Homeless at Christmas FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 25 Dec 1997 16:49:09 -0800 (PST)


FWD  Reply to Bryan <SaigonCal@aol.com> 12-24-97

"Homeless at Christmas"


That there are people without the basic necessities of food, clothing, and
shelter living among us should be to each one of us reprehensible. The world
looks to the United States for leadership, to take the moral high ground, and
tragically it is in the United States that the disease is the most obvious. In
our land of milk and honey, the richest country on earth, where there is a
Starbucks on every corner and grocery stores are filled to bursting, there are
families without homes. They live under bridges, in parks, at bus stops, in
doorways. They have no permanent protection against the rain and the cold,
against hunger and despair. Christmas is a cheerless time of year for them, and
they watch with hopeless eyes as the rest of the world carouses with twinkling
lights and chestnuts roasted by an open fire. They struggle, and we watch and
provide token gestures, just enough to make ourselves feel better but hardly
enough to be of any lasting benefit. I will never forget the day I witnessed a
homeless man digging through a dumpster in search of his breakfast. On the
other side of the parking lot was a grocery store. Food sat on the shelves,
idly awaiting the day's shoppers, and a man went hungry less than a hundred
feet away. The irony has stayed with me to this day. In the country considered
by many to be the promised land, such things should not be.

The homeless are quickly becoming the new untouchables. In our age of Aquarian
compassion and understanding, they are being stepped over. They have become
excess baggage, the black sheep of the American family. Their presence among us
is a source of shame, a step backward towards a harder, harsher era. In some
cases the fall from grace is an accomplishment entirely their own, the product
of pure laziness or the unwillingness to abide by society's rules. In others,
they have been inhumanly driven to the streets by domestic violence, mental
illness, and poverty. Regardless of the cause, they have been thrown out like
so much trash and left to freeze or starve, abandoned to their fate.

The fact that it is wholly within our power to save this lowest class of people
and still the lowest class remains is to me unpardonable. It is unconscionable
that the mightiest country on the planet allows its most helpless citizens rot
away, unseen, unheard, and unloved. They are suffering, and we allow them to
suffer. People who are not homeless say the homeless are someone else's
problem. To this, I invoke the Judeo-Christian maxim, "Love thy neighbor." Some
of your neighbors are homeless, and they need your help. If you found a
relative living on the streets, would you give over your spare change, or would
you try to get your relative back in control of his or her life? What I am
suggesting is that the homeless should be treated as you would treat an
alcoholic uncle. You can only stand by and watch for so long before you are
compelled to step in and try to help him regain his sanity. Living on the
streets is insane, and there is too much seemingly uncontrollable insanity in
the world. Homelessness is one form of evil that does not have to exist.

The gospel of Matthew tells Christians, "The many that are first shall be last,
and the last shall be first," and yet they remain. Islam demands charity as one
of its Five Pillars, the foundations of the Muslim faith, and yet they remain.
Men of God preach that God tells men to look after the weak instead of standing
on their backs, that power without compassion results in the oppression of the
powerless, and yet they remain. They cannot save themselves from themselves.
The rift between the haves and the have nots has become too great to overcome.
We can save these people, and I sincerely believe that if we continue to stand
by and do nothing, we are justifiably damned.

"It is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than to enter
the gates of Heaven," according to one biblical passage. Those who have managed
to amass huge fortunes are not the only ones this excerpt refers to. They who
are well-to-do in money, love, family, or knowledge are called upon by whatever
manner of god they serve to share their windfall and thereby leave the world
better than they found it. Everyone is family. Our Christian principles trace
the heritage of every man, woman, and child in the world to the Garden of Eden,
which makes every man your brother, every woman your sister. This country,
which claims such a strong Judeo-Christian heritage, is in need of some serious
spiritual salvation.

I will leave statistics out. This is not because the numbers are insufficient
to prove my point; I believe they are largely irrelevant when it comes to
saving the homeless. What matters is that they are, not how many they are.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of homeless people. A lot of them are
adolescent runaways, many of them are women, and sadly, a rapidly growing
number of them are families. There are families, parents with little children,
living in parks and under freeway overpasses and in cardboard boxes, subject to
abuse and crime, going hungry on a daily basis. Recent welfare cuts and the
loss of aid to the poor have had the predicted effect. The poor have become
poorer, some of them slammed to the pavement and forced out of their homes as
housing prices continue to rise to incredible levels, especially in the Silicon
Valley. Low-rent units are disappearing from the market as developers and
landlords discover what the market will bear, and the ranks of the homeless
continue to swell as a generation begins to grow up on the streets.

