Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maybe I read this wrong

A letter to the editor in today's Times-Picayune disturbed me a bit. The writer insinuates that churches are betraying their purpose if the church buildings are not open all day for the homeless. In fact, the writer insists that church buildings should be required, under penalty of losing tax-exempt status, to stay open to offer hospitality to the homeless. That's what bothered me, I think: the attempt to force this "solution" being coupled with a not-so veiled threat, plus the not-so veiled accusation that churches are failing the homeless. (This after the the Burger King "campaign for your cause" awarded 50K to City Park and not to the homeless shelter run by a church group.)
In Chicago, where the weather truly requires the kind of shelter the writer would mandate, Holy Name Cathedral is open all day, and there are often homeless people sleeping in the pews. But there is also a security guard at a desk inside the church. Every once in a while, the guard has to tap a beggar on the shoulder and remind him (usually it's a him) not to ask people for a handout when those visitors are praying. I guess the writer didn't think about the costs related to security issues. In one of the areas north of the city, area churches participate in the "Pads" program, taking turns to offer shelter to the homeless. But they also need volunteers to help with the practical matters of offering hospitality to exceptionally needy and fragile people. It's not as simple as it sounds: just unlock the churches and let the homeless stay there during the day! Part of me wonders if the writer of that letter really was just looking for a way to sweep the homeless out of his way and thought that the city's church buildings would be a good place to put them.
In Chicago a local mission opened a fabulous new shelter just south of the Loop. Here in New Orleans, the Harry Thompson Center attempts to address people's needs in a broad way, not just putting a roof over their heads for a few hours. From what I see in Chicago, unless the weather is particularly bad, some of our homeless seem to find it more to their advantage during the daytime to be out in the public, where kind passers-by have spare change.
Ultimately, no one can force people, no matter how needy, to take refuge anywhere. (This is, sad to say, more than obvious during Chicago's winters, when people freeze to death outside because they refuse to be taken to a warming station.)


DJC said...

There is no advantage to being outside even if the weather is nice. It's just a matter of safety. The homeless are not just men, but families with young children. Can you even imagine sleeping outside in the rain, chilly summer nights in Chicago...Why do we have this mentality that we close all the shelters in the summer, Homeless people need shelter year round.

xaipe said...

The issue of safety is very real, but it was not raised by the writer of the letter I objected to. In fact, an unlocked, unattended church would not be a safe refuge: it would be necessary, especially in areas with high rates of violent crime, to then provide security for the unlocked church. Doesn't it make more sense to establish appropriate full-service agencies to address the manifold needs of the people who need extra help to make it through life? That's what leads me to ask what the letter-writer's concern or issue really is.

Fred said...

If the writer is so concerned about the homeless, what is he/she doing personally to help the situation...remember the dictum, "If you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem." Maybe if he listens carefully the Lord might be calling him to become a part of the solution.
Father Fred, CMF