This is a long post, and in it I will tell some interesting stories about the homeless we’ve met and love as friends. But I need to say something up front about our city leaders. In my last post I listed the names and email addresses of City officials. The intent was not to harass these individuals, but to express only our outrage at the actions of a City That Doesn’t Care, or to express support if that is your desire, over the death of Dominic.
All of these City Council men and women, the City Manager, and the Mayor are good and honorable people and should be treated with dignity for the office they hold and as caring people. Keep in mind that Mayor Dunaway has no voting power except in a tie, even though he wields enormous power in other ways within the city, as any mayor does.
Our fight is with the collective body that makes up the whole, the Council and leadership of a city that would not listen to the cries that warned them that great harm and deaths would occur if they sent these people away from their homes in the dead of winter. Some of our homeless did die, frozen to death. The city leaders read our request beforehand and the Mayor phoned me that they would go forward with their evictions even though snow and freezing temperatures was forcast. Representatives of the city attended a meeting at a local shelter and said the same thing. And Dominic is dead, and it appears there are others.
So express outrage yes, but call them names, no, threats, no. Express your own feelings either way on the subject, but stay calm. It is the city itself to blame, not the individuals who might have raised a voice but was voted down or failed to raise a voice when it would have meant something, perhaps not realizing the impact on the lives of hundreds of people, perhaps thinking the warning of possible harm or death was an overstatement when it was not.
Having said that, let me give you a few little stories on some of these men and women that we have learned how to be friends with. Now here is a disclaimer: I am a member of this church we call Macland Presbyterian, an elder, now on the session and a 3 year member of the Mission team. But I don’t have any first hand, hands-on experience with the particular homeless we are talking about other than meeting them as they came to our church and sitting down to talk with them. Whenever I say “we” I mean our team that has been working with them.
Several families doing missional outreach have been doing all the cooking, serving, bible study and outreach for our church. They have paid for food out of their own pockets, taken winter clothing and other things for the homeless, brought them back to church and taken them to restaurants, had coffee and broken bread with them, brought them to Church in their own cars, stored their belongings when displaced, done bible study with them. I’ve only supplied a little support here and there. They have been doing the work. I’m relating what they have told me about our friends.
Having said that too, let me tell you something about what I know from Pat and Scott and Jeff, and Jason about their encounters with the friends they have been serving. I just want you to know that this is not first hand knowledge, but it has struck my heart and I will be much more closely involved from now on. I know some of these names are not the real names. But the stories are real, the men are real, the hardships and problems they illustrate are real.
Perry and his gold coin offering
One of these men, a homeless veteran is Perry. Perry has been described by Pat as “having an entourage of people swirling around him in his head always talking to him.” Perry came to our church among the first two to accept our invitation to visit. Pat and Scott picked him up. During one sermon our Pastor was talking about the woman who gave all she had, a penny, and what a wonderful thing that was.
Perry got up in the middle of the sermon and started for the pulpit. Scott caught up with him and asked what his intentions were. “I’m going to make an offering”. “But wait, there is a time for that later”, said Scott. “But I want to give now!” So Perry took his Chucky Cheese gold token to the alter and placed it on the corner of the choir railing, and returned to his seat just beaming! Grinning from ear to ear. Gave all he had, real gold to him.
I don’t know what happened to Perry when the evictions came. I think that he had dissappeared. We know of one death, Dominic, and we know that there is likely more – I learned today that the medical examiner sent a homeless person to a funeral home near our church who was apparently found in the same lot we were serving, but Dominic had been found somewhere else.
Mark and his mound of dirt, compassion among the homeless
There is another victim that we have recently identified as Mark. Mark was first found by our little missional team some weeks ago. Mark was laying behind a large mound of dirt, flat on the ground with piles of donated clothing, blankets, tarps and other stuff on each side of him. Much of it donated by other homeless in the camps.
