Hope for the Homeless

In the past month, two homeless people in lower Bucks County, PA were laid to rest. At both services to honor their lives the pastors admonished attendees to reflect on what’s important in life and said that the funeral was a celebration of the person’s life.

Drawing from the 23rd Psalm, the pastor at Martha’s funeral spoke of how the Lord uses his children to witness to the world of God’s love and how He reaches down and pulls us out of the pit and restores us to his glory.

The pastor at the service  for Eddie said that we all have a mission, a purpose in life. The most important thing is life is Jesus and reflecting Jesus in our relationship with others.

Christians bring light to the world by showing the fruits of the spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

–Galatians 5:22-23

One thing that started happening after the funerals is that the brothers and sisters in the homeless community began to realize they need to come together. One homeless brother told me someone he had been at odds with reached out to make peace.

But all is not well. Wednesday night, on the heels of the last funeral service, someone stole a cell phone at a community meal.

The victim of the theft was angry, rightly so,  and demanded that everyone who was there be searched. Some people refused because it violates their right of privacy and probable cause. I pray that the cell phone will be returned to its rightful owner and the thief be punished.

The homeless community needs not just a place to live, but moral support. They, like King David, need to be lifted out of the pit. The establishment in Bucks County treats the homeless the way blacks were treated during the Jim Crow south.

The homeless need to be encouraged, and, as Martin Luther King preached, not hate the enemy but fight for what’s right in love. “Be angry but do not sin”, the Bible says. When people treat you rotten, it’s hard not to harbor resentment and lash out at them or shun them. I struggle with this myself. Only God can empower you to deal with problems while showing the fruits of the spirit.

When I had a problem with a public official years ago, I lamented about how I had been wronged to a counselor. The counselor said that there will be A-holes in your life, but I shouldn’t let them bring me down. I should just leave them on the ash heap of history and move on. Good advice!

Unlike Curly of The Three Stooges, who joked “I’m a victim of circumstances”, you don’t have to be a victim of circumstances. There is more to life than what you may be going through at a particular time. As the pastor at Martha’s funeral pointed out, God is there for you during the vicissitudes, the ups and downs of life. God is always there.

In the homeless community we need to be there for each other.

“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth for he hath not another to help him up.

Again, if two lie together, they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

–Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 4:12

 

Industry Not Pest Control

Instead of writing the homeless off as useless bums, encourage them and help them to better themselves.

Unfortunately, some members of the homeless community make a bad name for the homeless, and the public puts a one size fits all label on them.

For sure, there are problem people among the homeless – the druggies, the drunks, people with mental problems.  Recently, I experienced an example of people who have the gimmees. This reflects an attitude in this country, as particularly exemplified in Bernie Sanders, et al, that people are entitled to what others have.

I picked up a formerly homeless friend at a bus stop and a woman who had just become homeless who was talking to him, waiting for the bus. I dropped the man off at Walmart and took her to the Oxford Valley Mall. She wanted to stop at the nearby Salvation Clothing Store, so I waited for her at the mall while I ate lunch. She also wanted to stop at a church and gave me the impression she was going there for help with her homeless problem. Instead, it was a quixotic quest. At one point, she got on the phone and told a friend that I would drive her to his place, which was on the other side of town.

I refused (she hadn’t even asked me).

I told the woman that she could get clothes free at some of the community dinners. “I don’t like what they have,” she quipped. When she got her change when she checked out at the Salvation Army, she asked the clerk what date was on a penny. I preempted the woman as the clerk went for her reading glasses, telling her we have to get going in order to take her to the bus that will take her to a free meal.

She begged me to drive her to the meal because “I want to be there when the doors open.” I firmly told her that I would take her to the free bus. I did. When we got there I pointed out where people pick up the bus, as we drove by waiting people. She said she wanted to go into the nearby library.

I reminded her about the bus stop.

I met the guy I dropped off at Walmart at the library and took him to the meal. I left the woman on the ash heap of history.

Other homeless people, however, don’t think they are entitled to the services of others, including the guy I dropped off at Walmart. When it snowed this winter, some homeless people found work shoveling snow.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city worker has been offering homeless people work cleaning up the city and offered food, shelter, and other services for their efforts.

This is the kind of thing we need in Bucks County, PA.

Given the opportunity, homeless people will work. I overheard a conversation at a community meal between two homeless people about working. They both were working sporadically. One of them said he wants to get into a routine.

Some homeless people have done volunteer work and go to the library to further their education. I’ve seen homeless people reading books outside of the library. On a few occasions, they were discussing Shakespeare.

Since I started hanging around the homeless two years ago, some of them have found work and have moved on. Recently, a homeless friend got a job in another state.

There are other ways the homeless can help themselves. The public library in Levittown, PA offers a chair yoga class. After having lived in my car a few months, I started stiffening up. My feet swelled. The yoga class helped me get the knots out, helped me relax, and even helped keep internal organs healthy. Kava tea also helped relax my muscles.

