Hunger Action Day in California

Image via Karla Vasquez

Image via Karla Vasquez

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.

From Homeless to Hope: Sydia Simmons

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.



Christmas Confrontation with a Homeless Jesus

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics / Shutterstock.com

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. 

Pastor Wanders Streets in Personal Bid to Understand Homelessness

 RNS photo by Greg Horton

Pastor Dustin Buff (right) on his 10-day homelessness immersion. RNS photo by Greg Horton

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.”

'You Can Love Them:' A Child's Response to Homelessness

Homeless person asking for help, Kim Reinick / Shutterstock.com

Homeless person asking for help, Kim Reinick / Shutterstock.com

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 boys 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 its 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.

'Homeless' Pastor on Mission Arrested in Texas

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.”

Wild Goose: A Sacred and Safe Place

Love Wins Ministries at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Love Wins Ministries' exhibit at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

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."

Is Homeless Crackdown a Sign of Compassion Fatigue?

Homeless man photo, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

Homeless man photo, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

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.

Homeless Veteran to President Obama: "Why Are We Sending Money to Pakistan?"

During the first-ever all-virtual interview conducted by Americans via Google+'s "hangout" group video chat feature, a young, homeless veteran in Boston asked President Obama why the United States still gives money to countries such as Pakistan, that are known to fund terrorism — especially when there are so many veterans living on the streets after returning from the war. The session was broadcast live via YouTube.

Watch the video of their conversation inside the blog...