In the last blog I praised the churches in lower Bucks County, PA for countering judgmentalism and apathy towards the homeless taught at Wossamotta U. and showing respect and empathy for them.
“Don’t talk about us; talk with us” the slogan some homeless people created is a reality in lower Bucks County. A large part of hobophobia, the irrational fear of the homeless, is a result of just not knowing them. So people talk about them without knowing who they really are.
Intermittently, the homeless have been harassed at the Veteran’s Memorial in Levittown, but now, except for a rare rogue, their rights have been respected and the harassment has eased off.
Initially, the new guard at the nearby municipal building, fed by misinformation, tried to shoo the homeless from the Veteran’s Memorial. But once he got to know them he lightened up. Just today one of the homeless guys who was at the memorial said the guard has been “cool”. When I first met the new guard I told him “we have to break you in.” Taken aback he spouted “I don’t need to be broken in” — and informed me that he was a trained law enforcement officer… After he mentioned enforcing rules, we realized we were on the same page, but that my concern was that the rules be enforced even handedly.
The harassment at the memorial was driven by false witness by those who hate the homeless, including the WIC office in the municipal building, which faces towards the memorial. A woman with COPD who went into the WIC office to get warm one winter during business hours was booted just because she was homeless.
Harassment against the homeless has been the case at the Levittown public library for the past two years. Lately, it got so out of hand that I filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The problem is Pat, the head librarian and her sidekick. The other librarians, however, have been not been only respectful of the homeless but have gotten friendly with them. They even gave me a card to bring with me when I visited a homeless person in the hospital.
In an attempt to shoo the homeless from the library, they have been hassled various ways, in some cases thrown out for the day or longer for minor problems. In one case, the homeless woman who was thrown out of WIC was reading when the librarian told her she needed to do something to stay in the library. The latest case was when the head librarian, Pat, out of the blue, told a homeless man he had been talking loud all week and threw him out, although other people, especially bratty kids, consistently talk much louder.
Many of the churches and individual Christians have reached out to the homeless in lower Bucks County, showing them respect, understanding and empathy.
There are some, however, who must have taken night classes at Wossamatta U.
“The Countess of Carlisle”, the community relations and development director at the Salvation Army Levittown Community Center told me that people don’t like the homeless in the library when they visit because they are dirty, spread food out all over the tables, etc. I asked her if she witnessed that (she didn’t) and told her that I do go there and found this isn’t the case. I added that if someone breaks a rule about eating in the library, simply tell them to stop. This Salvation Army official didn’t want to know the truth, and just kowtows to the worldly, judgmental views of the community.
“Queen Latifah”, another elitist at the Salvation Army, treats the homeless like criminals and children when she hosts the community meals.
In the homeless community itself, false witness has created problems. Rumors were spread about someone I didn’t know in this community, but once I got to know him, I found that I was told lies.
Lies were also told about a guy who visits the community meals, but was not homeless, but in need. This fostered fights, which sometimes started to get physical. There was an incident at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Penndel, PA where someone came to the meal drunk and screamed at the victim of false witness, physically threatened him, and had to be restrained.
Yet the perpetrator was let off the hook. One of the advocates from the Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need (AHTN) twisted what happened and the victim, who did a rope-a-dope, was blamed. The next time the victim went to Redeemer Lutheran for the meal, he was told he was banned, because, a church representative said, he was saying negative things about the homeless.
I respect the homeless, and don’t take the stance that, because they are homeless, they are not responsible for their behavior. The victim and I pushed the issue and got the perpetrator temporarily banned from the bus. After this time out, he didn’t cause any more problems.
Recently, another homeless man, on more than one occasion, caused a ruckus at a community meal. Since the last ruckus, he hasn’t been at the meals. We must have set a precedent.
A non-homeless person who visits the meals said she was told to use caution when going to the meals. She was afraid someone might come at her with a weapon and that someone told her not even to look at the homeless people there. I allayed her fears and explained that my experience is that the worst thing that happens is occasional quarrels, usually alcohol driven. Normally the meals are a pleasant experience, where there is great fellowship.
Most churches have been gracious towards the homeless. They not only feed them, but sit at their tables at community meals and have developed relationships with them and mentored them.
This is the way it should be.
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
–2 Corinthians 5:20