I live in a warm part of this country, and so these men and women flock to our fair city, dirty coats flapping out behind them as they aimlessly meander down the streets rendered unsafe by their arrival.  They can sleep outside all night here, without shelter, and assuredly not freeze to death somewhere in the process.   They bring along with them so many social complications.  They force us to ask hard questions of ourselves.  What do we owe these people?

I feel convinced that it is not judgment they need.  I feel convinced that it is not money tossed guiltily their way that they need.  Illustrating this, I once encountered a dirty, helpless, wheelchair bound woman who seemed, too, to have special needs.  I was putting my groceries into my car when she approached me, asking for money so that she could get a special wheelchair equipped ride home.  I felt more than a simple stab of pity as I dug through my purse to give her what she needed.  My pity quickly grew to be much more complicated  as I then watched her wheel away to a perfectly clean, able-bodied young man in a flashy sports car, to whom she very servilely passed over the money I'd just given her, in exchange for what I can only assume were drugs.  The answer, if there truly is one for us while we still dwell on this earth, is no simple one.

Our city has recently had to dissemble a 'city' of sorts comprised of homeless people and their accompanying 'homes.'  I felt so sad to hear that it had to be done and yet I agreed that it needed to be.  The social aftermath for neighboring home owners just became too much for them to deal with.  The rampant theft, the used drug paraphernalia littering their lawns, the fear in their hearts for the safety of their sleeping children - all of these I have personally experienced.  We were once the chagrined owners of an SUV boldly emblazoned with a giant silver penis spray painted on with drug-induced abandon.  My station wagon was once stolen right from my own driveway as I readied the kids for school.  I came home late one night from a girls-night-out  to see a disheveled man hunched over on his expensive bike at the end of my driveway, doing goodness-knows-what to his arm.  All the while my children slept just meters away.  I had to call my husband with my cell phone to assure me safe passage to my own front door.  I have lost count of how many bicycles we've had stolen from our back yard.  I'm no armchair critic.  I've lived a life that very frequently brushes up against the social problems attendant to the plight of our homeless.  And plight it most certainly is.

I berate myself when I - in sunshiney ignorance - take on a topic like this.  I don't feel up to the task of doing it justice and yet this draft has been sitting incomplete in my drafts folder for months now.  It's either finish it up, or throw it out at this juncture.   My perfectionism isn't always very conducive to writing a blog.  I want to do things well and little recipes or quick blips about something cute one of the kids said or did make for better fodder for me while using this medium.  Not so helpful when I want to pontificate about the spiritual obligation we (Christians and perhaps non-Christians alike) have to these homeless. 

As a follower of Christ, I know that an important first step is the meeting of the physical needs I see before me.  However, I also know that that's by no means the end of what I owe the homeless.  But I know too, that the second doesn't effectively take place without the first.  Some cutting-edge young thinkers at our church recently made a documentary about our city's homeless and they talked at some length about how crucial it is that we go past the step of giving money and follow that up with ministering -  hands on - to these people's physical needs.  Evidently, our city leads charitable giving in this country with each member giving something like $620 per year.  The distant second contender (Kelowna, I believe) gives something like $350.  Ironically, though, we fall dramatically short with our volunteerism.  I guess many of us are thinking that if we throw money at the problem, that's the end of our obligation.  I find myself harbouring this attitude.  And so I feel some plaguing conviction.  I want to contribute and yet at this life stage, I'm not sure how.  I'm wary (to say the least) about bringing my children with me to an inner city church where we can tangibly help.  Unfortunately, homelessness doesn't end with mere homelessness.  Along with it come things like drug addiction, mental illness, theft, all things that make my maternal danger-0-meter clang into high gear when I ponder how my family can help.  Have any of you come up with an answer?  I think that if JoyBoy and I were empty nesters, this question would be a lot simpler.  In the meantime, I just give the cash and hope for the best.  That and I pray.

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