In Bucks County, finding shelter is the biggest problem. The “emergency” shelter has a months long waiting list, and it takes a year or two to get county assisted housing.

By offering homeless people work, they can save up for housing. Still, some people have a hard time getting the money for housing and they could use some help.

Housing first is a good idea. Yesterday I read a piece on Facebook where an advocate championed housing first. The only part of the advocate’s plan I question is the idea of putting people with addictions and other mental health problems in housing first. The advocate’s plan is to provide housing for all homeless people and link them with the services they require.

Some problems don’t require institutionalization. It’s a matter of degree. The druggies from the recovery houses in Levittown, however,  should be sequestered in a place as is the case of insane asylums. The 12 Steps program talks about addictions as “insanity.” The druggies are unleashed on the community during the day where they create problems. A security guard was added to the library as a result.

Refugees from the recovery houses join the ranks of the homeless in lower Bucks County and end up in the woods and the emergency shelter. Between them and the drunks who go through the revolving door at the shelter, there is overcrowding.

Some homeless, even those who need extra help should get into housing first and get the services they need. Besides getting regular work, they can get into programs to help them. As the guy I picked up at the bus stop says “we all have baggage.”

Churches and church related have stepped up to the plate. The hosts at the community meals have been developing relationship with their guest and mentor them. The 12 Steps Journey program is offered at two different churches in Bucks County, one on Tuesday nights and one on Thursday nights.

http://www.12stepjourney.com/ 

In many areas, such as Bucks County, the homeless are unwanted and are harassed. They are humans made in the image of God, yet people treat them like pestilence. As I illustrated in previous blogs, they are discriminated against in places such as the public library in Levittown. One several occasions, the Bucks County guard from the municipal building has tried to shoo homeless people from the Veteran’s Memorial, although they were following the rules.

On one occasion, the guard said that some people who wanted to visit the memorial “feel uncomfortable” going to the memorial with the homeless people there. A standard ploy he has used is that the county commissioners are coming and they need to skedaddle. Really?

Another guy and I came up with the idea of having the homeless fix up and manage vacant property in Bucks County, in the spirit of the Homestead Act of 1862.  http://www.timespub.com/2015/04/30/working-for-a-place-to-stay/ 

A homeless friend who expressed interest in this project suggested that we filter people who need shelter. We would direct people with addictions and other major problems to the proper place, and direct other people to a place that simply provides shelter. I like the idea.

This is a compromise between the view of the advocate who doesn’t want any filtering for housing and the view of an official who is with the Bucks County Health Department. This official flatly said that housing first is a bad idea. He thinks that every homeless person should go to a place to get straight before getting housing. This presupposes that all homeless people have such serious issues that they are not fit for a residence.

The official offered me housing in exchange for me allowing myself to be labeled incurable, that I was so messed up mentally, disabled, that I was unable to work the rest of my life. I turned him down and told him that this would be fraud.

The advocate ignores the fact that there are some homeless people who need to be institutionalized before getting housing. No housing first for them.

One size doesn’t fit all. We need to give the homeless an opportunity to help themselves.

 

 

 

You’ll Never Walk Alone

While an old woman, formerly homeless who found temporary shelter with her caretaker-companion struggled against cancer, a drug addict to whom they gave drink, food and shelter and treated her like their daughter stole her cell phone charger and it’s believed also her purple winter coat. This is what druggies are– selfish, sociopathic users who repay kindness with larceny.

When her caretaker-companion was out, the predator took advantage and stole the cancer stricken woman’s stuff.

Holy don’t cast your pearls before swine, Batman!

Unfortunately, the cancer patient also struggles with cancer stick addiction. People seeing this 80 some pound, 5 foot 4 inch tall woman smoking outside in her purple coat have called her “the purple chimney.”

The purple coat was the woman’s signature; people could find her from far off as she wandered around in various places in Levittown, PA.  Someone who is familiar with the druggie’s MO said that she cons people into letting her stay places, and takes clothing as a souvenir. A nomad, she doesn’t return to the scene of the crime.

She burns her bridges behind her. Evidently, she finds it hard to develop deep relationships. Contraceptives were found at one of her tent sites, ready for a quid pro quo, strictly business.

Nobody knows where the druggie or the purple coat is at the moment.

The authorities want to know where she is; there is a warrant out against her.

Lines from Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone fit her to a T:

“Ahh you’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you’re gonna have to get used to it
You say you never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?”

The druggie had the privilege to go to the prestigious George School in Newtown, PA. And now, as in the Dylan dirge, she’s out on the street, scrambling like a gypsy for survival.

There are people, however, who have shown kindness to the woman with cancer. At the public library in Levittown, PA and the community meals people always ask how she’s doing and send her their best. When her caretaker had to go out of town for several days, someone from church visited her at the place they stay and picked up milk for her, which she drinks voraciously.

