Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
Two weeks ago, the New York Times
an increase in the number of homeless people living in New York City. Over 43,000 men, women, and children do not have a roof to call their own tonight. That's 25,475 adults and 18,256 children sleeping on the streets or struggling to find room in a shelter.
The increase is largely due to the phasing out of a city program that paid the rent of those who are now displaced. Faced with market-level rents, the newly homeless men, women, and children were left in the dust of the city’s budgetary constraints. The city preemptively responded by opening 9 more homeless shelters.
I was riding the uptown 5 train this week when a homeless couple spoke up to ask for money. “The city ended a program, and I cannot afford my rent,” the man said. “The shelter system wants to split up my family. They cannot help us.” When I invited him to visit The Bowery Mission, a Christian homeless program on Bowery St, he was not happy. He thought I was suggesting yet another shelter, and the poor in our city want more than what the city is offering. They need hope and family.
Our short conversation caused some discontent on the train as frustration and anger flared in the hearts and words of other passengers. A dogwalker who lives on the Upper East Side scolded another passenger who had a judgmental look. And another chimed in with a story of the city’s unfairness and rigid rules.
Homelessness is a sore subject.
As a follower of Jesus, I deeply care about finding the best response to the cries of frustrated and hurting men, women, and children in my city. I feel compassion for the needs of the disabled, the veterans, and those who’ve just fallen on hard times. And I wonder:
Is ending the city’s rent subsidy program an injustice?
What does it actually look like to live out Isaiah 58’s mandate to share bread with the poor and to loose the bonds of injustice?
Jesus once told us that the poor will always be among us. Does that mean it’s all a hopeless case?
These three questions dig deeply into a grey area of the Christian’s engagement in politics and society. In New York, it isn’t cool to disagree with a welfare program no matter how cost-inefficient it is. In the most elite circles, the need to somehow be associated with your neighborhood social services outlet or some social justice cause leads many to attend swanky galas and summer fundraisers.
But Christians were never meant to fit the mold of the culture. We are called to step into the landscape of New York and change the movement of its culture.
So while Jesus cautioned that the poor will always be among us, He also healed the sick of their diseases, fed those who were hungry, and cared for those around him.
The directive from the Old Testament is clear in what God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to describe the fast the Lord prefers:
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
We’re supposed to make sacrifices to serve the homeless and hurting around us. We’re supposed to let the hungry glean in our fields. We’re supposed to give away what we have to those who have-not.
Let’s not forget, this call is for you and me. Christ never served the poor from an institutional or cultural perspective. He didn’t discuss the rights of man to food, shelter, and religious practice in an organized body. He spoke up on hillsides and open fields. He fed His sheep, creating abundance out of scarce resources. He acted with compassion as a simple carpenter’s son.
And He directs us to do the same. We toil on earth to multiply our gifts for all to share, remembering that our treasure is in heaven.
Ending a government program creates great difficulty for the poor in the city. But the greater difficulty for many is a lack of employable skills and character, the lack of mental and emotional clarity, the lack of hope in a God who loves us no matter our rap sheets, broken families, or cold hearts.
The end of this rent subsidy program is a call to action for those of us in New York who should be paying attention. The need is so great. 18,000 kids will sleep in a shelter tonight, not in the warmth of a their own blankets under their parents’ roof. It seems an insurmountable problem.
In light of this, I think it’s important to remember the words of Mother Teresa:
“I can love only one person at a time. Just one, one, one… The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don’t put the drop in, the ocean will be one less drop. Same thing for you. Same thing for your family. Same thing in the church were you go. Just begin. One. One. One.”
Come on down to your local soup kitchen and share a meal with a man living in a bunk upstairs or meet a woman recovering in a group home. You can meet one person, and you can meet a need that Christ meant for us to cover. See you there.
How can you make being the hands, feet, and heart of Christ to the homeless in your neighborhood a regular part of your life?
What are some of the local shelter and recovery programs in your area?
Editor's Note: This image is compiled from a series of homeless portraits taken by Lee Jeffries. You can see them individually
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