Sunday, April 25, 2010

An End to Homelessness

If we took on the task, community by community, congregation by congregation, wouldn’t it be possible to end homelessness?
by Charlie Leck

The mail arrived yesterday with its usual mountain of absolute twaddle. [Please note that, in regard to my use of the word twaddle, I searched a thesaurus for nearly 15 minutes in an effort to find a better word than 'crap' because a couple of readers have objected to my use of that word in past blogs.]

My first task when I face this jumble of mail is to sort through it, creating 4 piles. They are labeled: him, her, recycle and kerchink (meaning bills). When I get to the monthly newsletter from our church, I find myself physically stuttering, as my hand, holding the piece, jerks from pile to pile wondering where to drop it among the four stacks. You might be thinking I oughtn’t include the bill pile in this tough decision making process, but, then, you don’t know my church.

Yesterday, I was so indecisive about this matter that I began reading one of the front page articles as my hand jerked from pile to pile. To relieve my jerking, I ended up sitting down on a stool at the kitchen counter so I could read the article and then decide what to do with the document.

“Hmm! Our pastor is dreaming again,” I thought to myself. “Now he wants to end homelessness.”

After shaking my head a bit and reading down a few lines, I thought to myself again.

“Hmm! I guess this issue will go in the bill pile!”

I really love this church. I don’t attend very often and I don’t want to be involved, but I love what the congregation does and how it does it, so I am willing to remain attached via its mailing list and I’m willing to send an amount of money to it every month. The church has a big, versatile and creative staff. About the most common trait of the staff is that they’re all big dreamers. I don’t mean that negatively. I know it can sometimes create problems, but it can also produce some nearly altitudinous goals for a church community.

“Like, come on, dude! You want to end homelessness in our entire State? This is what I’m trying to tell you here, you know, about dreamers! I can see we take on a few blocks or something, Reverend, but to put an end to cold and hungry nights on the streets for thousands of people! It’s so shocking to comprehend that I lose my ability to construct grammatical sentences. Come on!”

Recently the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition gave the head honcho among our pastoral team a big award over there in Saint Paul, in the State Capitol building. They call it the Lawrence D. Gibson Interfaith Social Justice Award. Mr. Gibson, himself, presented the honor.

“He has made it his calling,” Mr. Gibson said of our Senior Pastor, “to end homelessness in Minnesota. He has led local and statewide efforts to this end, motivated congregants to advocate with their elected officials, fostered collaboration among downtown Minneapolis congregations of all faiths and inspired the construction of hundreds of affordable homes.”

Well, I think that’s right nice; but I do not think it manifests an end to homelessness or even approaches such a goal. I sat quietly, in the very early morning hours, thinking about this business.

“Could homeless really be ended within a whole state?”

I tried to contemplate the question. I hoped an answer would seep through my incredulity.

In exasperation, I turned from the front page of the newsletter to the pastor’s message on the second page. There, he wrote:
“...the Currie Avenue Partnership, a collaboration of the faith and business communities of Minneapolis, is approaching its goal of raising $350,000 to hire housing case workers who will help scores of eligible individuals to move out of overcrowded downtown shelters and into adequate housing. Already, seven case workers are on the job and people are leaving the shelters for their own apartments. This includes one man who has been in shelters for five years and a woman who, though she has breast cancer, has been sleeping on the floor at a Salvation Army shelter for three years. In the coming months, more and more shelter users will be set up in their own housing and they’ll have the support of the case workers as they build more independent lives… Our congregation has provided $61,000 toward this effort, setting the pace for other congregations and businesses as well.”
It grew even more peaceful. I could hear some lovely and unidentifiable bird songs breaking into the quiet, quiet morning.

“You want to end homelessness in the state, huh? Hmm!”

“Can you believe it?”

“What if congregations in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples all over the metropolitan region started thinking like this Currie Avenue Partnership? Hmm! What if they found business-people within their congregations to partner up with them? Hmm!”

“What if?”

Over there in the state capitol building, when they gave our Pastor his award, he made a few remarks to the assembled folks. He told his congregation what he tried to say in expressing his thanks for the honor.
“…I shared my belief that it’s congregations, not individuals, who are the true ‘prophets’ of our times. [Ours] is becoming one of those prophetic congregations, and it is my happy circumstance to be serving in your midst as this work emerges. We have much more to learn, more challenges to meet, more risks to take, more visions to embody to fully live out our prophetic calling… but we are on the way toward its fulfillment together.”

“You know," I thought, there in the quiet and peaceful morning, “it is possible to end homelessness. It would only take a small army of us who believe it can be done. What kind of crazy place is this anyway? Last week the paper told us about some local captain of industry who made over 100 million dollars in compensation from his company for just the year 2009. Then that loudmouth, Glen Beck, is out there telling his listeners that they ought to leave any church that teaches social justice.

What’s wrong with this picture? A woman with cancer sleeps on the floor of a shelter for over two years? Some guy makes 100 million bucks in a year?

The quiet morning makes me crazy with thoughts. Hmm! That's all!

If you want to look into the work my wonderful church is doing in the fight for social justice, click here to browse around.

If you’d like to read the joint plan of Minneapolis and Hennepin County to end homelessness within the next 10 years, click here

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