doing good whenever the opportunity presented itself. As you see, I am not even dreaming about people actively seeking out situations in which they can help, just doing so when they are asked and when they can...

"Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car." (quote taken from one of my friends)


  1. I 100% agree with you!!! It is very hard for someone who has always been middle/upper class to understand how hard it is to pull yourself out of poverty-usually all alone. And who is to say what the "right" thing is for a homeless person to spend money on? If I were in that situation I might very well choose to numb the pain with alcohol as well. I think if someone would like to judge the homeless based on their purchases, then the homeless should be able to judge you based on your purchases...what would they think of all that frivolous spending?

    The whole reason we watch (and are amazed by) movies that show someone overcoming poverty, is because it's so rare. And while we're talking about it, I actually didn't like the movie The Blind Side (I know I'm probably one of the few) because A. it's the typical rich white family helping a poor black kid, look how wonderful we are and B. they got the story wrong--the mother does not help teach him football and encourage him, he already had a huge passion AND talent for it, and C. the people watching the movie walk away feeling good about themselves like they contributed to it!

    I also think about the many people who have been displaced by job loss. After going through a layoff ourselves and unemployment for six months, and we were lucky enough to have family that helped us, what do others without families to help do? This may sound funny, but I was even thinking since we have such a large yard and a water/electric hook-up out by the shed--we could hook up a camper for short-term living. It's not ideal but better than homeless.

    I would like to become the kind of person who not only offers help to the homeless people I encounter, but who also takes a few minutes to stop, share a meal, and learn something about them.

    To wrap up...
    1. Go Vivien!
    2. Treat the homeless with the same respect you give your minister.
    3. If you need a place to live let me know, if our house is too small we'll find a camper ;-)

  2. Hear, hear! I would venture to say that beyond even major religions, anyone as a PERSON should have compassion on another human being. Until the recent economic crisis, the homeless population here was not so different from the population in Germany: it consisted mostly of the mentally ill. If we do a poor job of caring for the physically ill in this country (which we do), we do an abysmal job of carrying for the mentally ill. Until a person themselves becomes ill, I see that most have little understanding of the toll the illness can take on a person.

    And really, it's not even so simple as going to extensive therapy. Yes, therapy helps a lot, but many of these people have illnesses (bipolar, schizophrenia) that require one or more medications. Therapy is about $150 an hour, unless you happen to live in a place that provides sliding scale treatment, and the drugs are outrageous too without insurance, and what person that is homeless would have medical insurance? The medications require careful monitoring due to side effects and the difficulty of getting the right dosage, so a loved one to be there to help is very nice. In addition, many of these illnesses are such that as soon as the medication starts working, it's tempting to stop treatment because the person has the feeling that they've been cured, when in reality this is a lifelong illness for most of them.

    And, after being unemployed for so long, it's difficult to find an employer who will want to hire them. Without friends or family, they have to save money for quite awhile to be able to afford rent and food to be self-sufficient. Also, while on the path to recovery, they may have off-days where they miss work and are fired (low-income jobs replace people quicker than high-income jobs because there are so many able and willing to fill the position).

    In any case, all that to say that the issue is extremely complex and that I agree with you: we all need to have compassion and, when able, be willing to be of service.

    ~ Maya @ (left my address as Open ID doesn't allow a self-hosting blog to input their information)

  3. Also, totally unrelated: do you have Twitter? I'm another liberal, Christian, AP mom whose husband has Celiac disease. I'd love to connect if you do: I'm @MarfMom.