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Pastor Delivers Strong Message on Compassion

The story goes like this. Hired to be the pastor at a 10,000 member church, on the day he was to be introduced to the congregation and preach his first sermon, he arrived looking like a homeless person — dirty clothes and skin, unkempt beard, tattered hat. He walked around his new church for half an hour before the service; a grand total of three people talked to him. He asked people for change and none gave him any. He sat in the front of the church and ushers asked him to move to the back. And when the elders of the church asked the congregation to welcome their new pastor.

“We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.

The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him.

He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame.

He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”

It turns out that the story is an urban legend. But so what? The point of the story remains a powerful one and should make us question ourselves. I wonder if a homeless person would have been treated any differently at a meeting of any atheist or humanist group in the country? If a homeless person showed up at one of our meetings, how would we react? I’m ashamed to admit that I would probably avoid him, avert my eyes, try to relieve the awkwardness. I bet most of us would. It’s so much easier to write a check to a charity than to deal with people face to face.

Comments

  1. busterggi says

    The only reason its an urban legend instead of being true is that there are no pastors to such large congregations that would be seen appearing like that – it would undercut their ‘prosperity’ gospel.

  2. Alverant says

    Unfortunately we probably wouldn’t do much better. OTOH we don’t claim to be following the “most perfect and wonderful person in all of history” like christians do. They are the ones talking about how loving and compassionate their religion is but when it’s time to put up or shut up they wind up doing neither.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard this story. This is a differnt version though; you left out the bit at the end where Einstein walks up to the stage, kicks the pastor in the nuts and says, “Jesus sent me.”

  4. says

    Ed, the story is rated “undetermined.” Here’s a move verified story of a similar, though less dramatic, incident.

    It’s so much easier to write a check to a charity than to deal with people face to face.

    A heartless-souding response, to be sure; but there’s two good reasons for us to behave that way. First, some of those homeless people are criminals, and some are mentally ill, so there’s a valid safety concern in dealing with them face to face. And second, even if we didn’t have to worry about dangerous people, we still have to accept that we may not really know how to help a given person, or whether the help we give them will really do any good. That’s why many people feel better sending checks to charities: we trust people who make a full-time job of it to know how best to help those most in need. (There’s also the economy-of-scale issue: $5 given to an invididual may be less effective than $5 given to a larger pool of money spent on a larger-scale campaign.)

  5. ImaginesABeach says

    Raging Bee –

    Some of the people you work with are almost certainly criminals. Some of the people you work with are almost certainly struggling with mental illness. And some of your neighbors. And some of the people in the grocery store. And at the bank. And on the bus. And…

    I assume you do not deal with any of those people face-to-face either?

  6. bastionofsass says

    How disappointing! As I read the story, I was SURE that the homeless man would turn out to be Jesus. That would have been a much better OMG reveal.

  7. says

    The story is about false assumptions, and in a way, the fact that it is revealed that the homeless guy is actually a “worthy” person is a bit of a cop out.

    It’s much harder to deal with people who you know, for sure, are tough cases — drug addicts and those who have fallen on hard times because of their own mental or behavioral problems. The people in our society, in private and in government roles who are trying to help these people (instead of insisting that they be locked up, which is the way America tends to deal with them these days) who are the most deserving of praise.

  8. congenital cynic says

    It’s probably an accurate portrayal of what would happen in such a circumstance. Reminded me of an article I read in Harper’s Magazine many years ago. It was called Helping and Hating the Homeless in America. The author made the point that anti-abortion protesters are so pleased with themselves and go home and sleep comfortably at night because they only deal with signs and slogans and the notion of little pink fetuses, but they don’t have the humanity or the courage to deal with live, adult people who are like the homeless man in the anecdote you posted. Because they think those people are shit. So they turn their attention to an idea that means they will never have to help a person who could cause them discomfort.

    Too bad the story was an urban legend.

  9. grumpyoldfart says

    The story may not be as legendary as it sounds. Preachers do play that trick on their parishioners from time to time. Many decades ago in South Australia a new parson at the Angaston Congregational Church (now the Uniting Church) arrived at the service dressed up as a bikie and noted that none of the parishioners made him feel welcome.

  10. says

    If the story Ed tells happened today, in Florida, they’d prolly just shoot the guy and tell the cops that they feared for their lives AND their souls.

    I don’t generally give money to panhandlers or other people who ask for it. Partly because I don’t know anything about them and partly because I’m in debt up to MY ass. I volunteer my time and services (photography) to various NFP groups and if some individual wants to get copies of photos that they were in for some reason I ask them to make a donation to a charity–their choice. I may change that to asking them to make a donation to a charity for the homeless/struggling working poor.

