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Why I Hate Homelessness



My reasons for hating homelessness might be different than you think.

It's not because I think homeless people are lazy or annoying or smelly or anything like that. Not even because I think it’s such a huge injustice or an indictment of society (even if it is). 

I don’t like homelessness because I can’t understand it, because I have no idea how to solve it, and because I absolutely never know how to respond to it.  

For these reasons, I sometimes find myself envying my suburban counterparts who rarely have to deal with this particular social issue. While I appreciate Christians’ good-hearted solutions to take folks out for a meal rather than giving money or ignoring people, I encounter the homeless every day…several times a day. 

It can be exhausting. 

Whether walking for lunch at work or leaving the grocery store, it seems like every time I eat, I am visible reminded of others who cannot. And I don’t know what to do.

So sometimes I wish I could live far away from the city, far from all the tiresome issues – higher taxes, sirens and car alarms, air pollution, the inability to walk around at night, and the list goes on. And then you think about having a child or buying a home, and you think to yourself, “Really? Is this where I’m going to settle? What if my kid ends up joining a gang? What if he gets bullied by a gang? Could a baby sleep through the night with all that racket? Could I ever have any re-sale value in my house?”  

And suddenly, I realize why people used to look at me with those eyes that said, “Ah, Sarah…this living in the city thing is a phase. Wait till you get married. Wait till you want to have a family. Wait till you ‘grow up’.” And one day I found myself agreeing with them. I was tired. I wanted to settle down, and apparently when I thought of settling, I thought about leaving the city.

I was mulling over these kinds of thoughts when I went grocery shopping one evening last fall. Now one of my “rants” over the last year or so has surrounded the high-priced, low-quality food at my local urban grocery stores, so imagine my delight when I walked into the newly remodeled Ralph’s near my house and was overwhelmed by the vegetarian and organic options, the salad bar, the sprawling colorful produce, and the deli. I think I actually felt a tear or two in my eyes.  

Yep, I distinctly remember feeling embarrassed and hoping no one noticed.

Since our kitchen was pretty much stocked, I was thrilled at the prospect of using our weekly grocery money to “splurge” on some edible treats. I bought ripe fruit, hummus, fresh bread, and other “delicacies” I hadn’t seen since I left Kentucky. I happily checked out and bounced towards the exit.  

That’s when I saw her… a thin, frail woman sitting on the wall outside of the door, legs crossed and Styrofoam cup extending towards each person who left the Ralph’s. Quite frankly, I just wanted to go home. I hate turning people down and I hate feeling guilty (and giving money doesn’t necessarily make me not feel guilty). But as I moved closer, I recognized this woman.

“Hey, Kate! I’m Stephanie’s friend,” I reminded her. She has known my former roommate for a long time, and I actually met Kate when she showed up and joined us for dinner one night.

She nodded. “Yeah. How are you?”

“Good. How are you?” I asked her.

She launched into a story about a hospital visit that didn’t make much sense. Then turned her attention to me. “Didn’t you marry that boy?”

“Yes, I did,”

She looked at my fifteen pounds of marriage weight. “You pregnant?”

“No, just fat. But thanks.”

She passed over my joke and stuck out the cup. “Can you help me out?”  Of course I’m not going to say ‘no’ to a woman I know, so I dig in my pocket. I had $2.50. I gave her $1.25.  

We said our good-byes, and I went to my car and loaded my groceries into the car. Sitting inside with the heater running, my mind swirls. Why didn’t I give her all the cash I had? Should I have given her the food from my cart? I just bought food we didn’t need. “Edible treats” you’ll remember. Should I have invited her home for dinner? Should I go back? Should I take her in to get some groceries she would want? I hesitated. I thought. And then I drove home. But I continued to feel conflicted, confused, and unsure of my role the right response to Kate and her situation.

A few weeks later, during the weekend of Thanksgiving, I would see Kate again... this time on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance. A few weeks after that, there she was in front of Ralph’s as we went in. I asked about the ambulance, and she told another confusing story about the hospital. We brought her out a warm rotisserie chicken before driving off to a church Christmas potluck.

It may sound heartless, and I’ll accept your judgment. I’m not saying I make the right decisions. The reality is I don’t know what the right decision is.  

Sometimes I feel better that I gave her a warm chicken instead of $1.25, but then I’m reminded I didn’t invite her into my home on a cold night. Throw in the “What Would Jesus Do?” question, and I’m still baffled. What I know of his life makes me think he’d skip the church potluck to visit with this woman on the margins. But can I do that when I’m encounter marginalized people all the time? 

I recently had to hurry away from another homeless man in the grocery store parking lot because I was responsible for delivering snacks for our church’s youth group and I was running late. It felt so modern day "guy-from-the-Good-Samaritan-story" I had to go back after I dropped off the snacks and buy another chicken (apparently that’s what following God means to me – handing out chickens).

So why I am telling you all this? Because in these situations, no matter how much I question my decisions, feel inadequate in the living out of my faith, feel connected to Christ through sharing a moment with a homeless person, or feel tired of having to figure it out at all, I am grateful. 

I realized through this experience with Kate that I am thankful I am forced to wrestle with these questions of my faith and life. Yes, I could live in a neighborhood where a grocery stop on the way to a church potluck doesn’t force me to question if I’m really following Jesus…. But that’s the beauty of living here.  

I can’t coast. I am forced to confront my selfishness, my greed, my lack of compassion. I also have opportunities to know God’s grace in my weakness and to share that grace with others, whether I always do it in the best way or not.

And this is the kind of community where I want to raise my kids. I want my kids to know people who are homeless, who are undocumented, who are of different ethnicities. I want my kids to ask questions about society, about Christ, and about their faith and role in the world.  

Many have heard the phrase “Bloom where you are planted.” Someone once told me the same and added, “And consider where you plant yourself.” Bob Lupton, a well-known author and urban ministry leader spoke to a group I was in and said, “Always place yourself in the eyesight of need.”

I pass this advice along to others as we all try to find our way. It’s not a legalistic mandate and it doesn’t mean that all must live in the city. It just means to consider where you settle carefully – don’t just fall into it. 

And I deeply hope that all of us are in places where our encounters push us closer to Christ and help us ask the big questions and continue seeking truth and authenticity.

What experiences cause you to wrestle with your responses and your faith? 

2 comments

  1. Mrs. Quezada, I really enjoy reading your writing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. you are an amazing writer. you finally blogged again!
    i can relate to all of the feelings you described. and i feel just as confused with the issue.
    of course my favorite part is when you pondered your passion for giving people chickens. hahaha.

    ReplyDelete

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