Recently I dropped by my office on a Saturday afternoon. My daughter Clare came with me and on the drive we were listening to some of her favorite music. She was animated and happy, singing along and dancing in her seat. As I exited towards the office on the frontage road, I slowed down in keeping with the decreased speed limit. As I continued along, Clare’s singing softened and I noticed from the rearview mirror that she was no longer dancing about in her seat. Finally we came to a red light and she fell completely silent. Her attention was fixed on the great number of persons camping along Highway 71.
I said to her, “Do you see all the people, sweetie?”
“Yeah”, she said.
There’s no easy handbook for parenting through these difficult conversations, but I knew it was okay for her to be uncomfortable. It was also okay for me to not tie up the situation in a neat bow. After all, being attentive to persons experiencing homelessness is uncomfortable and there is no easy reason for or solution to homelessness. It is complex and overwhelming and heartbreaking.
I tried the best I could to continue a conversation.
“It’s hard to see, isn’t it.”
Again, a simple faint “Yeah” is all she could say.
“One thing I need to do is make sure I have more manna bags with me, huh?”
She launched in, “I know, mom. You don’t even have a granola bar?!”
We continued our conversation for a bit, acknowledging together that there is much to be done. We talked about how it seems there are no easy answers nor satisfactory responses that will end homelessness. Jesus told us the poor will always be with us. His words trouble us – both making sense and not making sense.
Ever since the Austin City Council voted to change what many refer to as a homeless camping ordinance earlier this summer, most of us living in Austin are seeing more and more persons camping in various places throughout the city. Along with Clare, I invite you to notice all the people. It might make you uncomfortable and sad, but seeing each individual as a human being of sacred worth in God’s eyes is an essential step in our Christian discipleship.
Continue to educate yourself and find ways that you can be of help. I know there is much for me to learn. Recently I visited with clergy and laity in the district who are engaged in ministries with the homeless at their churches. They continue to teach me a great deal. In early 2020, I am looking towards centering our district day of learning around the theme “ReThinking Homelessness.” Watch for upcoming newsletter articles in the weeks and months ahead that will help us learn more together and serve more together. After all, we are stronger together!
You can also learn more by watching the video “Six Ways to Help the Homeless.” I found these takeaways especially helpful and important:
* Lead with Facts – While recent ordinances have increased the visibility and thus our awareness in the Austin area, homeless persons have always been among us. And while documented cases of homelessness have increased through the years, they haven’t increased at the drastic rate some are reporting. We can help by speaking up if we hear persons misrepresenting the current reality.
* People are Not Invisible – When you see someone experiencing homelessness, do something that acknowledges them – whether a smile or a friendly “hello.” See all the people!
* Handing out Food – When handing out food or a manna bag, invite persons to receive or refuse the items. Sometimes we think persons are being wasteful when in reality they cannot eat or use certain items. Also, a simple and helpful tip is rather than offering bottled water, freeze the bottled water first!
* Find the full video here.