  11. Pen says

    I just talked with someone about the homeless people who are sleeping in our community garden.
    He said ‘So we’re going to get some cameras’
    I said ‘ Someone should try to get to know about them.’
    He said ‘I spent all morning doing research, they don’t even cost that much, (cue technical review of cameras)’
    I was, I don’t know, sad I suppose, that the people-oriented interpretation of what I said never even occurred to him. Then again I am no angel because when I said ‘Someone…’ I didn’t mean me. If I had to explain why, I would say, not so much fear, like Raging Bee, but low expectation of anything positive emerging. Can socially caused problems be fixed by interactions between individuals?

  12. Artor says

    I have a big problem with the local homeless people. I feel compassion for them, and I donate to local foodbanks and other charities, but some of them are really fucked up. There are people camping on the sidewalk on a regular basis. By camping, I mean passed out in the middle of the sidewalk, wrapped in vomit-stained blankets with a shopping cart full of their worldly possessions nearby. You have to step over their bodies to pass, and they regularly shit in my driveway and the neighbor’s shrubs, despite the presence of a public bathroom in the gas station at the end of the block. It’s hard to feel sympathy for such a mess.

    But I still do. I greet them politely, and while I don’t give them money directly, I occasionally buy them hot food, particularly if they have kids with them. I’ll call the police or crisis intervention if they’re publicly losing their shit, but so long as they remain peaceable, I let them lie where they will.

    Some of them are junkies, and their misfortune can be traced directly to their own actions and choices, but most of them have other serious problems; debilitating handicaps, or mental health issues. We as a society are failing our most vulnerable, because some among us cannot see these people as, well, people. They cut funding for mental health services. The local crisis response orgs have to scramble and scrape for grants just to keep their doors open. Police harass them for setting up camps in parks or along the river, and the homeless car camp was broken up, because of the endemic crime, filth and domestic abuse. Which doesn’t solve anything, it just spreads the problems out and makes them worse; instead of a central location where the homeless can help each other out and keep an eye on their fellows, they have to hide in the cracks all over the city.

    I really, really hope that our society can pull it’s collective head out of it’s ass and seriously address the homeless and the mentally ill. It’s shameful that we force people to live like rats, and it shouldn’t take fake stories about mythical beings to motivate people to change things.

  13. says

    @6 Raging Bee

    I’d add another reason to deal with charities instead is because there are the occasional liars out there, just like in this story*! They are probably very few and far between (or at least I hope so!) but I have actually heard of stories (nor do I know how true this stories are, though) of people moonlighting as a homeless person to make some extra money. (Which is rather sick and very disturbing that someone would do such a thing!)

    * If this had been a real event and I had been in that congregation, I wouldn’t have been feeling shameful. I probably would have been pointing out that he spoiled his own message because he successfully demonstrated that someone can fake being hungry, thirsty, etc. …But that type of thinking is what prevents me from buying into religion. :)

  14. says

    I assume you do not deal with any of those people face-to-face either?

    Not to the extent of giving them money or letting them sleep in my house, no.

    I was, I don’t know, sad I suppose, that the people-oriented interpretation of what I said never even occurred to him…

    This is a good point. I think the problem is not that such an approach didn’t occur to him; it’s that even if it did, there would still be a danger requiring a camera and probably an occasinal police acion — especially if he tried to do something good for the homeless, and more homeless people showed up to take advantage of it.

    There’s a patch of woods next to my neighborhood (in one lf the most affluent counties in the USA); and I’ve seen homeless people camped out there, with tents and camp-stoves, sometimes apparently four or more at a time. And I thought it would be a good thing to make some sort of arrangement where we (the people who have homes, and whose HOA owns the woods the homeless camp in) would leave them in peace and maybe give them a little help, in return for their policing themselves and keeping their litter under control. But I also suspected that if we did that, word would get out and other homeless people would congregate there, for obvious and understandable reasons; and sooner or later things would get out of hand and the cops would have to come in and bust the whole thing up. So that could be another reason people are reluctant to help the homeless — it might just attract more of them, until a small manageable problem became a big one.

  15. says

    Leo: I’ve heard such stories too — from people bragging about how much money they can make by pretending to be down-and-out! So yeah, it’s a very real problem, because even if it’s just a tiny handful of anecdotes, it still undermines the sense of trust required for people to make sacrifices for less-forunate strangers.

  16. says

    Leo: another thing about those people making money by pretending to be Down-and-out: they make money because there’s lots of truly compassionate people giving it to them! So that’s another facet of the problem: our very real compassion gets betrayed, then people wonder why we’re not showing as much compassion as we should.

  17. eric says

    If the goal is to get evangelicals to rethink how they treat people, then IMO the story could be made more relevant and effective by describing the man as appearing gay. I.e., wearing a rainbow t-shirt, earring (and maybe a tongue stud), and speaking like Big Gay Al. I suspect that if a preacher tried that in a conservative church today, not only would he be kicked out, but they wouldn’t let him back in the building even after realizing he was their new pastor – because gay or straight, simply causing them to question their stance on gays would be seen as an attack on their beliefs.

