An article in today’s Madison State Journal interviews Mayor Soglin, local business owners, and others about the “problem” of homeless people hanging out on State St. at Capitol Square. According to the mayor they are “nurtured by well-intended people with clothing, bedding and food, making the area even more of an attraction.” Well, we know who he’s talking about, don’t we?
And don’t get me wrong. I know how uncomfortable it can be to walk through that area. For all the hellos and kind words I receive from those I know, I’ve also had many unpleasant encounters.
But here’s the deal. Where are homeless people supposed to spend the day? The shelters close first thing in the morning and then they’re on their own. When a newly-homeless person comes to Grace, I direct them to the benches along Capitol Square, or to the Capitol, or yes, to “Philosopher’s Grove.” If they’ve missed the free van to Hospitality House, they’ve got no way to get to the only place that’s open for them during the week. Those benches and “Philosopher’s Grove” are very poorly suited as locations for the provision of services that might help the people there improve their situation.
In a few weeks, the renovated Central Library will again be an option. And no doubt the Library entrance will become what it was before the renovations, a place where homeless people hang out. On weekends, there’s nowhere to go and if the weather’s bad, and someone comes looking for shelter, I’m likely to invite them into Grace, at least for as long as we’re open. And I direct them to the various feeding programs where they might at least get something to eat before the shelter reopens in the evening.
The point is, in the absence of a central location like a day resource center, where people can find shelter and also get connected with services, most homeless people have little choice but to hang out on the streets in boredom with the only escape being alcohol or drugs. Until that happens, homeless people will hang out on State St. and Capitol Square. And if they’re forced out from these places, they’ll find somewhere else to gather.
After following this thread closely for however long it has been going, it occurs to me that perhaps a video humanizing the homeless is in order. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe they need to be humanized. But for those for whom a homeless person is ‘a problem’ instead of a person, I do think that putting a personal face/situation/life past and present, to the powers that be is necessary.
And then what would be the forum (after such a video is created) in which to show the personal faces/situations/lives past and present, to a larger audience? That is something that those with a passion for the homeless should consider – maybe rent out a movie theatre for a night, put an advertisement in the paper or make up flyers to put around town, ask for publicity from the paper and the tv stations – inviting the community to view this new video (in as loving a way as possible). Invite the mayor, the county council people for your district, your state representatives and senators. Invite, invite, and invite again until there is no one left to invite. Just like scripture says, you might not have anyone from the outside of the ‘king’s house’ who comes to the ‘wedding banquet,’ but the homeless men, women, and children would probably love the opportunity to eat, drink, and be loved ‘at the king’s table’ – a warm theatre.
And just maybe the frustration that is being felt is not the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit, but the 2×4 whack across the legs, bringing us to our knees in order to listen to a new ministry that could be developed because of this need. Dreaming passed what others are willing to do is scary. But you never know what God is calling you to create at this time, at this place, for these children of God.
Matthew 22: 2, 3, 8-10
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He
sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they
refused to come… Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find,
the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Praying for your ministry…
On YouTube – an interview w/a homeless