Friday, May 05, 2006

Homelessness and Religion

Most street people have an interesting relationship with the world's religions, because they are constantly being offered help and counsel from the local chapters of every temple imaginable. Furthermore, the homeless have a lot of issues that most religions try to answer:

"Who are we?"
"Why am I suffering so much?"
"Doesn't anybody care?"

While everybody asks these questions, the crisis of homelessness perhaps cranks up the heat a little. It's interesting how being in basic survival mode every day can still leave you enough room to be philosophical and spiritual. A lot of social workers and street outreach people would say that basic needs should be a priority; funds should go primarily to blankets, food, shelter, etc. While I agree that raw resources are important, I think the philosophical/spiritual needs are also significant, and the functional approach ignores them. Plain old secular pragmaticism is not enough, it seems.

I have shifted my opinion on religion quite a few times. At one point, I was a born-again Christian, living on the street, and trying to get all my friends to join the church. At another point, I was practicing Buddhist meditation. At other times, I was spewing atheist rhetoric about churches exploiting homeless people, and taking a Marxist "Opiate of the masses" stance on things.

At this point, I don't care where it comes from, I want people to help in whatever capacity they can. They can pick their own reasons for helping. The problem is so massive and threatening, that I find little space for my judgments about why a particular person is involved. I like the compassionate attitude that religious people try to demonstrate, and I know from my own religious experiences that they are doing what they think is right. I also believe that though each belief system has components that I may or may not agree with, they all have universal themes of compassion, humility, and courage that directly address the spiritual needs of the street person in crisis. Religion also makes a great substitute for client-centered counseling, which sadly doesn't get funded very often.

Similarly, I couldn't care less if a politician funds a new housing project because of a looming election. Most who work on the ground in homelessness solutions would be happy to take the funds. To me, it doesn't matter why you do it, and it doesn't even matter what need you are addressing, spiritual or functional. I just want you to get out there and show them you are thinking about them in some small way. The most important message that you could have sent me when I was homeless was that you noticed me. The other details are not as important as you think they are.

1 comment:

Prophetess Dolores James said...

As a minister, I believe in giving more than a blanket,plate of food, and 'hope you make it'.. I have mostly taken homeless people home with me; even though many say that I am crazy. Well, what they is that there is scripture in the Bible that tells to take them home; and that is what I did, when I had my own place of domain...

I am living with other's for now; but when I am again in my own domain; when help is needed, and God place people in my life; or me in theirs...YOU GOING HOME WITH ME...

Aposlte/Prophetess Dolores James,