Commentary: Homelessness

Living in Santa Barbara, CA puts me in constant contact with the homeless population. Despite the affluence and picturesque views, poverty is alive and devastating. The presence of those without homes is everywhere. Even though there are routine attempts to “remove” them, the homeless are simply displaced because – like every human – they need a place to live, to commune, to belong. Their lifestyle may seem odd to us who have the privilege of a house, routine meals, etc. We often look at those who are on the streets differently than we look at ourselves. We neglect their humanity. But many are no different from those of us with homes, their suffering is simply more obvious than ours.

For many on the streets, it is not their sin or vice that has placed them without a permanent home, it is the greed of others, the selfishness of society, and the fallen nature of the world’s culture. In the U.S. there are some who voluntarily choose to live on the streets, but many are their because of things out of their control. We with homes are not necessarily holier than those who find refuge in a shelter, on a bench, or encampments under the overpass. We have simply learned image control, we avoid our suffering, we ignore the homelessness of our hearts.

Every trip to the grocery store, gas station, or walk down the street connects me to those who have lost their homes or know cement as their pillow. While it would make sense that this constant contact would breed understanding and sympathy, one has to be careful to not become inoculated from the real unholiness of homelessness.  Seeing suffering without a relationship might create pity, sadness, or charity, but more often the absence of real relationship is the impetus for callousness. Moreover, as we build up barriers in dealing with our own spiritual homelessness, we become insensitive to others.

The books of Matthew and Luke offer the wisdom of the beatitudes.  In Matthew the phrase is “Blessed are the poor in spirit:” while in Luke it is “Blessed are the poor”. The point isn’t that Jesus said different things or that the disciples “heard” them differently. Ultimately Jesus’ words of poor and poor in spirit are one in the same.To

Too often we dichotomize poverty. We focus on physical poverty, while underestimating the impact of spiritual poverty.  But the poverty of those living on the streets is the same poverty that we experience. It is manifested differently, but it is the same emptiness.  The “Kingdom of God” belongs to both the physically and spiritually impoverished, because only God can truly satisfy and fill the impoverishment of humanity.  God utilizes us – physically and spiritually – as his hands and feet, to provide shelter for the others’ homelessness.  But it is through the awareness of our human poverty, that God provides, delivers and enacts the process of liberation.

Let us all be humble enough to find permanency in the physical and spiritual shelter of God.