  18. says

    @Raging Bee – There are ways to address these issues. One is to ask what the person needs, and buying it for them: food is always good, but it is quite common for a homeless person to need a toothbrush or toilet paper or a new towel. Imagine being a homeless woman, and needed sanitary supplies. Seattle used to have a program where people could get vouchers to hand out, which were redeemable at drug stores for such sundries (it was never funded properly and died a sad death.) If you are going into a fast food restaurant for lunch, offer to bring back out a couple of hamburgers and a bottle of water.

    It is easy to say, “Five dollars to an individual won’t make much of a difference” when you do not take the time to actually meet any of those individuals.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    When our local Humanist Society met at the public library, we did have a homeless (or at any rate visibly poor and in tenuous mental health) person show up.

    She wasn’t much interested in conversation. After she ate about half of the snacks we’d set out, we asked her to leave.

    Moral of the story: support public health and food programs!

  20. Pen says

    there would still be a danger requiring a camera and probably an occasinal police acion

    I don’t think anyone anticipates personal danger. We tend to be less expectant of that possibility outside the US. It’s more a question of vandalism. But what everyone has said reinforces my view. We can’t act effectively on this as individuals. We are either swamped, or unqualified to deal with needs that require specialist knowledge, or unable to identify real needs correctly, and certainly lacking in sufficient resources ourselves to permanently stabilise the condition of even one very poor, sick, or homeless person. There is no way out but collective action on a social scale.

  21. Doubting Thomas says

    There is an off ramp of I-40 in middle Tennessee where a white van drops people off almost every day. They usually have a bag, sometimes a dog and always a hand drawn sign that says ‘hungry’ or some such and ends with ‘God bless’. They stand there till the van comes back and collects them. I don’t give them any money.

  22. says

    @23 and the other homeless beggar avoiders, but charitable donors:

    Consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars those like Randi and others in top charity management positions pay themselves from their organizations that are funded by donors. How much worse are the people in that van that end up collecting what is a reasonable amount of money to live on? Don’t get me wrong, I would like to think there’s a job out there that these folks could do that adds something to society, and at least some of the big charities end up doing some good beyond funny signage at then of an off ramp. Given that we in the grand old US of A don’t want to give people a baseline of food, healthcare and housing, regardless of employment status, what choice to they have outside of standing on the corner? Also, this threads sounds very tea party, libertarian, conservatism to be painting all beggars as not really needing the money or being otherwise dishonest (of which, there is plenty of dishonesty and waste in the “official” charity sector too). FSM forbid you ever had to walk a mile in their shoes.

  23. says

    It’s funny. A lot of religions have stories like this, even back to the Greeks with Zeus commonly dressing as a vagrant and asking for hospitality. What’s interesting is that all these stories give a very secular and somewhat cynical justification for treating strangers with kindness: they might be or represent someone important.

  24. karmacat says

    About 40-50% of the homeless have a mental illness. I do think it is better to give money to organizations because a lot of these people end up using alcohol and drugs. Although if you are homeless it is understandable that someone would use substances to escape. I do have one patient coming to the hospital every 2 weeks to get his Xanax with the hope that we engage him and help him be more stable. It is just that drugs and alcohol leads to more problems. I read somewhere that if we gave everyone some kind of housing, it would save the country a ton of money. (I will try to find the link) I think England does this already.

  25. freemage says

    A suggestion, for organizations (including churches, secular societies, and whatever the hell else might be out there that include community outreach programs): Ask for a volunteer to take two hours some weekend and do some Googling to locate a list of local government aid programs and private charities in the area. Print up a summary sheet, with contact information, addresses, and so forth. Someone comes in obviously in need, offer them the sheet, ask if they need someone to call for a shelter transport, etc. Takes almost no money, very little time, and employs the services that are there for a reason.

  26. says

    When we get such a person at our church he/she is indeed treated with compassion. Such a person would never be asked to leave or sit in the back and would certainly be greeted by many. He would also be provided,if desiring, with a meal and groceries and clean clothes.

  27. tsig says

    True ending of the story:

    The congregation rose up and tore him limb from limb for daring to cast doubt on their sicncerity.

  28. kevskos says

    When I have money I always give some to the person on the sidewalk who is asking. I know it is not much but I find it better then giving them something like food. Even the poor deserve the dignity of being able to make their own choices, for good or ill.

  29. otrame says

    I have worked downtown, in tourist areas but we would arrive long before the park cops move the homeless out so they won’t bother (actively or passively) the tourists. I know what real homeless people look and smell like, and I know where you’ll find them.

    Want to know if the homeless-looking guy is a fraud? Look at his hair and his clothes.
    His jeans may be old and beat up, but are they clean? Hair is a big give away. How long since they washed their hair? Human beings are smelly apes. If you can’t smell them from 10 yards away, they probably aren’t homeless.

