“That’s why we really want to shift, and that’s our next goal if we can find a parcel,” said Fernandez, a member of the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy. “The owner, along with some of the neighbors, would work with Interfaith to say: ‘This is a religious right to take care of our homeless people.’”
I was raised in Atlanta during the heyday of the civil rights era. I went to high school with some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children. And I didn’t know there was a racial problem in my city. Because for me and my people there wasn’t. It was somebody else’s problem. Across town. Somewhere else.
The black maids and gardeners rode a tidal wave into my white neighborhood each morning, tended babies, fried chicken, and manicured lawns. And then the tide washed them back out again. We didn’t often ask where they landed for the night and whether it was as sumptuous as our digs, or whether their neighborhoods were even safe. We just dropped our bath towels on the floor and figured that somebody would pick them up again in the morning. Life was good.
From the remove of 40 years and 600 miles, I see it differently. But it took more than time and distance to reckon with my own cluelessness about race. It took what it always takes for barriers to fall between “us” and “them” — getting to know some of “them.” I’ve gotten as far as being able to name that I am on one side of many different divides, including the dinner counter at the Mission, and I’m usually on the less-shitty side. And it’s through no merit of my own. In fact it’s where people like me, white and privileged, have long been and have little questioned.
The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.
This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.
So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.
Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.
James was playing cards with several other nursing home residents in a room that doubles as their dining area. The “stakes” for their game was a stash of candy from a Christmas party earlier in the day. He saw me and waved me over. James grabbed one of the candy canes in his pile and offered it with his right hand, the one that had L-O-V-E spelled out on the backs of his four fingers with a self-applied tattoo.
“Would you like some candy?” he said.
James was short, thin, in his 40s. His most distinctive features were those homemade tattoos on his fingers, hands and forearms. And the outline of a metal plate protruding from his lower right leg.
An auto accident left the leg mangled. He didn’t have medical insurance to cover the enormous hospital bills. He couldn’t stand on the leg as it healed, so he lost his job as a cook. And soon, his apartment. He was living on the streets, sharing needles and drugs to deaden the pain in his leg. He wound up sharing someone’s AIDS as well.
But that’s not why he was dying. He’d developed cancer. There was nothing they could do.
I got to know James as part of my work as a hospice volunteer. He only slowly warmed to me — all that time on the streets made him wary of people and their motives. He didn‘t trust very much.
But now he was offering me a candy cane.
1. Five Takeaways From the Hobby Lobby Case
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2. Who’s Afraid of Soccer in America?
The beautiful game captured the imagination of the United States as its national team advanced to the knockout rounds to fall valiantly at the hands — or feet, rather — of Belgium. And the numbers don't lie: soccer is taking off in America.
3. Tim Howard: 'Nuff Said
Speaking of the World Cup, goal keeper Tim Howard did the best he could to keep the U.S. in it. The shot-stopper has taken the Internet by storm, with #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave trending on Twitter, hilarious Tim Howard memes abounding, a petition to change the name of Washington National Airport (DCA) to "Tim Howard National Airport" going viral. The man even received a call from Obama himself.
4. Here's How Vancouver Responded to London's 'Anti-Homeless Spikes'
A Vancouver charity, RainCity Housing, is converting city benches into pop-up shelters for homeless people. And by giving homeless people in this rainy city some dry coverage and a place to rest, RainCity is putting London's anti-homeless spikes to shame.
5. 10,000 Christians Have Fled Northern Iraq Since the ISIS Takeover
As many as 10,000 people have fled from predominantly Christian areas in northern Iraq, the U.N. warned late last week.
6. In open primary Southern states, black voters flex new muscle
An unexpected group of voters charged in to save veteran Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, a Republican, from losing a primary squeaker against a tea party challenger: African American Democrats.
7. Plastic garbage on ocean's surface is vanishing. Where is it going?
Large amounts of the plastic debris littering the ocean's surface seem to be disappearing. But scientists are at a loss to explain where it's going.
8. Bathrobes And Baby Carriers: The Stuff Of Manliness?
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9. 3 Lessons from Wild Goose: Holy Rest, Holy Mischief, and Holy Reconciliation
"This past week I was surrounded by an eclectic mix of barefoot wanderers, edgy thinkers, and hippie-hipsters at the Wild Goose festival. While none of these descriptors necessarily apply to me, I found myself quite at home at the Goose."
10. Astronaut Reid Wiseman Has an Out of This World Twitter Feed
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How to talk with our children about homelessness.
“She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets.”
