I was recently reminded about the misconception that homeless people gather around homeless services. I haven’t been to church in a long time, but I went this past Sunday. The Sunday School class that morning was discussing the homeless ministries the church was involved with, which seemed rather fortuitous to me, being a subject I am somewhat familiar with.
As often happens in these discussions, the subject of where the homeless choose to be homeless, comes up. One person brought up San Diego, and said that the weather there certainly must be attracting a lot of homeless people. But then another person countered that Seattle has a large homeless population and the weather there is less than ideal. So then it was mentioned that Seattle must have good social services for the homeless, and that must be what is attracting homeless people there. But then it was brought up that Nashville also has good services for the homeless, yet Nashville does not have nearly the homeless population that Seattle has.
I think it’s important to note that people who comment on the quality of homeless services really don’t know what they are talking about. They only know about homeless services as they are relayed to them from a third party. They don’t actually take a first hand look at the services provided for the homeless, neither do they take the time to determine if the services described to them are real or exaggerated, or if they are actually meeting the needs of the homeless. Most people don’t really know what it is that homeless people need. So, their assessment of services, especially comparing one place to another, is factually baseless. They just don’t know what they are talking about.
The idea that homeless people gather around homeless services is disproved easily enough, whenever anyone is motivated to do so. Most people don’t want to hear about such things though, because they don’t want to believe such things. They hide from the truth of the matter.
I think the best example of this took place a few years ago when a women in an upscale New England community decided to take a look around her neighborhood for any homeless people that she might be able to help. She had already checked with her local churches and city officials who confidently declared that their neighborhood of upper income people, living in relatively expensive homes, could not possibly have any homeless people within it. But she wanted to see for herself. So she went walking around in areas most people did not tread, following old train tracks, going under highway bridges and overpasses.
Yes, she found homeless people. Many homeless people. The homeless knew that they were not welcomed in that neighborhood, and that there were no homeless service providers in the area, so they remained well hidden as a matter of survival.
This woman, with a heart for the homeless, and knowing that there was a need that already existed, opened her home to these homeless people in her area. She fed them. Allowed them to use her bathroom and shower. Let them use her washing machine and dryer. She let them use her phone. She had a barn on her property and allowed several homeless people to live in it as shelter against the harsh New England winter. She helped several of them get jobs. She provided them with transportation to their jobs.
Then her neighbors noticed the homeless people going to and from her home. And they did not like it. They did not like that homeless people were walking down the sidewalks on their streets. Homeless people had not done that before. It scared them, and they wanted her to stop what she was doing for the homeless.
Well, after a long and exhaustive battle with her neighborhood and her city officials, she was forced to stop helping the homeless. None of the objections people gave against her helping the homeless were legitimate. But that didn’t matter. Influence, money, power, prestige were ultimately deemed more important than helping homeless people. Her neighbors believe that they got the homeless people to go away, but really they just forced the homeless back into their usual hiding places.