    If the guy is begging at an intersection near a highway and a major street in a middle class or higher part of town, he is almost certainly not homeless.

    I really despise the fakers because they take “compassion/guilt” money/other help that might otherwise go to real homeless.

  30. says

    Tacitus at 9,

    That is a really insightful observation. This urban parable lends itself to a lesson about judging a book by its cover. But when you know the book–when you know the flawed, self-defeating, complicated, suffering human being–can you still be charitable and caring? That’s the more difficult challenge, I think, for most of us. I would add here that there is an element of Calvinism in America that works against that sort of charity. I’m not arguing that Calvinism actually demands that, but as it’s widely expressed in broader American culture, there are the chosen who are inevitably deserving and the not-deserving to whom we are told we can still be virtuous while hardening our hearts..

    I give money to people who ask on the street even though I know that many times the story they’re offering isn’t true or that in some cases the money may be spent in less than self-beneficial ways. But two points: one, I don’t want to overlook those many out there who really are hungry, and two, to send a message that we are not all indifferent to pain and rejection. I don’t have to know everyone’s story to recognize their suffering and need to experience kindness from others. They need to not feel that they are regarded by everyone as refuse to be washed off our streets.

  31. No One says

    Leo Buzalsky @ 15

    And people vote illegally and cheat on wellfare. I’d rather give a sandwich or a couple of bucks to someone directly, even if there is a chance that they are “cheating”.

  32. appellategirl says

    One morning I sat with my husband on the bus on the way in to downtown. At my stop, as I was ready to get out, my husband pointed out a homeless-looking man standing on the sidewalk, who was wearing a shirt so tattered and full of holes that you could see most of his back through it, and torn pants, and flip-flops (it was 49 degrees out). My husband said, “Remind me to bring a shirt for that guy. I see him every day and his shirt is getting worse and worse.”

    I got out of the bus, went into my building and went up the elevator, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the man in the torn shirt. I finally got some food I had brought (an apple, a tangerine and a bag of carrots) and put it in a bag with napkins and a plastic knife and fork, and got a cup of hot coffee and some cream and sugar, and went back downstairs looking for the homeless man. He was gone, but I walked around the block, near the library, where homeless people often hang out. As I was coming back around the corner toward my building, another man approached me. He was not as ragged as the first man, but he was carrying a dirty-looking bag and looked homeless. He was asking me if I had any food. I offered him the food and the coffee. He was grateful for the coffee and took the tangerine, but he told me that he could not eat the apple or carrots because he had no teeth, as he showed me. He said he had HIV that had turned into full-blown AIDS, and showed me the sores on his feet and legs. He said he was a veteran who served in the Gulf War, but he could not get health care from the VA because he was dishonorably discharged. He said he had been addicted to morphine was clean now. I asked him where he slept, and he said, “around here,” near City Hall, or Tranquility Park. He said he had a friend in Conroe who had a trailer that they would let him sleep in, but he needed a bus ticket on Greyhound to get there. He said he needed $17.50. I asked him if he had had breakfast today, and he said no, and I asked if he would like some instant grits that I had in my office. He said yes, so I told him to wait, and went back upstairs, and fixed him a Styrofoam cup full of hot instant grits and a cup of ice water with a lid and straw, and I came back down and gave him the grits and the water and a $20 bill. He was so grateful. He showed me some grape and strawberry jelly packets he had been saving, that he was planning to put into his grits. I don’t know how much of what he told me was true, but my God, he was a homeless, hungry man with no teeth and sores on his legs. How could I not help him?

    So I went out looking to help one homeless man, and ended up helping another homeless man. I am sort of halfway between lapsed Catholic and agnostic right now, but the remnant of my Christianity is the philosophy of helping the poor, which i think is a good way to live whether you believe in God or not. As Jesus said, “the poor are always with us.” The whole thing reminded me of the Bible story of Lazarus lying hungry and covered with sores, at the gate of the rich man’s house. The suffering in this world and our inhumanity to one another just makes me want to cry.

    Yeah, they probably lie sometimes. But there is a lot of suffering, too. I usually give people a dollar or two when they ask.

  33. mildlymagnificent says

    Couple of relevant things from an item in The Conversation.

    It’s not just the money or the food.

    I had a conversation with Tim Costello some years ago which significantly changed my way of seeing things.
    He told me of a time when he was running the Collins St Baptist Church. A guy who had been sleeping rough for quite a while had turned up at the Church wanting a feed. Tim was talking to him. The guy said that that conversation was the first time in two weeks he had had eye contact with any other human being.

    I know this is Australia and he’s talking about refugee policy rather than responses to homelessness, but it’s also more generally applicable.

    We are a prosperous country: most of us are genuinely lucky. But we are not good at sharing our luck, and we have a strange habit of thinking that those who are less lucky must be, in some way, responsible for their own misfortunes.