Mark clearly wanted to die but somehow was not successful. He was on the ground with his thin shirt unbuttoned, no jacket, no shoes, no covering and was unresponsive. Our group called 911 and an emergency van showed up, prodded his foot, asked him a couple of questions, determined he was alive and that he did not want to go with them. The crew left with these words: “We can’t make someone go that doesn’t want to go.”
Other homeless were bringing Mark sack lunches and most of the time the lunches were just left there uneaten the next day. He would take neigther food nor drink from us. He was never seen to move from that spot by any of our team over a period of weeks, and he never changed clothes. We have since learned that Mark survived the cold, but this past week, our homeless friend Steve told us that the police and others came back Wednesday of last week and took his bedding, blankes and other things. See my video where Steve talks about Mark, how he became homeless and why he was staying right where he was. He was not aware he was being subjected to eviction. He would not have been responsive to the police or anyone that approached him. He was unable. (Updated on February 2, 2008 to insert new information).
The aloof man and his broken trust
There is another I’ll call “Aloof” who showed up when they first started feeding breakfast. We noticed a man standing like a statue with his back to the breakfast line about a block away. Although invited, he did not move while we were there. The following week, he had turned around and was facing the other men and women enjoying a breakfast feast, but still did not approach, still a block away. (Since MUST feeds a lunch to the unsheltered homeless 5 days a week, our team chose to go on Sunday mornings to fill in).
The third week he moved half way to the chow line. The fourth, half way again, always standing like a post during the entire time our team was on site. The fifth he had moved up to where he was just outside the line but could see the food clearly.
Finally he began joining the line. We had gained his trust. Then the city came the next week and destroyed the little life support that he had. His hidden camp taken away and all trust dragged to the dump in a garbage truck with his belongings.
Some of the others
Then there are Steve and Don who lived under a nearby bridge. And a different Al than ours that had a girlfriend. And “our” Al who is indeed a veteran who has been working almost from the beginning to get his life back in order to get off the streets.
What I’m trying to say is that although our Al and Steve and Dave/Don have been mentioned in earlier posts a number of times, this story is not just about them, nor is it just about veterans, nor is it any way about us!
What this all about
It is about a city leadership that never took the time to learn that these are real, actual human beings in their care who have issues to be sure, but most are honest, decent citizens that have fallen on the hard times that, but for the grace of God, go I. It is about a city that paints all homeless men in one brush. If one did a crime, then paint them all guilty. They are faceless, nameless, scum to be run out of the city. They are trash to be swept away.
It is about a City That Doesn’t Care that decided that, with the homeless count coming up that they just did not want the world to know that they did not have a place to put them. The goal was to run them out of town to reduce the numbers, achieve a goal of homeless reduction. The goal was to let the secretary that saw what looked like a homeless man down the block know that the city was protecting her. To let the business man that had a female worker nervous because she saw a homeless man standing under a bridge on the way to her office know that she would not have to look the other way any more – he would be gone. To let the voters know the city was removing all the homeless because 1 or 2 were thought to be part of a crime wave in another part of the city. To let the voters know that all laws will be strictly enforced – unless it was convenient to look the other way. But for homeless, strictly enforced.
It is about a city that chose to evict the homeless from the only home they have had for years on the eave of the two coldest nights of the year – driven out in fear, leaving even their glasses, shoes, sleeping bags and tents behind to be thrown into garbage trucks by a City That Doesn’t Care. A city that supplies no support services other than law enforcement. A city that relies on the county morgue to front the $400 to pay for the burial of victims of their lack of concern for the welfare of another human being.
It is about human dignity when down and out. About trust when trust is vital but not allowed. About compassion, love and hope in a world that seems to have none.
It is about our Lord who told us to serve our neighbor, who said in the parable of the sheep and goats:
Matthew 25:44-46 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
What did Paul say about the Apostles?
1 Corinthians 4:11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
I wonder how many angels were present among the homeless to test us? Who is marked as a sheep and whom a goat? Who among us will our Lord not know?