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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

a lot to be thankful for

Looking back at the past year, I can see I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head. I have a full time job that provides me with decent wages and a good health insurance plan, including dental insurance. My family has food on our table. Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I've never lived under an oppressive government where I could be beaten or sent to prison simply for speaking my mind or for practicing my religion. I've never been the victim of a hate crime as a result of my skin color, religious beliefs, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I haven't been driven from my home due to war or natural disaster. I've never been conscripted into the military or forced to work in a sweatshop. I've never had a family member disappeared. Yes indeed, I have a lot to be thankful for.

On this Thanksgiving day, please join me in offering a prayer for all the ones who don't have so much to be thankful for.

For the poor and the oppressed, for the unemployed and the destitute, for prisoners and captives, and for all who remember and care for them, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from the Book of Common Prayer

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Friday, August 31, 2007

international blog day

Today is the 3rd International Blog Day (hat tip: Richard at connexions), the purpose of which is to encourage bloggers to "post recommendations of 5 new Blogs, preferably Blogs that are different from their own culture, point of view and attitude."

As was the case with the "thinking blogger" meme, I had a hard time limiting myself to five blogs. I enjoy reading different points of view, and I read more blogs than I should. In keeping with the spirit of the event, I've excluded all bloggers living in my home country.

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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.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

whenever you wish

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.

Mark 14:7

I've written a few times about AECH and its plans to create a transitional facility for homeless people in Wichita.

One of the obstacles we face is the perception that homelessness is a permanent problem, and that there's nothing we can do about it. Some people even quote the words of Jesus, "You will always have the poor with you," as an excuse for not doing anything.

But in context, it's clear that Jesus was not saying we can't do anything. In fact, he was saying just the opposite.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

why don't they just get a job?

Previously, I mentioned my work with AECH, a faith-based group dedicated to ending chronic homelessness in Wichita.

One of the criticisms that AECH members frequently hear is that people wouldn't be homeless if they would just get a job. In reality, most homeless people want to work, but for one reason or another -- or for a combination of reasons -- they have been unable to hold steady employment.

What are some of these reasons?

  • Lack of education or transferable skills
  • Mental illness
  • Inability to adjust to civilian life after serving in a war
  • Drug abuse or alcoholism
  • Past criminal record

These and many other factors can keep a person from holding a steady job. Becoming homeless only exacerbates the problem. If you're homeless...

  • You don't have a bathroom. You can't shower or groom for an interview.
  • You don't have an address. Employers can't contact you to set up an interview.
  • People don't know where to find you. They can't help you get the skills you need.

Why don't they just get a job? The answers are varied, as varied as the individuals who find themselves with no place to lay their heads. Their situations are as unique as each individual is. But the reality is that in a nation where one out of every seven people lives in poverty, it is inevitable that some people won't be able to keep the bills paid, won't be able to keep a roof over their heads.

If the answer were as easy as creating enough jobs to keep everyone fully employed, that's what we would do. But it's not as simple as that. There's no magic cure. If people are going to move from chronic homelessness to steady employment, they will need help getting there. That's why AECH has proposed to build a 24/7 transitional center with support services available. The first step in solving the problem is understanding the problem to be solved.

Why don't they just get a job? This facility is the first step toward helping them do just that.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

how long is temporary?

Since April, I've been working with a group of people who want to make a change here in Wichita. On an average night, Wichita has about 700 homeless people. All the shelters in the city have a total of about 350 beds, leaving another 350 people to sleep under bridges, over grates, in dark alleys, or wherever they can find a place for the night. The city has had a plan in place since 1991 to provide temporary shelters on the coldest nights, so that nobody has to freeze to death.

But our little group, the Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness (AECH), think that 15 years of temporary shelters is too long. We have a vision to build a transitional facility with support services, to help homeless people get back on their feet. The facility will be open 24/7 and will be available to all who need what it can provide.

Some people have objected that the shelter is not needed because Wichita does not really have a homeless problem. By the numbers, less than 1/4 of 1% of Wichita residents are homeless, and half of those can already find shelter on a given night. Statistically speaking, this is not a significant problem. But we are not talking about statistics. These are human beings, created in the image of God. They are not just "a problem" that we can simply sweep under the rug. Every homeless person is someone's brother or sister, someone's daughter or son, someone's friend.

They became homeless in a variety of ways. Some lost their jobs when their jobs were outsourced overseas. Some struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol. Some could not transition back to civilian life after serving in combat in the military. Some have mental illnesses. Some are unable to function independently after growing up in a series of foster homes. Some have left an abusive marriage. Some have a past criminal record that hinders their job prospects even if they have turned their lives around. Some don't have the education or the skills to make themeselves useful in today's economy.

Some are battling more than one of these factors.

Most homeless people would rather not be homeless, but many of them lack the resources to make a change on their own. That's where the transitional facility comes in.

The plan is to not just provide more beds, but to make the resources available to help people take the necessary steps to improve their lives. AECH includes a number of both former and current homeless people who have provided valuable insights about what homeless people truly need.

None of the members of our group are naive enough to think that we will eliminate homelessness simply by building a new facility. But we recognize that our city has people whose basic needs are not being met. If we keep on doing what we've been doing for 15 years, things will never change. It's time to find new solutions.