So begins the New York Times story following Dasani, an 11-year-old girl living homeless in New York. Dasani lives with her parents and seven siblings in a family residence shelter. From school to dance class to home, Dasani feels the weight of poverty and an unstable family.
According to the story, one in five children in America live in poverty, “giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.”
In this five-part multimedia story, life told through Dasani’s eyes offers an honest look at homelessness and the pursuit for a hopeful future.
Read the full story here.
“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.”
- Dorothy Day
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Catholic Worker Movement — best known for its hospitality houses that dot the nation, bringing together communities of individuals in need and offering them housing and love.
It was in that vein that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, began Rutba House in Durham, N.C., after experiencing what he calls the “Good Samaritan story:” While the couple were on a peacemaking trip in Rutba, Iraq in 2003, friends were injured in a car accident, and local physicians gracefully cared for them.
Jonathan and Leah returned to the states looking for a way to extend the same type of love and welcome they received in Iraq. Ten years later, Rutba House holds countless stories of transformation through community, which Jonathan recounts in his book Strangers at My Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality, out Nov. 5.
Upon first glance, the arc of the narrative does seem radical. The hospitality house welcomes strangers in to live as part of the community — even at midnight, even when they might not pass society’s presentability test, even when the host is tired, even when they come straight from prison.
“I think part of what I’ve learned over the past 10 years — what Jesus is revealing to us through this call to greet him in the stranger — is something basic about who we are and who we’re made to be,” Wilson-Hartgrove told Sojourners. “All of us are called to hospitality — not just as Christians, as human beings. Because humans can’t live alone.”
There is no longer a war on poverty.
There is a war on the hungry.
There is a war on the poor.
It’s ironic, really.
Conservatives love to tell folks that the best way to end poverty, homelessness, and need in our country is through the work and generosity of private individuals and private donations, not through government programs.
The answer, they say, is charity.
Yet in a stroke of cruel hypocrisy, when charities actually address these issues in real life, they aren’t commended for their work.
Rather, they are threatened with arrest.
I used to be a Bible study leader.
And per the undergraduate campus fellowship tradition, it kept me busy: Sunday brunch community building, Monday night small groups, Tuesday leadership meetings, and Wednesday training sessions. Discipleship, one-on-ones, social activities, all-campus worship, weekend retreats, week-long retreats, all-day retreats, evangelism workshops, work day, capture the flag, scavenger hunts, and prayer meetings.
But what I remember most vividly are Thursdays.
Every Thursday. The evening walk through campus, past bars and restaurants beginning to fill with my peers, through a door almost hidden to the unaware, flanked by a man sitting on the ground. The man is dirty and unkempt. Sometimes he’s panhandling. Sometimes he’s asleep. On one occasion, he eats, still alone, from a small bag of popcorn one of my fellow Bible study leaders had brought to him.
The man catches my attention, yet I don’t show it. I don’t ask his name, or where he goes when he doesn’t sit by the door, or how he manages to stay warm through Midwestern winters. Thursdays are obligatory for Bible study leaders, so maybe that’s why I try to ignore the man. Maybe that’s why I feel I can’t stop to ask him his name. Or maybe being a Bible study leader is just a convenient excuse to keep walking.
So every Thursday I climb the stairs behind that door, leaving the man below, allowing him to fade into the background until he is just another distant person, indistinguishable from those filling the pub across the street or sleeping on their textbooks in the library across the quad. Suddenly the band is on stage, the rhythm of worship distracts me, channeling an energy that gives way to reflection, to reverence, to calm. Every Thursday.
And then it’s over. And like all good Bible study leaders, I greet friends, practice fellowship, welcome newcomers. We leave in groups to study or socialize. I don’t notice if the man is still there when we leave.
This man has come to represent many things to me in my faith journey, and something I’ve encountered this week brings my thoughts back to him.
Where there is hope, there is future.
Today is Hunger Action Day.
For many in my beloved Golden State, today will go unnoticed. It will be what it always is — a Wednesday full of its special nuances with perhaps homework, meals and snacks, pleasant weather, and most definitely, a dose of stressful traffic. It will be normal. Life will be as it always is. For others however, myself included, this is the day we have been waiting for. In fact, you could even say, that this is the day we’ve been hungry for.
More than 300 California residents from all around the state — from the beach towns to the gritty parts of the city — have committed their day, their energy, and their hearts to visiting with their representatives to advocate for their neighbors and friends who every day face hunger. To these few hundred residents who have taken the time to journey to Sacramento, the opportunities that today provide could be life changing for thousands.
At 14 years old, Sydia Simmons was kicked out into the streets of New York City by her alcoholic mother, but today she is a wife, mother, and founder of the Lost Angels Society.
