The Multi-layered Problem of Homelessness.
Our friend and CEO at True Charity Initiative, James Whitford, said something about homelessness that has firmly stuck with me: “It takes real compassion, respect for human dignity, and a sincere interest in why a person is homeless to help someone who’s homeless.”
This enlightening quote sheds light on just how complicated homelessness is here in Lancaster County and America at large. Homelessness is becoming a larger epidemic with each passing day, meaning that more and more of our fellow neighbors are struggling.
But, why? This is the million-dollar question. Sadly, there is no magic wand we can simply wave to solve the issue. In fact, each person’s situation is wholly unique. The solution must come at an individualized and very local level.
In order to truly love our neighbor as Jesus commanded in Matthew chapter 22, we need to get under the surface, one person at a time and one family at a time. In order to truly address homelessness we cannot merely address the symptom. There is indeed a very real housing crisis, however, the problem goes much deeper.
Whitford offers this, ‘“Why” isn’t the only question we should be asking. We should also be asking, “How?”’ We must be careful not to mis-categorize someone’s need. Ensuring we really are helping is just as important, if not more, than having a benevolent heart.
For example, Whitford asked the “how” question to 5 individuals struggling with homelessness who admitted they couldn’t take shelter at his mission, Watered Gardens, because of their struggle with addiction. “How are you continuing to support your habit? How are you living on the streets?” Without pause, they gave me three responses: selling food stamps for fifty cents on the dollar, selling government subsidized cell phones for fifty bucks a pop, and panhandling.”
Whitford concluded that in this case, the epidemic here was not homelessness or houselessness but rather dependency.
To be clear for context’s sake, not everyone struggling with homelessness is fighting an addiction. That’s far from the truth. The root issue is always unique in each individual’s situation.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves if the person we’re trying to help needs relief, rehabilitation, or development. First, relief is meeting an urgent need. It is temporary and not meant to be long term solution.
Tragically, in many charitable circles, most cases are treated as relief situations even if someone is not truly in need of relief. Let’s look at the following example and how this creates a downward spiral for both the receiver AND the giver:
- In step one, Grace gives $5 to Rob for the first time; Rob appreciates it, Grace feels a sense of exhilaration because she helped Rob. Receiver feels appreciation, giver feels exhilaration.
- In step two, Grace gives Rob $5 a second time; Rob now anticipates it, Grace now feels a sense of purpose. Receiver feels anticipation, giver feels purpose.
- In step three, Grace gives Rob $5 a third time; Rob now expects it, and Grace now feels necessary to Rob’s well-being. Receiver feels expectation, giver feels necessary.
- In step four, Grace gives $5 to Rob a fourth time; Rob now feels entitled to it, and Grace now feels essential to Rob’s life. Receiver feels entitlement, giver feels essential.
- Finally, in step five, Grace gives $5 to Rob a fifth time; Rob is now dependent on it, and Grace now feels paternal, vital to Rob’s existence. Receiver feels dependency, giver feels paternalism.
Second, rehabilitation is working to help someone become stable, self-sustaining and guiding them back on track. It’s a hand-up. Third, development is working with someone towards ongoing, long-term change. It’s getting them to a better position than before. This is a real, genuine relationship that’s stable, reciprocal, and accountable.
It’s not ungodly to have expectations of people in need of assistance. Contrary to popular belief, expecting others to do their part is the most loving thing we can do for them. That’s called dignity.
Rev. Robert Sirico said this, “When animals are hungry or thirsty, we take them to the trough; when they are cold, we put them in the barn. But human beings are more than animals and need something MORE than what animals need. If we do not take this into consideration in the way we approach service to those in need, we will fail in our goal of helping others to flourish as human beings.”
At CVCCS, our hope for our community is to foster self-sufficiency and sustainability. Furthermore, genuine compassion offers those in need the opportunity to thrive through relationships and accountability. Whether we’re providing food, clothing, mentoring, financial assistance, or financial counseling here at CVCCS, every ministry and program we offer aims at holistic charity.
As a community together addressing needs and changing lives, let’s help our struggling neighbors not just try to survive, but thrive!
To learn more about the importance of real relationships in elevating our struggling neighbors out of poverty, visit www.truecharity.us/ and https://cvccs.org/. Or to partner together in being a part of providing real solutions in our community which are relational, responsible, and compassionate please contact me.
Rev. Jon Barrett | Executive Director of CVCCS