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Sunday, September 24, 2006

solving the homeless problem

Here in Wichita, homelessness is increasingly in the news. One of the reasons for the increased coverage has been the efforts of Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness (AECH). If I've learned anything from my involvement with AECH, it's the importance of getting the word out.

There are a number of agencies in town that help homeless people, and through their combined efforts they provide beds for as many as 350 people each night. For those who can't get into the permanent shelters, the City of Wichita has relied on temporary shelters during adverse weather and left homeless people to their own devices the rest of the year.

This year has been no different, except that the public is being made aware of the problem. A week does not go by without an article in the newspaper or a segment on the local TV news, relating to problems faced by homeless people.

Homelessness has now become an issue, and as elections draw near, city officials want to be perceived as taking action. They have appointed a task force to study the problems of homelessness.

Now, the task force may determine that what is needed is exactly what AECH is trying to create: A 24/7 resource center with support services, where all homeless people are welcome. On the other hand, the task force may have other ideas: Some Wichitans think the solution is to lock all homeless people in jail, confiscate their few possessions, and do everything possible to encourage them to leave town. Between these two extremes are many options of compromise, none of which would be compatible with AECH's goals.

Therein lies the danger for faith-based groups seeking help from secular powers: If we can get governmental backing for our efforts, we would have a much easier time accomplishing our goals; if, on the other hand, the task force has a different vision, we're on our own but with the added perception that we are in opposition to official efforts to solve the problem. Worse yet would be if the task force agreed with our goals initially, but later redefined them and ended up with something not recognizable as a 24/7 everyone welcome resource center with support services.

The truth is, solving the problem means something different from a secular perspective than it does from a faith-based perspective. I've known this intellectually, but now I'm seeing the tension between church and state on a personal level.

Ultimately, AECH must be committed to turning our vision into reality with or without civic support. Chances are, if we really want the vision to become reality, we'll have to proceed on our own. If the city decides to support us, it will. But we need to be prepared if the city chooses to go a different direction.



At 9/26/2006 8:49 PM, Blogger Questing Parson said...

Thanks for your involvement with the homeless.

I just got back from a church that reluctantly agreed to house some homeless men in their basement while the shelter was being restored after arson's work. They took the men in, but they installed a heavy metal door that blocks the men from getting out of their little area. And they placed an alarm on the door.

I guess it's a matter of extending Christ's love -- sort of.

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