Friday, December 21, 2007

Jesus, Jesus rest your head

Following up on this post, I thought I'd try to find out what's going on now in Dallas with First Presbyterian and the homeless living on their parking lot. And I found this. No mention of business disruptions in this article; no comments from tenants near the church, disturbed by the impromptu homeless camp. But it's worse; it's the harsh reality of such places:

"These encampments are environmental disasters," [Ron Cowart, head of the City of Dallas'homeless outreach team] said. "They're cesspools of sickness like you've never seen before."
"We have found mounds of human excrement mixed in with carcasses of dead dogs," he said. "We have found that the vast majority of people who are there are physically sick with contagious diseases, everything from HIV to active tuberculosis."
"We have found women who live in the encampments, not 99 percent but 100 percent, every woman that lives in a box encampment is assaulted on a daily basis. The perception of the men there is that these women are living outside the embrace of society and they are fair game. They are raped every day of their lives."
"In very severe weather most homeless people will go to a homeless shelter, but they leave behind the sickest of the sick, the people who are completely debilitated from untreated mental illness. We have found people near death underneath soggy blankets in disintegrating boxes."
"We work our hardest on rainy, windy cold days," he said. "We found during the late spring sleet storm last year a woman wrapped up in three ice-encrusted blankets."

He told me about staph infections and gangrene. He said, "We do not believe it is morally acceptable to just walk away and leave people out there to die in those conditions. We must do better than that."
To it's credit, the city is trying to. A proposed ordinance would allow the homeless to spend the night in the Day Resource Center until a new shelter can open in February. But will that be enough?

The second crunch, however, is this: Hogan and Cowart say that in October and September of this year their outreach teams contacted 1,662 people who qualified for some form of voluntary treatment or shelter. But of those there were 227 who could not be placed anywhere because no space was available.

Dr. Clifford thinks on any given night the crunch can be far worse than even those numbers would indicate. "They put five people into beds, and the system is full," he said.

The mission of the police, as Deputy Chief Golbeck explained to me, is to enforce the law and preserve order. He cited instances in the past where the police have experimented with looking the other way. They found what First Presbyterian has found: Every loophole or rag of sanctuary becomes a gathering place and then a major problem. So their mission now is to close the loopholes.

But all the best efforts of the outreach teams and the private missions still fail to find places where all of the homeless can be safely housed and treated. The result is a cruel equation by which some of the homeless are not allowed to be anywhere. They are not allowed to exist.

It's perfectly understandable how all of this comes about. Everyone has the best intentions. But a condition that does not allow human beings to exist is evil and an anathema, and into that breach steps First Presbyterian.
Into this breach, as it has done for centuries, steps the church. Says Dr. Clifford, the pastor of First Presbyterian:

"We are called to serve them. They are the least of these in our community, and Jesus has taken up residence with them, according to the gospel, and he is to be found in their midst. We exist to serve Christ, and according to Matthew 25, that's where Christ is, so we serve them."
We like to say, at Christmas, that Mary and Joseph were homeless once, too. That's not quite right: the code of hospitality in Judea, today as in the first century, would have made the refusal to house family members anathema. If Luke's account were true, the census that compelled the Holy Family to Bethlehem would have meant some relatives lived there who would house them. In another sense, though, they had to rely on the kindness of strangers, of those they didn't know but could still make a claim on. The author of the article is right: this situation is evil. It cannot be allowed to continue. He is also right:

One of those lumps could be my former publisher's mother. My own loved one. Me. You. The lumps are people. They were all gorgeous children once, full of wonder.
It could even be the Christchild.

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God--for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without povery of spirit there can be no abundance of God.--Oscar Romero

No comments:

Post a Comment