Homeless in America’s tent cities

26sacramento2_600Photo courtesy New York Times

This is not a photo of a third world country.  This is the new America for some in California.  Tent cities are springing up from coast to coast as the unemployed lose their homes and apartments.

I have visited countries in Asia where whole families live in barns, or chicken coops, or cardboard boxes.  I have traveled in Mexico, and visited border towns, and tourist havens.  I rode through Mexico City where 26-million people eke out a living amid both splendor and poverty.  We expect to see grinding poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the two-thirds world.  But, in America?  In the most properous country in the world?  This is the new America for some.

Last month while at Fuller Seminary I walked the two blocks to class each day, passing two dumpsters positioned on a side street in Pasadena.  Every morning a man or woman was going through the contents of the dumpsters.  I encountered an old woman pushing two shopping carts on Colorado Boulevard, an affluent area of Pasadena filled with shops and restaurants.

At night I walked down Colorado in Pasadena for dinner.  On the way back to my room I passed several homeless people bedded down for the night in doorways of businesses fronting the street.  This is America.

Until a few days ago, my brother, beset by his own demons, was homeless in Atlanta.  I talked with him by cell phone made available to him by a program for the homeless.  I urged him to get off the street, to get help from somebody, anybody.  He said he would.  Apparently he did, and I’m waiting to hear from him when he’s out of the hospital, or rehab, or wherever he has landed.

This is the sin of a society where executives of a failed global enterprise take home millions in “bonus” earnings, passing the victims of corporate greed and criminality in their BMWs and Mercedes-Benzs.  This is America.  This cannot, must not, should not continue to be the only America.

We who still have jobs, homes, cars, checking accounts, cell phones, computers, warm meals, a bathtub, dry socks, a toothbrush, a clean toilet, and who sleep peacefully at night, unafraid of being robbed, beaten, or killed — we must not let this continue.  We must act, give, pray, cry, organize, open our churches, do whatever it takes to care for those kicked down by a system not of their making.

Our shame should stalk us like death until we repent, reach out, and restore those who have been displaced.  This is America.  We are God’s people.  This must not stand.

15 thoughts on “Homeless in America’s tent cities”

  1. Brother, this has been America for a long time. Is it worse now? Yes in that some folks who never thought they would find themselves here have. It’s heart wrenching and we are still in the mode of blaming the poor for being poor. I know folks make bad choices. But, you know what, Jesus didn’t tell us to take care of the poor we like. He didn’t say take care of poor who make good choices. He didn’t say visit the prisoners who are just victims of circumstance. He didn’t say clothe the clean naked. We are living in a mean society more than ever and I use the word “mean” in all of its definitions. I particularly am using it in the way of “small” because we in America have become small in our thinking and not in a good way [like small churches ;)] We have a problem with some four letter words like “mine” and “will.” We are so focused on mine that we blind ourselves to God’s will. But now is the time of opportunity, I believe. If God’s people can have a true revival of spirit and take care of the hurting, lost, lonely, hungry, naked and poor, we can get back in the business we’ve left to government for too long. Yes, brother, this is America. But it doesn’t have to be.

  2. So, how does the church respond? We have identified a crisis, what do we do from here…

    In Almond, almost twenty years ago, we took over a house next to the church and moved our church office into it. The upstairs was not being used, so we converted it into a one bedroom apartment made available to homeless for up to thirty days while they try to get some more permanent housing lined up. They are guests of the church, they have access to our food pantry while they’re here, and members of the church often take them under their wings and help them find housing or employment.

    By they way, were not a huge church, we had 52 people in worship on Sunday. Perhaps it’s time for the church to do what they can…

  3. Steve, I agree with you — what do we do? Your church’s action is a great example. And, if a small church like yours and mine can do it, any church can. Our most recent response was to ask a family in our church who owned an empty house to make it available to a single mother at a very minimal rent ($50). We did that to give some sense of dignity to the family, and to be able to have a standard rental agreement. If every small church did something along the lines of what ours have done, it would help. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. Two thoughts on your post: one, many, many other countries live with poverty much greater than the poverty that we see in the streets of America. That statement sounds like I am trying to down play the poverty that you described, but what I am really attempting to point to is that Americans live in such isolation that they often fail to see and acknowledge the great human suffering that is taking place throughout the world today. I went to Juarez, MX on a missions trip a few years ago and just outside the city is a former trash dump that 500 or so individuals and families have made their home. This is about 12 miles from the border of the United States and yet we never hear about places like this in our news media. Suffering, hunger, children going to sleep in the midst of rot and trash, prostitution and many other extreme human ills are normal place in the world today and yet American Christians hardly ever say, “Gee, we need to do something.” No, only when we see a rise in our own homeless population do we take time to notice that everyone in the world doesn’t live like wealthy Americans.

    Secondly, I think the church in American should care for the poor among them. Instead of building larger buildings, adding more staff and paying for greater media (all the signs of a “successful” American ministry), the church should instead devote their resources to care for the poor and least among us. That does not mean that the Gospel of Christ is not shared; it does mean that the Gospel is lived out and demonstrated. I believe that the American church needs to be turned upside down – greater resources do not make a greater church, but the greater the church gives, the greater it becomes. Instead of building an educational wing, why not build a homeless shelter? Or why not help support the unemployed instead of adding another staff member? Why not do some things that we consider “radical” (in reality it is what Christ calls us to do) to truly help those in need around us? And if the government is not the answer to our problems, then may the church step in and truly help those who are in need – spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally. May the church be the church, and if it was, that would change the world around us unlike anything that could ever be done politically.

  5. That is true but it up to the people to stop thinking about themselves and help one another. People need to stop thinking about their self and start giving back to the community.

  6. God is looking for true Covenant people. In order to truely hear the Words of God and to be in true fellowship with God each person is required to receive the true Holy Ghost in order for this to occur you must name your sins to God in the Name of His Son then be baptized for this is the Ordinance and we are to follow the Commandments, Statues and Ordinances.

  7. I had a dream that the churches of America organized an effort to migrate all victims of homelessness to Washington, D.C., where tents were setup throughout the Capitol, and the world could see our shame.

  8. one contributor to homelessnes is the criminal justice system – a person is blocked from jobs and housing even by a false arrest or excessive criminal charge. Just think how this was not the case during the 1800’s, for example! This is absolutely a cruel police state. Every poor and/or marginalised person can tell you that!

  9. Dear, Chuck
    I totally agree society should care more about the homelessness in America. Everyone can contribute to helping those in need. Helping others should not be considered a chore or an inconvenience but a privilege. God commands us to give hope to the hopeless and rescue the perishing. We should give to others and lift up our fellowman, the person on the side of the road could be you. Think of that thought no place to lay your head, no family, no one to turn to in your time of need, and no financial resources or money for food. Society as a whole must take the blinders off and open their eyes and stop; caring only about what they can acquire in this world.”This world is not our home” it is only temporary as are the material things in it that we acquire.
    While, we are here on this earth “Let us all try to make a difference and help others”. Jesus had no place to lay his head; he was beaten, and denied by his own brethren. He was imprisoned, and crucified for our sins and transgressions. He did not let his circumstances stop him from helping others; he continues to love us today with all of our shortcomings, faults and failures. Our purpose should be to help and uplift others; After all isn’t that why we are here?

    God Bless You In All Your Endeavors!
    “To GOD Be The Glory”
    With Sincere Thanksgiving,
    Sara J. Carneal

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