Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Homeless have a Face

When I worked in the public library, there was a homeless man who spent his days in the library. As winter approached, he would deliberately commit minor infractions that landed him in the detention center for the winter I was responsible for outreach to the detention center, so I saw him in both places. The inmates called him Einstein because of his looks and because he was always reading.

One afternoon, I took a leave of absence from work so members of my congregation and I could feed the homeless. The homeless shelter was located in the vicinity of 6 prisons and one detention center. We prepared casseroles, desserts, and salads for approximately 40 persons.

Around 4pm, men and women of varying ages began arriving at the shelter. Before this, to me the homeless were bedraggled characters I saw on the street corner from my car window. Now their eyes looked into mine as they stretched out their plates, saying the food smelled good, that they wanted a taste of everything, and thanked us for giving them a home cooked meal.

They were nothing like I expected, they were clean, respectful, some displayed a sense of humor. The shelter had washing machine, shower, towels, a computer with internet access, a couch, a pantry with food, clothes, and lots of those little bottles of shampoo and hand lotion that we take away from hotel bathrooms.

They talked to one another, used the computer, did their laundry, got items from the pantry. As my congregation was clearing up, another congregation arrived to feed a new group of homeless persons. Some of the 4pm homeless had already thanked us and left to pass the night in their transient abode,- a church shelter, their cars, in a tent , on some outside grating, in the emergency room of a hospital, anywhere but a real home.

I wondered how many of them were ex offenders. The charity of stranger like the congregations is laudable, but I wonder when and if our taxes will ever be used to create treatment programs for addicts and ex offenders.

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