    There are many reasons why members of the community become alienated from it. They may have been dealt a bad hand: they have been born poor, they have been badly educated, they have a mental or physical disability, they have bad luck in employment, they make bad choices which lead them into a hopeless life. Any one of these disadvantages can lead to a cascade of events which leave a person at the bottom of the pile. And when compassion turns to vindictiveness these people suffer twice for the disadvantages they could not avoid.

    When it comes to giving to people on the street, my husband and I just give some money. Or buy a sandwich or a pie if they really want food. If you’re in a city with a sensible public transport ticketing system, one thing you can do is keep a supply of tickets in your purse or wallet. I knew an elderly pensioner who bought a few one trip tickets each fortnight which she kept in her bag separately from her money purse. She happily gave them out without ever being afraid that this apparently harmless person might turn into a purse/ wallet snatcher if she had got that out of her bag.

  34. says

    “Consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars those like Randi and others in top charity management positions pay themselves from their organizations that are funded by donors.”.

    Randi? You’ve got maybe 20 mega churches that take in hundreds of millions a year and you think of James Randi, first? I’m smelling an agenda.

  35. rowanvt says

    I frequently feed the homeless folk near my work. I’ll often buy them things of chili from the Wendy’s as well as fresh, hot bread from the local bakery.

  36. uzza says

    This story actually happened, more or less, when the Deaf Studies program at my university brought in a rather famous guest speaker—I forget who now. She appeared early and was magnificently obnoxious, loud, and disruptive, acting out the role of a socially incompetent deaf person with obvious problems. Everyone was trying to get her to leave, shut up, or whatever. Eventually they got her to sit up near the front and behave, the emcee started things off, introduced her and invited her up to the podium where she gave a very effective presentation about communication and people’s perceptions. It was quite a powerful experience.

  37. steffp says

    I come from a country (Germany) where the homeless are eligible for a government handout of 20 USD/per day, more if they are sheltered, and I live in a country (Thailand) where the homeless live on private charity. I don’t give to begging people in Germany, but I do so frequently in Thailand. Compared to them, I’m filthy rich.
    As for the US, I suggest to get the facts straight first. 80% of the homeless are so less than three weeks. 10% less than two months, 10% are”chronic”. Data past 2007 are unavailable, but the “chronic” segment is said to consist of about 125,000 people.

    Neither being homeless and without money, nor “pretending” to be in that state is fun. I’d suggest that you actually talk with a homeless, see the person, not the biased idea. It will be an interesting and unusual experience for both of you, and will enable you to make an informed decision…

  38. mildlymagnificent says

    Data past 2007 are unavailable, but the “chronic” segment is said to consist of about 125,000 people.

    I find that number a bit low. The Australian census finds that about 1 in 200 people in Australia are homeless – which means they have no specific address for at least 6 months. It doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping rough all the time – many but not all find intermittent lodgings for very short periods, especially during winter. Plenty of other people have to sleep rough or couch surf for periods less than 6 months even though they do have a more or less permanent address that they need to leave at various times – they add to the number of homeless people visible on the streets/ taking up shelter beds at these times.

    The equivalent number for the US, at the 1 in 200 rate, would be more than one and a half million. Halving that rate, say one in 400, gives over 800000. My own judgement would be that the US rate would be much the same as Australia’s or higher. Our income and medical arrangements are a great deal better, but our housing is desperately expensive in the capital cities and subsidised public housing is very hard to get.

  39. says

    One item that is conveniently overlooked in he ReiKKKwing’s insistence that the homeless and poor should be ministered too by NGO’s is that a huge chunk of the uncollectable medical and hospital bills result from ER/Urgent Care and traditional admissions of those who cannot pay their bills and have no home to go to upon discharge from a medical facility.

    Also, many chronic medical problems are either exacerbated or, in some cases, caused by poor nutrition and a lack of adequate shelter/proper dress for the weather. The House just decided to fuck the poor, some more, by cutting 5% ($4B) from the SNAP program (food stamps). They also want to be allow states to MAKE people piss in a cup to prove they’re not doing drugs while on public assistance. How long before we’ll be having actual debtor’s prisons, again?

  40. rowanvt says

    Considering that in the city I live, I have seen the probably the same 50 or so homeless folks just from around my college, my work, and near my home, for the last 10 years….

    That 125,000 number is complete and utter bullshit.

  41. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Data past 2007 are unavailable, but the “chronic” segment is said to consist of about 125,000 people.

    I find that number a bit low. The Australian census finds that about 1 in 200 people in Australia are homeless – which means they have no specific address for at least 6 months. It doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping rough all the time – many but not all find intermittent lodgings for very short periods, especially during winter. Plenty of other people have to sleep rough or couch surf for periods less than 6 months even though they do have a more or less permanent address that they need to leave at various times – they add to the number of homeless people visible on the streets/ taking up shelter beds at these times.

