Friday, October 11, 2013

Homelessness, a personal response. . .

When it comes to relating to and moving alongside a person or persons who are homeless, what can be done practically?  People frequently ask me this question in one form or another.

"What should I do when a person on the street asks me for money?"

"How should I respond to a homeless person when I pass them on the sidewalk or encounter them begging at a stoplight?"

"How can I get to know a person who deals with a poverty so deep that they have no place to live?"

Good questions!

As I've noted several times over the last few days, efforts to end homelessness in Dallas face a number of obstacles, most of which appear in the form of what I call "unsatisfying half measures." 

At a very personal level, how do we move beyond "halfway" responses?

Let me offer an idea or two.

First, find a way to truly befriend a homeless person without rushing ahead to "fix" everything or to change the person's life or situation, as if that is your responsibility.  It is likely unrealistic that this can be done using a "fly-by" strategy.  It won't happen that you will become friends with a person by just seeing them a time or two on the street or corner.  What can be done is to stop, slow the frames down dramatically and just be human with another person.  Stop and talk.  Introduce yourself to the other person.  Plan to come back to the area where the person lives.  Realize that you likely won't find each other every time you try to, but keep coming back.  Join me on "the Corner" of Malcolm X and I-30 on Thursday afternoons at 2 p.m. and get accustomed to the approach.  Or volunteer at one of our housing sites on a regular basis.  I can hook you up!

Second, value every person you meet no matter how poor, ragged, rugged, dirty or injured they are when you encounter them.  We convey value to another by the way we respond and by how we refuse to be put off by their circumstances.  Work on creating relationships that are defined by reciprocity--relationships in which everyone gives and everyone receives.

Third, develop a new understanding of how enlightened self-interest serves the entire community. The fact is when everyone does better in a city, everyone benefits!  Begin to regard the real, pressing needs of your poor friends as opportunities for you and your community to invest in solutions.  These solutions will benefit the poor, but they will also benefit you and everyone else.  Better health, better housing, better diet, better work skills, better mental health--these are not expenses to be avoided, but investments to be made that enrich the quality of life for us all.

Finally, if you are a person of faith, begin to "re-read" the story of your faith with new eyes for compassion, justice, the city and the poor.  Decide to spend time reading the words of Jesus from the perspective of your new friends who happen to be poor and cast aside.

While I cannot answer all of the "how to" questions, I do know that what I have in mind can be done.  And, in the doing we discover real answers and make new, very satisfying friendships.

1 comment:

lisag said...

The years I spent working along side you allowed me to see you live out these truths every day. How we see and interact with people is a choice!