The purpose of the Lost Angels Society is to provide a safe space for homeless teens. Sydia knows firsthand the difficulty of being homeless, especially in New York City, and because she has overcome through her faith she wants to give back.
On Dec. 16, 2012 Sydia hosted the Lost Angels Society Benefit to give homeless youth a Christmas celebration. This benefit was supported by actress Uma Thurman, superstar singer Usher, and many others.
Sydia truly has compassion and a passion for homeless youth, and an important message for the Church. Isaiah 61: 3-4 states: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Sydia truly fits the description above because she is rebuilding the lives of teens devastated by homelessness.
When asked to identify common features of the historical Christmas storyline, many speak of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, angels, King Herod, and of course, the newborn Jesus. But we too often fail to recognize the social circumstances in which Jesus was born; our understanding of the nativity narrative is too often left incomplete.
In the midst of our various congregational and community Christmas celebrations, we are confronted with the harsh reality that Jesus was brought into the world within a condition of homelessness. As a result, one can argue that we cannot fully commemorate Christmas without recognizing its social setting, for the context of Jesus’ birth points us toward the content and concerns of Jesus’ life.
NORMAN, Okla. — Pastor Dustin Buff traded in his job, his house and his sense of security for a backpack, a Bible, a sleeping bag, one change of clothes, identification, and a cell phone.
For 10 days, Buff and youth minister Philip Nguyen were intentionally homeless, wandering the streets of Norman in a personal quest to understand the plight of the homeless.
Andrews Park, a mile and a half from the University of Oklahoma, is a temporary home to many of the city's homeless. Buff estimates 300 people live on the street in this city of 113,000. In the park, the homeless gather in gazebos, sleep in faux forts on the playground, and lounge on the steps of the amphitheater.
Buff pointed to the municipal buildings that ring Andrews Park.
“All the city offices are right there,” he said. “Homeless people are sleeping here at night right across the street from the police station. I’ve read government estimates that Norman has 1,700 homeless residents, if you include transient housing, shelters, and the streets.”
My students had questions about the central character in the story Fly Away Home written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler. And even as 2nd graders, they knew something about the problem.
"Homelessness is mean," said James.
"I pass the Salvation Army on my bus on the way to school every day. I know homeless people sleep there," Billy added.
Fly Away Home tells the story of a boy who lives in an airport with his dad because they have lost their home. They move through the terminals to avoid being noticed by passengers. The story places you in the boy’s shoes and helps you see the world through his eyes. You feel the pain of the dad who can no longer provide a home for his family. You experience what it’s like to have all of your possessions in two blue bags. This is just the right book to help students and teachers think about how we view people who are homeless.
After reading the story to my students, I asked a few questions about homelessness.
From WOAI-TV in San Antonio, Texas:
She's been living on the streets to bring attention to homelessness, but Sunday night a local pastor stayed behind bars.
The Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith had a warrant out for her arrest, because she was cited for sleeping on a park bench, which she says proves her point, that the homeless have few places to lay their heads. Along her journey the pastor has discovered what she calls an unjust judicial system for the poor.
She said, “This will be the second time I’m in jail for that same ticket and I’m just trying to survive out in the streets like hundreds of others here in San Antonio.”
By now, you have probably read about the Wild Goose Festival. You have heard about the big name speakers, you were told about beer and hymns, you know about the dunk tank and the killer music and the ticks and the scorching Carolina heat.
But, awesome as all that was, it all pales in comparison to my memory of a late night conversation at the Goose with my friend Mike.
You see, Mike is one of about 1,200 people in Wake County, N.C., who are currently without housing. Some nights he lives at the shelter, other nights he couch surfs with various friends, and some nights he sleeps in the dumpster of that downtown church with the $2 million pipe organ.
Mike is one of our volunteers at Love Wins Ministries, our little ministry of pastoral care and presence to the homeless community in Raleigh, N.C. And yes, he is currently homeless. But Mike still volunteers with us, because where you live does not decide your value or define your ability to contribute.
So, when I mentioned to Mike that we were running a booth at the Wild Goose Festival and I wanted him to come as our guest and help us run it, he was skeptical.
"These are church folks, right?" Mike said. "I don't do church folks well. You know that."
A growing number of cities across the United States are making it harder to be homeless.
Philadelphia recently banned outdoor feeding of people in city parks. Denver has begun enforcing a ban on eating and sleeping on property without permission. And this month, lawmakers in Ashland, Ore., will consider strengthening the town's ban on camping and making noise in public.
And the list goes on: Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have previously adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.