    The equivalent number for the US, at the 1 in 200 rate, would be more than one and a half million. Halving that rate, say one in 400, gives over 800000. My own judgement would be that the US rate would be much the same as Australia’s or higher. Our income and medical arrangements are a great deal better, but our housing is desperately expensive in the capital cities and subsidised public housing is very hard to get..

    Yeah, that number is too ow.

    In a nearby county, the chronic homeless are about 1 in 300 persons – more than 1300 out of 420,000 total But on any given night, almost twice as many are homeless for some length of time not considered “chronic”. This is based on a 2011 homeless count and the population number from the 2010 US Census.

  42. steffp says

    I was citing official numbers, usually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. I’m quite sure that there is under-reporting, and all kinds of statistical gymnastics to keep these numbers low. Anyway, I’m not trying to diminish the problem, my petitum was to clarify the complexity of the situation. 3.5 million people get homeless every year, due to rotational effects – most don’t stay homeless for more than three weeks – the average weekly number of homeless is a bit less than a million. That’s about the 1 in 300 ratio mentioned above. There are grave differences in the distribution of homeless populations: city (71%), suburban(20%) and rural(9%).
    Not all chronically homeless people are sick, only 3% of them report having Aids, and about two in three have an alcohol/substance abuse problem. 28% have more than high school education.
    So, please, forget that paranoid fear of being attacked, raped, infected, robbed and whatnot. Look them in the eye, and try to communicate (not help, communicate!) It will be a rare experience for both sides. You might find out what this special homeless person really needs.

  43. Michael Heath says

    heddle writes:

    When we get such a person at our church he/she is indeed treated with compassion. Such a person would never be asked to leave or sit in the back and would certainly be greeted by many. He would also be provided,if desiring, with a meal and groceries and clean clothes.

    Yes you help a relative handful with mostly temporary comfort. And then when the elections roll around, we know that conservative Christians predominately vote for candidates and referendums that are the primary reason we have so many unfortunate people where the odds are greatly stacked against them ever recovering. And where such voters are becoming even more fiercely devoted to screwing the unfortunate.

    If conservative Christians actually cared about such people and were committed to helping them consistent with New Testament edicts, then conservative Christians would be well-informed on the root causes that result in so many unfortunate people. Instead they and their leaders lie about the root causes and demonstrate no cognizance of those root causes. And your group would also be well-informed on best practices that minimize the number of people who end up with so little, instead of fiercely opposing those policies that would best help others.

  44. Michael Heath says

    We not only recently lost our homeless shelter in my small town, our county commissioners voted against having a county-wide vote seeking to fund part of this shelter’s operation so it wouldn’t have to shut down. This is what red state America now does. Sarah Palin’s type of hatred still thrives in the GOP.

    Here’s the article: http://articles.petoskeynews.com/2013-07-30/friendship-housing-center_40902176.

    The switch from the commissioners deciding to have the vote to floppin to not having it? It was conservative Christians coming out of the woodwork to demand we don’t do so. Their “best” argument is that the county should either control it or don’t contribute at all, which is a hypocritical position to take because our county has long-funded other more conservative-friendly non-profits. Plus the issue at hand wasn’t whether the county should fund the shelter, but instead whether the issue should be put on a county-wide ballot to let voters decide.

    And why did this shelter lose state and federal funding that led to the shelter’s demise? Conservative Christians dominate our state legislature and they gleefully cut funding. And conservative Christians dominate the House GOP and obstruct sufficiently funding shelters for the homeless. It was those cuts, and the local Republican base which caused this shelter to shut down.

    So yeah, conservative Christians publically help a handful, while insuring most are screwed. Their so-called concern for the poor is one of the most hypocritical and false memes out there. If they really cared it’d show up in their voting patterns, actually it does, they vote to insure the poor are systemically and increasingly screwed.

  45. says

    Michael Heath:

    I suspect that heddle is a decent person and that his church is probably also mostly decent people. I completely disagree with him on the issue off religion but I suspect that he is not supportive of the sort of ReiKKKwing hatred for the downtrodden that you catalog.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am convinced that a LOT of people who talk about a loving GOD use their religiosity as a cover for being evil motherfuckers. I just don’t think heddle is one of those people.

  46. says

    @36 Thank you for pretending that you know my position, because conspiracy. I used Randi as the contrast because he’s one of our own and is funded by our own dollars (I assume folks here are far more likely to give money to the JREF or similar than a church). Of course, the mega churches aren’t even deserving of the charity title.

    Now, let me paint your position without any knowledge of who you are: Please keep walking past the beggars, because they obviously don’t deserve any of your hard earned money.

  47. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    I suspect that heddle is a decent person and that his church is probably also mostly decent people. I completely disagree with him on the issue off religion but I suspect that he is not supportive of the sort of ReiKKKwing hatred for the downtrodden that you catalog.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am convinced that a LOT of people who talk about a loving GOD use their religiosity as a cover for being evil motherfuckers. I just don’t think heddle is one of those people.

