I have to start with the obvious here. The simplest and least expensive way to end homelessness is for the government to simply give the homeless apartments, no strings attached. Everywhere it has been done, it has worked. Since that takes political boldness and vision which most office holders lack, even in the face of empirical evidence, we need to move on to what we as citizens can do without them.
When the South still enforced the peculiar institution of Black slavery and the North did not, abolitionists organized a series of safe houses and people willing to take a risk who would convey freed and runaway slaves from house to house until they arrived some place ‘safely’ in the North where they could start a new life. Harriet Tubman is famous for her role in guiding so many to freedom. Now I ask you, when there are thousands of homeless men, women and children living on the streets and in the shelters of each of our major cities, subsisting on handouts and hand-me-downs, where there is no possibility of a job without an address, and no way to get an address without having a stable address (You read that right), how is this freedom?
It seems to me we need to get that old train moving again and add a few more stations!
This means we step up and take the risk. Remember the Underground Railroad is not Amtrak. It is not a government program. What does this look like? It looks much like the original. Families take in people and families who are homeless or about to become homeless and help them get on their feet. This is especially needed for families before they land on the street and the family gets broken up and the children get placed in foster care. Everyone needs to adjust. It is not easy. Our parents or grandparents did it, though, to get through the First Great Depression. From all of the stories I heard, because of the way people helped each other, it was the happiest time in those people’s lifetimes. We can do it again to help people through the Second Great Depression.
When I was in prison ministry, we took in ex-offenders to live with us when they were released from prison. I also started a program and support group for people who took in or related to ex-offenders after their time in our aftercare program. When we are talking about homeless people, it’s not quite the same thing, but for long term homeless, there are some definite cultural issues to deal with. We will facilitate with similar support groups. The idea is to be neighbors to each other and bear each other’s burdens, to share wisdom, and to not let anyone get in too deep.
We can end homelessness if we stop seeing the lines of bodies waiting for food and, instead, look at one face. Become family to that one face. Paste him or her in your family album. Take him or her home. Your grandkids will ask, who is that black man in the family pictures? “O, that’s your mama’s godfather, Michael.”
I guess my thoughts naturally went in the railroad direction today. We received notice that our house is in foreclosure again. This time, because PHH never did negotiate in good faith on an adjustment, and Social Security lost the documentation for expedited disbursement of my back pay for disability. It may work out for the best in the long run, as we may finally be able to negotiate a lower rate and payment. At any rate, the original part of our house was built in the 18th century. It was added onto to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through in 1845. There is an exposed spike between the two parts, right outside our bedroom door to mark this. The barn was built as a stable for the hotel. So we have a suitable, symbolic headquarters for a railroad of hospitality. Please consider how you may get involved.
God bless you.