This for the most part has no affect on our day to day lives, apart from the
touch of someone asking for money to get something to eat. Most of the time, we
don't know if the money is going to be used for food, water, or drugs, and yet
we inexplicably find ourselves giving out change and even dollar bills on
occasion. We don't live next door to any of them or work alongside any of them.
We don't really know any of them. At least, I don't. I know some of their faces
in the downtown San Jose area, and I always try to at least make eye contact,
though that's usually about all. A few days ago I put a quarter in the hand of
a small homeless man. He looked up at me, thanked me, and shook my hand. He
would not let go. He pressed me with conversation, took up my other hand, and
held on desperately as if the touch of another human being was alien to him. He
wished me a merry Christmas five times, and told me Muddy Waters had died the
night before.

Something needs to be done. The standard solutions do not work, and when
traditional methods fail, Necessity once again becomes the mother of invention.
Social scientists must start to become innovative when dealing with the
homeless. Soup kitchens and blankets are such a futile gesture that in the end
you wonder why we even bother. They are not stray dogs; they are human beings.
One permanent solution would be the establishment of a Mecca or Redemption
Center for the homeless, of sorts, out in the high deserts of California,
Nevada, or Arizona. The location would not be very easy to get to, but hardly
impossible. Their salvation would lie in their hands and they would have the
power to make or break themselves. There would be no governmental or public
assistance provided to help them reach the center. However, if the people were
willing, one form of aid could be rendered by the reinstitution of the
Franciscan Mission system, whereby rest stops would be placed along the way at
intervals of one day's walk, paths leading from all corners of the nation to
the center. There, we would help them get back on their feet, free of charge.
The only cost to the homeless would be the acceptance of an education, in any
field they chose, be it the Humanities, Engineering, Chemistry, or Basket
Weaving, but it would have to be a complete, four-year, accredited course of
study. Any education, when done properly, quickly reveals to the student just
how ignorant we all really are, and thereby should in theory prompt the pursuit
of further education on the part of the student. It's true that they would be
receiving a free education while the rest of us have to pay exorbitantly for
one. It should not be that way. Education is so very necessary that it should
be free to whoever wants it, the student provided with free room and board for
the duration of his or her educational years. Think of the world we would live
in where for every ten year old who aspired to greatness in basketball or
football, there was another ten year old equally dedicated to the pursuit of
truth, of the knowledge that comes from knowing you know nothing. Where would
we be after ten years of this kind of balance? After a hundred years? After a
thousand?

One of my father's favorite sayings is, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him
for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." I propose we
teach everyone to fish. If everyone knew how to fish, our world would be very
different. If we are to survive, those of us who are capable of standing on our
own must be willing to help others achieve independence. In order to do that,
it will be necessary to hold the lowest member of society up until he is able
to reach his dreams. I can see no other way. In allowing the scourge of
homelessness to continue in our country, each of us is guilty of nothing less
than collaboration with the enemy. It is my fervent hope that future
generations will know homelessness only through history books and not by
day-to-day experience.

The next time you look out the window and see a dark and stormy night and find
yourself almost unconsciously thanking God you have a place to live, stop what
you're doing, go outside, and think, for just a moment, about that homeless
family of four shivering in the cold. This Christmas morning, thank your family
for the roof above your heads, the walls that surround and protect you, the
bacon sizzling in the skillet. For the homeless, there were no presents under
the tree this morning. For most of them, there will be no Christmas turkey, no
ham, no stuffing. It will be a cold Christmas day, just as it was a frosty
Christmas eve.

There exists in each of us the potential for beauty. Beside that potential lie
the same dreams, the same hopes, the same loves. We are not so different from
one another as some like to pretend. In the differences are found some of the
most wondrous things in the world. Horrors like homelessness, poverty, and hate
do not have to be. We the people can change the world and create Heaven on
Earth, Paradise everlasting.

Merry Christmas.

END FORWARD from Bryan <SaigonCal@aol.com>  12-24-97