The Person For Whom Christmas Is Named Demands That We Love Our Neighbor – Who Are They?

Who Are “They”?

Before we consider the issue of shelter for our homeless, we must think and feel differently about each person we label as homeless.  First, the label itself must go.  Each person on the street is a human being with a name, feelings, hopes and dreams.  We are intrinsically related to them by virtue of sharing this time and space together, a simple fact of reality.  Consequently, we ought not to distance ourselves from this relationship by letting ourselves lapse into viewing them as “a problem.” In fact, these are our neighbors, and the true fallout of a society that continues to allow far too many of us to fall through the cracks.

I believe we have a moral responsibility to care for our neighbors including those who live on the streets of our towns.  To allocate resources for housing without an understanding of why we must take such action can only lead to ghettos setting those less fortunate far apart from mainstream society, and that amounts to no solution. The thought process goes something like this:  Give them shelter but not in my neighborhood. Keeping “them” out of sight―and out of mind―cannot be our thinking.  They are not the problem; we and our society are.

We must start by asking who are the homeless?  They are mostly young men and women who almost daily experience incredible abuse.  Too often, especially women and young gay and trans men are targets for abuse.  Their families and society don’t accept them because they are different; hence, many have been victims of incredible violence. Without shelter, they are especially vulnerable to ongoing abuse and violence.

Homeless men and women are growing increasingly angry.  They know they’re getting a bum rap. As they grow colder, older, dirtier, smellier, and more excluded, and as they are fined with sums beyond their ability to pay―the average homeless person owes over $7,000 in fines for petty violations―they are fined for being alive.  The ordinances that criminalize the homeless lead to the loss of drivers’ licenses, the inability to get and hold a job, and on and on in an ever-downward spiral. First and foremost, housing provides the security, privacy, and services they need to stop this spiral. The approach, “housing first,” has an 85% success rate of getting people on their feet.

Housing for those on the streets is an urgent need and must be addressed by the entire community immediately.  Elected officials passing laws that criminalize the homeless and then allocating funding for more police officers are wrong.  What must happen is for us to provide housing first with infrastructure that addresses a range of social and mental health services in support of homeless people’s efforts to escape the downward spiral.  They suffer daily with unimaginable insecurity and the threat of violence and abuse.  The lives of our neighbors are at stake. Our action is required―NOW.

Carol Voisin