    What I wrote is representative of voting patterns by conservative Christians. Whether conservative Christians falsely deny the impact of their vote or avoid considering it is no excuse. They are neither children or innocents where each of us is responsible for our actions. Helping a handful of locals while successfully supporting policies that harm millions is not a compelling defense one is a good person rather than part of the group which causes human suffering.

    And claiming a particular individual is a good person where the person supports the same policies and people as someone like Bryan Fischer argues for a serious revision in the standards that assess goodness. (I’m not referring to heddle here, but instead a standard-issue conservative Christian.)

  48. says

    @49:

    I have no problem with your argument, Michael Heath. And I could be wrong about heddle but I just don’t see him as being a supporter of anyone like Bryan Fischer.

    @48:

    When somebody whose handle I don’t recognize makes a comment like the one that you made earlier, I have no idea what their agenda is; but I think that they have one. It turns out that you do.

    As for ignoring the poor and homeless, I am taking in about $12K/annum and spending about 80% of it servicing debt. That’s not anyone’s fault but my own (my body has been somewhat cranky for several years). If this trend continues I will BE homeless in a few years. That’s life. I’m quite well aware how it feels to not know how I will pay the rent or buy groceries. I do what I CAN do for people who need help. It tends to not be financial assistance.

  49. rowanvt says

    Not all chronically homeless people are sick, only 3% of them report having Aids…

    Pardon me a moment while I boggle at the sheer stupidity contained in that snippet of sentence.

    *boggles*

    Tell me, how many homeless folk have the resources to find out if they have AIDS or are HIV positive?

    I also like how it is ignoring:

    TB, asthma, other STDs, skin infections, chronic colds/respiratory infections, cancer, kidney or liver disease, etc.

    The chronically homeless would typically have poor quality water, poor nutrition, poor housing, and poor access to sanitary facilities. All of which themselves can cause illness, as well as lower the immune system allowing for contraction of various illnesses and increasing their risk of things like cancer.

  50. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    I have no problem with your argument, Michael Heath. And I could be wrong about heddle but I just don’t see him as being a supporter of anyone like Bryan Fischer.

    I never claimed heddle or most conservative Christians support someone as absurd as Bryan Fischer. I instead pointed out they’re supporting the same politicians and policies that Fischer does.

    While Mr. Fischer is an extremist that is not representative of all conservative Christians, he’s merely a few degrees away in his differences, enough that conservative Christians still ultimately support the same positions and people that win GOP primaries and are the positions taken in the U.S. Congress.

    This is a key premise to understanding why conservative Christians have caused so much harm to humanity. Helping a relative handful in your local community does not wipe out one’s culpability for promoting politicians and policies that are guaranteed to not only harm the less fortunate, but create more unfortunates. Rather than being fierce opponents, they’re instead effective allies.

    The Christian book industry is filled with books about German Christians protecting a Jewish person or family during WWII (I’ve yet to see a book where they’re protecting communists or homosexuals). As the child of a German-American refugee of WWII, I’m constantly confronted by relatives (also refugees) who’ve continuously read such books since the war. It’s an obvious attempt to avoid feelings of guilt for what Germans did during WWII and more importantly, justification that they don’t need to change their behavior or beliefs – that their way of thinking wasn’t the cause of Nazism when in fact we know it is.

    What this book sector doesn’t seem to publish, or generate any sales, is the actual root cause reasons why conservative Christians promoted or at least enabled Nazism, and how conservative Christians need to adapt to no longer harm other humans. So we continue to observe the same behavior from conservative Christians though here in the states it’s to an obviously lesser degree; I think due to the political influence liberals have suppressing their ability to slide further down the slippery path that’s greased by their contempt, determined ignorance, denialism, and fear.

    Observing someone or a church helping a few of those in need is not sufficient in evaluating whether that person or church is following the NT edict on how to treat the weak and unfortunate,. Instead we must also evaluate the behavior that has a bigger impact on the treatment of the unfortunate. That’s the implications of conservative Christian politics; where we find that is the primary reason we have so many unfortunate among us.

    Consider our outcomes if we’d spent $3 trillion on policies that helped the labor market and provided a better social safety net, instead of going off to war in Iraq. Or if Republicans stopped spending so much time trying to shove gays back into the closet at the behest of their conservative Christian voters, but rather spent that time boning up on economics to make future business downturns less painful and to better promote economic growth. This is where we can more accurately gauge whether conservative Christians are following their own dogmatic edicts, and where we can determine with confidence that no voting group is more influential in fighting to support those laudable NT edicts.