Even at the cancer center, the staff has developed a relationship with the cancer patient. After losing her job and was out on the street, her fellow homeless gave her physical and moral support. One day she woke up in a pool of water, cold, after heavy rain, sick. A homeless person took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia..

Because of nasty fellow homeless people, the woman, after recovering from pneumonia and still had COPD, moved from Bristol homeless camps to Levittown, when Code Blue, where churches let the homeless stay overnight when it’s real cold, started. Other homeless people let her stay with her until someone took her in, sleeping in the car with him. One morning, after having problems at code blue, the companion took her to emergency, where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lung cancer, which spread to the liver.

The tumor was treated successfully, and the chemo soon started destroying the cancer.  She’s just tired most of the time and rarely has the strength to go out.

The woman suffering with cancer continues to stay with her caretaker. It’s tough emotionally as well as physically on her, but she knows that people and God are in her corner, of which her caretaker periodically reminds her.

If God is for us, then who can be against us?

Are You a Victim of Circumstances?

“I’m a victim of circumstances”, chirps Curly of the Three Stooges. Your circumstances shouldn’t make you a victim. You can make the best of your circumstances by doing things to make things better or you can just accept them.

This is the message of the serenity prayer:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen. “

Homeless people in lower Bucks County, PA deal with their circumstances in different ways. Some escape through booze and drugs, even cigarettes. These things cost money, which homeless people have in short supply. They are not necessities; they are vices, except for wine, which in moderation is very good for you.

One homeless person once remarked “you have to have at least one vice.”  Really? This is probably why he’s still homeless.

Live within your means is an adage my parents impressed upon me. Like the general population, some homeless people can’t distinguish between their needs and their wants. When people go beyond their budget, they go into debt. Homeless people don’t get credit, and they make up for their excesses by getting things from the government or directly from other people and private organizations.

One homeless person bragged “I’m the king of the panhandlers!”

Recently, when I gave two homeless people a ride, one of them asked me for cigarette money for the other. The one who asked me had just bought some music CDs.

Among the homeless in lower Bucks County, I found tobacco to be the Holy Grail. They seem to be always on a quest for it. During hour long meals, they can’t wait to go outside, and signal from across the room to ask others for a smoke.

While some homeless people spend their time smoking, boozing it up, doing dope, gossipping, others improve themselves by reading, engaging in intelligent discussion, looking for work, volunteering, and sharpening their skills and learning new ones.

Being homeless is tough. You don’t have a home to call home, where you can cook, sit down at a table, watch a movie, read in your favorite chair — be in a place you can call your own. All the homeless have to go home to is either the confines of a car, a tent, or a makeshift place where you throw blankets, pads and sleeping bags along the sidewalk for the night.

This doesn’t, however, give you a license for bad, destructive behavior. Going to a community meal drunk, ranting and raving and threatening other people is unacceptable. Some hosts evidently think that this is the way homeless people are supposed to act.

This was evident when a character I call T-Rex came to a dinner at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Penndel, PA, spouting fowl language, roaring and going after people like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. It had to be restrained. After another guest discussed a court case he sat in on, T-Rex went ballistic.  Evidently, he felt threatened by civilized speech.

The guy he attacked showed unusual restraint, even doing a verbal rope-a-dope.  Yet, when the police came, he was asked to leave immediately.  What’s more, the next time the community meal was held at  Redeemer Lutheran Church, he was turned away at the door. The hosts snapped that he had said bad things about the homeless.

The community meals are not just for the homeless, but for those with homes but have trouble putting food on the table. The victim of T-Rex’s attack has a home. Some people made things up about him and the gossip spread like wildfire. Instead of trying to discover the truth, the Pharisees at Redeemer Lutheran reasoned that the natives were just restless, and they blamed the victim, thinking that he shouldn’t be in the jungle with dinosaurs, who are not supposed to be civilized .

I’ve befriended a circle of homeless friends who are very civil and are thinking and acting in a way to deal with their situation and possibly get out of it. Many of them have turned to God They help one another sort things out and have intelligent, enlightening conversations, but maybe with a little gossip.

Lately, the community meals have been civil, even a blessing. A place where friends can get together.

I was also a victim of misinformation, as well as a T-Rex attack. A guy who was bewildered and a little steamed about something I allegedly said sat down at the table at a community meal with me and the other victim and we reasoned together. He realized that the rumors were wrong and once he realized the truth, the three of us got on well together and discussed problems in the homeless community.

Know the truth and it will set you free!

The homeless, like everyone else, need to know that someone cares and everything will be alright. God cares for and watches over his children. We have limited vision, but God is working in the background, doing what’s best for his own.

Psalm 103

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;  all my inmost being, praise his holy name.                                                                                     2 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—                                                                                                          3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,                                                                                                                4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,                                                                   5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.                                                6 The Lord works righteousness  and justice for all the oppressed.