Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Assumptions About Homelessness

I was driving back home from the office yesterday afternoon and while sitting at a stop light there was a guy standing at one of the off ramps across the intersection. He was holding a card board sign I could not read and had several items stacked up lying on the ground. I am unsure of how long he had been out there but any length of time would have chilled him due to the wind and cold. As I watched, a lady in a white SUV, about 3 cars back in line, rolled down her window and held her arm out the window. I thought she was going to give him something and he started walking over closer to her vehicle. That is when I realized she was scolding him. She laid into him and if the vicious hand movements were any sign of the severe toungue lashing he was recieving, well, I feel sorry for the guy. At that point, my light turned green and distance filled the gap between myself and that situation, but I was still thinking about what I just witnessed.

A white, middle-class lady (assumed middle-class) felt so much anger towards this guy that she pursued an opportunity to chew him out for what? Did she even know his circumstance; did she make a judgement call based on his current situation? How did she have the right to judge this man before even hearing him out? I can't for the life of me even comprehend confronting someone for their lot in life when I have no prior knowledge about the circumstances that led them there. How does this lady have the audacity to act upon her assumptions of this man?

A while back I learned that I am not to allow my assumptions to turn into implied truth. It is unfair and a sin (James). I am not to treat anyone better than anyone else because I feel that I have something to gain from them and not the other. It just floors me to think that we can make assumptions about a person that lead us to chew them out for their place in life. That is ridiculous. Now, if the man had been acting crassly or harassing the people in their vehicles, that would be a different story. He was not. I wish I would have been able to drive up the exit ramp and pull up next to the lady and ask her what she was thinking. Although, I doubt that a satisfactory answer would have been gained.

I also think that those who are homeless have to be careful not to make assumptions about those who are not. Often times bitterness can swell up within while those without many possessions long for the things of those with them. Either side can fall into sin quickly if they let there assumptions take root. James gives us a great warning in the book that bears his name.

Some time ago I lived homeless. Not because I had to, but because I felt led to do so. I was becoming prideful concerning my lot in life and all the things I had acquired. I was praying and looking for ways to humble myself before the Lord. Through a series of events and several discussions with the Lord, I felt that if I wanted to gain an appreciation for the life I have and the things the Lord has blessed me with, I need to live without them. Now, during this time all I had was the clothes on my back, a blanket and 5 dollars that was to be used for one meal. The only rule was that money was not to be accepted and work was to be done in exchange for food alone. I will spare you all the details here, but that was the most growthful time in my spiritual life and really made a way for me to see things differently and appreciate what I had been given as well as give me a desire to see better days for the Church.

You can read my homeless account here.

Some questions:
-What are your thoughts on the above situation?
-Do you think the lady was right in her actions?
-What do you think should have happened?
-How do we deal with homelessness?
-Did anything impact you from this post?


Timm said...

First of all, you stated yourself that you can't judge based on assumptions. You said your self that you were too far from the scene to REALLY tell what was going on. Perhaps the sign had some profanities on it. maybe the man provoked the woman in some way.

That being said, if the scene went down exactly the way you portrayed it, the woman was absolutely in the wrong. I've done a lot of work with the homeless shelter here in Lansing, MI. I can honestly say that I've met a lot of Homeless who put themselves in the situation, and a lot who found themselves there due to unforeseen circumstances. It's never a good Idea to presume to know who or what anyone is.

How do we deal with the Homeless? Show them Christ's love. Jesus approach to the poor was to feed them and preach to them. I don't think anyone would fault you for going further than that. On the other hand, If that's all you do, (feed them and preach to them,) I think you've done what you're obligated to do. Am I chalice?

j razz said...


The sign very well could have had profanities on it, but that in no way makes right the scolding that took place. I think we both agree on that. I can, though, say that the guy in no way provoked her as he wasn't facing her and was looking towards the first car that had pulled up. She couldn't even see the sign until he turned around to acknowledge her.

I guess it helps if I fill in the gaps eh?

In my dealings with the homeless, I often times have been jaded towards them due to my experience with them when I was homeless. There was a network they had going and my first day on the streets I was included in that network. If you go to this church, this shelter and this pantry they will give you X. Then tomorrow if you go to this church and this pantry and this shelter they will give you X and then the cycle repeated. I was told this information while walking to look for work. One guy hollered (is that a southern word?) across the freeway, "where are you going?" and I said to find some work. He told me I didn't have to b/c there were places I could go (see network above).

Some think of homelessness this way while others see it as a trap they cannot escape. If they get a job, they lose their medicaid. If they lose their medicaid they lose their prescriptions that keep them alive. A minimum wage job would put that nail in the coffin. So what options are there for those that want to work and want to contribute to their household in situations like that? It would seem the government makes it hard for people like that. Instead of giving incentives, they take away (this leads to a question of how much involvement should the gov. have in the welfare of its citizens). Anyways, just some more to add to the conversation.

j razz

Timm said...

Yes, we can agree that she most liely handled the situation entirely wrong.

"Some think of homelessness this way while others see it as a trap they cannot escape."

As with almost everything, the view are polorized. It's a shame that people can't realize that both sects exsist. If one wants to do more for the homeless, than what I've prescribed above, I would say follow this process; Talk to them. Assess their needs. Meet their needs. simple right?