When is helping not helping? My second husband was once homeless. As the recession in our country drags on, more and more people, families, mothers with children may find themselves without a roof. Many will be uncounted as they "couch surf" at a friend or relative's home. Technically not out on the street yet, they are still homeless. My second husband found himself homeless after a series of events. Like many people he was living paycheck to paycheck at the time. He went to visit his sister, had his only vehicle totaled in a hit and run accident, was unable to return home. Next he lost his job, for not showing up to work, then his apartment was ransacked while he was away. Unable to pay the rent without his job - he was unexpectedly homeless. Or so that's how he told the story to me.

I repeat, when is helping not helping? When it's "enabling." The part he so cavalierly left out was his alcohol and drug use. Upon finding himself homeless, rather than report to social services, find another job, or live with a relative - he opened the phone book and looked up local churches. Finding a small one in his neighborhood, he asked them for help. The pastor, a friendly and well meaning, if incredibly naive, guy wanted to help at once. He offered Howard an abandoned car in the parking lot he could bed down in, and the use of the church during the day. Thinking himself a very fine Christian, he encouraged Howard to read the Bible, and any other Christian book in the church.

Howard was soon making himself at home. He became quite well versed in his free time. But of course he still needed food and money. Soon the pastor was finding small odd jobs for Howard to do. The church board, however, was a little more circumspect. Whenever he told me the story, with almost tears in his eyes, and a rasp in his throat, Howard described these board members as suspicious, hateful, practically bigoted people. "But Howie," I protested, "They didn't know you. How can you blame them for wanting to check you out?"

He did blame them. He spoke of how humiliating it was to be "judged" by them. How he stood up in their church one morning and chided them for being the Pharisees. How he had scarcely six months before been one of them, an active member of society, and how what happened to him might just so easily happen to any one of them. He shamed them into submission. But he gave them the gift too, of feeling like really Christian people. Forgiving not once, not twice, but clearly the seven times seventy seven times a master manipulator can devise.

I did know then, of course, he was a drug addict. I was believing his story, the victim story, a Christian myself I walked the uneasy line between charity of the heart and enabling. So he once was homeless, I told myself, he's not now. He's an electrician, and a house painter. And the story IS sad. Heartbreaking. And I was raised in the 70's, taught like it was a sin to judge. I let him into my home, reader, I married him.

What a different view I had about that whole "homeless" story after he walked out on me. Our divorce was both abrupt and ragged. After at least two years sober with me he began to use again covertly. Having been in total ignorance of his drug problems I couldn't understand anything that was going on in our lives. I pieced it all together in retrospect, after I realized I'd been had.

Because I loved the man, I refused to enable him. Changing the locks on my house, the passcodes to our bank accounts, the key to my heart I stood and waited. I wondered if the rock bottom would be hit, if the 12-step group would be found, if my addict would come clean. But he didn't. Instead a new story arose, of how he's been "kicked out" and wronged. The members of our little church, the very small and naive one he and I had attended rushed to his aid. Providing him with money he promptly used for drugs. Ouch.

This doesn't mean you can't help the homeless. This doesn't mean that all homeless people in anyway "deserve" what happened to them. It simply means God gave us discernment, we need to USE it. We need to decipher if we are enabling or helping. Because if we help an addict use, then blood is on our hands too. I still pray every day, all these years later he would get clean. So far as I know, he's telling tales still.