  51. says

    Michael Heath:

    If I had just apologized, you wouldn’t have been schnookered into givin’ me all that free information, forcing me to unlazily look it up my ownself. {;>)

    “Consider our outcomes if we’d spent $3 trillion on policies that helped the labor market and provided a better social safety net, instead of going off to war in Iraq…’

    That would be WEALTH TRANSFER, dammit! It would make the playing field more closely resemble a playing field than a cliff–how dare you suggest such a thing!

    Seriously, your points are, imo, quite valid. I just think that heddle like many others I could name here (points finger–while pointing THREE FINGERS back at democommie) is Pavlovian in his response to certain stimuli–and decidedly not, in response to other stimuli.

  52. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    I just think that heddle like many others I could name here (points finger–while pointing THREE FINGERS back at democommie) is Pavlovian in his response to certain stimuli–and decidedly not, in response to other stimuli.

    Where those reactionary platitudes are decades-worn, vacuous, and uncompelling on this particular topic. I hadn’t yet reached teendom when I determined how full of shit such talking points used here by heddle actually were in relation to their demonstrated efficacy at providing comfort to those less fortunate.

    I wasn’t a prodigy on this issue to find how full of shit Christians are at heeding NT edicts regarding the powerless and unfortunate, but instead was both raised to be a fundie while also growing up working in my family’s grocery store. So I continuously observed how those that were poor were in no way accurately described by conservative Christians who yes, helped a relative few while simultaneously vilifying this population during public policy debates and even back then, represented the voting block winning the policy debates of those times. (They were then merely split between the two political parties.)

    Yes, lets all spend a small portion of our discretionary income on helping a handful of the poor, and then let’s march off to the polls to elect politicians or vote for policies that guarantee far more will suffer and suffer needlessly. From a recent book review on American Way of Poverty, which reports on the state of U.S. poverty:

    Poverty is less a “tragedy” than a “scandal,” [author Sasha Abramsky] declares, the result of “decisions taken, or not taken, by political and economic leaders” and accepted by voters. Different decisions can be made, he argues, if Americans have the will.

    According to this review, Mr. Abramsky provides evidence in support of this assertion. Here’s the link this NYTs book review (in today’s paper): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/books/review/sasha-abramskys-american-way-of-poverty.html?ref=books&_r=0&pagewanted=all

    What frustrates me most about liberals here, and I’m not referring to those centrists that run the Democratic party, is how liberals have no voice at all in calling for bold measures to reduce poverty. This has the Democrats retreating and defensively reacting to the Republican war against the poor and working class, which couldn’t be promoted without the conservative Christian voting block who supports this GOP position. There’s no balancing counter for Democrats to react off in response, which is a defect Democrats are responsible for allowing to happen.

    If Christians actually took the biblical Jesus’ words seriously, there is no way any of them could vote in good conscience for Republicans. The fact conservative Christians are the most effective and powerful voting block that harms the poor is a fact I refuse to let go unnoticed when I hear the standard-issue fatally defective talking point heddle and millions of other conservative Christians bring up to avoid their own culpability for obstructing Bible Jesus’ demands.

    Catholics who aren’t necessarily conservative are also culpable, to the point many of their bishops now demand their congregants vote for the anti-abortion rights candidate; even if it means voting for a candidate that is an eager and effective warrior at harming the poor. In spite of the fact the biblical Jesus never took on the subject or even the infanticide of the times, while repeatedly demanding people help the poor, children, and widows.

  53. says

    @50 Still not sure what you think my agenda is, but FWIW, I’d like to think we godless would be there with our dollars to help if you find yourself without a roof over your head, rather than avoiding you and complaining on blogs that we are so inconvenienced to have to walk past you. My agenda is fuck the circumstances, everyone could use help.

  54. says

    Michael Heath:

    I’m glad you write all of that stuff, because even though I agree with you (to about .9999…) there are plenty of others who need to have this shit explained and I don’t have the patience to do so. Your way prolly works lots better than my default, “Fuck you, you fucking moron.” aimed at KKKristianist assholes.

    Carry on!

    @55:

    Your “agenda” is that you actually do give a shit about the poor and you’re not happy that others don’t so you poke them in the eye, in a manner of speaking, to get their attention. I think it works–got me going–and I don’t see it as a “bad” agenda. I may well be without a roof over my head someday, but I don’t think that poverty OR homelessness is what would make people avoid me–it’s never been required for them to avoid me in the past! {;>)

  55. says

    I really, really hope that our society can pull it’s collective head out of it’s ass and seriously address the homeless and the mentally ill. It’s shameful that we force people to live like rats, and it shouldn’t take fake stories about mythical beings to motivate people to change things.

    Me too =(

  56. Stacey C. says

    Well, we don’t as far as I know have someone truly homeless in our group but we do have a veteran who lives in a veteran’s shelter (about as close to truly homeless as you can get) and a person who lives in subsidized housing and uses SNAP. Neither drive and we make sure that someone can pick them up when they want to come to meetings. I have no hesitation about supplying a ride or help to them.

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