It’s easy to fuel an opinion via outrage and group-thought and -speak. Too easy. The collective outrage against the increase in laws that makes it hard to be homeless in certain cities in the US is a good example. The poor are unsightly and inconvenient. And costly. The ordinances are classic NIMBY. They are informed by fear of property value loss and of being the target of crime. And other considerations.
Here’s Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old WW2 veteran, being arrested for violating such a law. I think such a criminal record is to be envied.
My mother-in-law resided in Fort Lauderdale for several years. That city has a huge homeless population. Given the warm climate, many of them find shelter under the many bridges and other public places. Charitable organizations like Love Thy Neighbor have been feeding people right where they are for years. Citing health concerns a recent ordinance was passed that limits such activities. There must be cleanliness standards. There must be toilet facilities. So what’s wrong with that?
What’s wrong is that it criminalizes charity. It makes it costly to help. Charities that don’t have the money and/or facilities to conform with the law must cease what they do. And the homeless go hungry or .. leave. And it’s “leave” that is the understated message of such ordinances.
Now I believe anyone passing judgment on solutions to problems must have other solutions. Denial that there is a problem is as irresponsible as any solution that one dislikes.
So .. I must ask myself if the homeless could live near me. In “my back yard”, so as to speak. And I really have to say “yes” if I am to oppose the trend of these statutes. There’s really no alternative.
At the same time, I personally do not and will never have the resources to fix poverty. Or provide homes for everyone. So whose responsibility is that? Some would say the church. More would say the government.
There are numerous Bible passage citing the righteous duty to care for the poor like this. There is little argument that it is the right thing to do for people of faith. There are voices that cite the causes of poverty as sin – that the plight of the needy is their own fault and thus, responsibility. I hold that stance in contempt because it fails to extend the grace I need to live each day.
Is this the church’s problem to fix? If so, then the churches I know and have known have a real problem with inward focus. Budgets and energies need to be turned out and not in. But even if that happened, would it be enough? It would be interesting to see, because the gospel regenerates people. THAT’s how Jesus deals with poverty. It’s no surprise that the gospel, when believed and acted upon, has a social-economic effect. Out of the underclass comes a middle class. It’s fact.
But okay, we’re talking about the actions of government here. Secular – of, by and for the people. It’s a blessed principle in the foundation of America. All persons are believed to be created equal. This never meant they are equally gifted, competent or able. But they are equal under the law. And it’s that principle that these ordinances violates.
Yes, I am saying that helping the poor is part of a righteous government. That making life better for them is a municipal concern. And I don’t care where that statement puts me on the facade of the political spectrum. It’s just right.
So .. rather than chasing the poor from our midst, we should feed them, clothe them and give them shelter. The cost of doing so is dwarfed by the virtue of doing so. But even the cost can be creatively managed if and when people decide to care.
Going back to my own backyard – I would that there was a place for poor people to stay. A place I could visit and be enriched by their lives. And it can be next door, no matter the effect on the value of my house. Snobbery be gone – even from me. We need to love the poor. It’s a matter of public and private policy.
Matthew 25:35-36 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’