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No Place to Go
Photo: Studiomill
It certainly does not enhance the quality of life in most urban neighborhoods to have homeless people sleeping on heating grates and sitting on doorsteps. It is easy to understand why there has been a recent increase in the number of city ordinances regarding sitting or sleeping in public places. But, what are the ethics of harassing people who have no place to go? Is it really helpful to criminalize homelessness? What would Jesus do?

No two ways about it! Jesus was among the homeless. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). We stand with Jesus. He says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” And, conversely, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

A report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors says that 71 percent of cities have an increased need for emergency shelters for the homeless, with an average of one third of homeless families finding no place to go. Instead of helping these people, politicians pass laws putting them in jail simply for sleeping in the park or sitting on the sidewalk. We find that very unChristlike.

A new survey by the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty reveals that nearly half of cities (44 percent) have a law against camping in public parks and one in four (27 percent) will put you in jail for sitting or lying down in public places. There has been a significant increase in these laws compared to the last survey done in 2002.

Finding Solutions

Let’s find better solutions to homelessness than putting innocent people in jail or trying to collect fines from people who do not have enough to feed themselves. Christ's followers need to be part of the solution and invite the residents of their communities who are concerned about loitering or panhandling to join in efforts to give the homeless better options.

One approach that has been successful in many places is a “day shelter.” This is a place where the homeless can sit, read the newspaper, take a nap or look through employment opportunities. There are facilities for showers, to wash clothing and a message service where the homeless can receive mail or phone calls. It is not just a place to get off the streets, but to find help with the things in life that prevent them from having a home.

There are other solutions. In “Broward County, Florida, ... a nonprofit agency has partnered with the local police to form an outreach team to help the homeless and place them in shelters. ... Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati [Ohio, have] teams of trained workers to visit river encampments and help those ‘outside the system.’ ... Pasadena, California, police and health departments have formed the Homeless Outreach Psychiatric Evaluation Team to provide ‘compassionate assistance’ to those needing mental health services.”

Let’s do something creative and compassionate in our community! You'll find more information and ideas here.

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By Monte Sahlin. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Information supplied by the National Homeless Coalition

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