homeless ?

We read about the "New Homeless" more than we would like to. In the last Christian Science Monitor I picked up there was an article on this second wave of homeowners to lose their real estate did not buy subprime mortgages or overvalued homes. These people can't pay simply because they have lost their jobs. Some of them will surely end up homeless. For many it means moving back in with their parents of other relatives. For some it might mean living in their cars. We feel sorry for such people. But we don't like to think about people who are homeless because of entitlement issues. People who would rather have kids they can't afford, habits they can't afford, alcoholics etc who demand we fund their lifestyle.

What about the people who sleep in the street and hold out their hands for coins? A person on the Mahalo website was asking how could she be sure the person she was giving money to wasn't making more than her! When I was in high school 60 minutes did a piece on pan-handlers at train and subway stations who make well over twenty dollars in an hour, at a time when minimum wage was about four dollars. I think the idea that pan handlers may be scam artists has lodged in our unconscious ever since. One day when I was about 17 I needed a dollar fifty to get home on the subway, and I'll tell you – it is NOT easy to ask a stranger for money, not even if you are a cute girl. The looks I got could have cut ice. And people said No! I ended up walking home. It was a very humiliated experience.

The difference between me and an addict, is that an addict is willing to say what she has to say in order to get what she needs to get. My former husband, for example, had a comfortable home, rent free, many years ago living with his sister. When she suggested to him that he curb his drinking, he took his two small dogs and left in a huff. I used to kid him, "You sure showed her!" Because he ended up living in an unheated trailer at the dump with two other alcoholics. Life was hard! They supported themselves by doing odd jobs, shoveling snow, and picking up cans for recycling. He recounts that time period in his life with a lot of anger towards people's lack of charity for him and inhumanity. As one listened to him, it was hard not to feel sorry for him. And yet, look at what he was asking us to do: he wanted people to give him money so he could get drunk. He didn't want to be judged, he didn't want to be questioned. He wanted the money.

At some point he decided life at the dump was too hard. Obviously he could have returned to his sister's, but she was already on to him. Asking him to leave in the first place was a tough love maneuver, which didn't succeed. He chose instead to prey on small churches. The first two did not call him back, he hit pay dirt on number three. The pastor allowed him to sleep on the premises in an abandoned car and use their bathroom facilities. After awhile the pastor trusted him enough to let him sleep inside. As a Christian person, he was hesitant to ask too many questions. Finding Howard to be handy ( the guy was trained as an electrician) he allowed him to do odd jobs around the building. At some point the church members found out about the arrangement and started asking questions.

They asked questions very much like the one on Mahalo.com, "How can we tell if this guy is for real?" Howard would very painfully recite how humiliating it was to be called before their board. I'm not doubting it was tough. My point, although he did not want to hear it, is that it WAS NOT WRONG for them to question him. Baby, I pointed out, they didn't KNOW you. Why shouldn't they ask where their money was going to? His fallback position was that they were a church, their "job" as he saw it, was to help him. He shamed them into quiet by citing a book called "In his footsteps." He pointed out all the people Jesus helped who were from the "wrong side of the tracks." I reiterate the power of an addict to manipulate. They will say what they have to say to get what they want to get.

It IS appealing for some Christian people to think they have their own private "project" a bum of their very own so to speak. For myself, I also think helping a person one on one is more powerful than sending off a small check to United Way. If you are going to help an individual personally, please – figure out if you are actually helping them. If "helping" constitutes setting up a lifestyle where they can continue to get loaded, you are NOT helping them. In Howard's case, he liked especially to befriend good natured old ladies. Older people were more likely to have pain killers in their medicine cabinets and that was his drug of choice. With his charming personality and handy man skills he saw it as a win win. He moved out of the church into an older lady's home and did a little work for her.

Some of the church members found the arrangement inappropriate, but not for the reason you might think. They were upset that he and her weren't married! Talk about naïve! If only the church had harbored their resources to put Howard in rehab, he might be clean now. It wouldn't have cost them anything to check him into the VA. They only had to care, they only had to get to know him, the two things they didn't bother to do.