Would you do me a favor and watch the first forty seconds or so of this video?
Wasn’t that cool?
You know, when I first saw this video on Facebook, I couldn’t even tell what was in that hole. Just black crawly things. They could be crabs or bugs. Turned out they were turtles. You probably know that already because you saw the title, but I didn’t have the title. I just saw a hole swarming with something that looked gross.
To me, this video demonstrates how to help the homeless, and how wrong-headed most of our approaches are.
The homeless are stuck in a hole of oppression and poverty and they can’t get out. They are desperately trying to get out, to get to a better place, but they can’t escape, no matter how they try.
Some people, like my initial reaction to this video, see them swarming in their poverty and are disgusted or fear them. They see them as blights on society and as something that should be gotten rid of. They might yell into the hole of poverty and tell them to get out. They might fear them and so avoid them. They might want to hide them, to pretend that they don’t exist. Some might secretly wish that they would go away by any means possible.
Other people might look at the hole and pity them, They would baby them, and give them food and water them and make sure they survived. But for all that care, they are still in the hole of poverty and oppression, no better off than they were.
Others want to do something for them more seriously. So they will take the effort to pull one of them out of the hole and lift him up and take him to the ocean. Then they will walk back to the hole, pick up another one and walk him to the ocean, placing him carefully within. After a few times of doing this, someone will get tired and go back to the hole, saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the resources to help all of you. I can only help so many. The rest of you will have to stay in poverty and oppression. I wish I could do more.”
The man of wise compassion, like in the video, didn’t take any of these approaches. He broke open the hole and he watched them all instinctively crawl, over time, painstakingly, toward their place of comfort and growth. He didn’t coddle them, he just provided an opportunity. If one of them wandered in the wrong direction, he didn’t correct them, or put them on the right path. They figured it out on their own. He didn’t tell them how stupid they were for being unable to get out of the hole on their own. He just provided the opportunity of freedom and got out of the way.
Churches didn’t create the hole of poverty and oppression that the homeless are in. That is created by society as a whole, by citizens who call the police on people who aren’t doing anything wrong. By cities that make it illegal to be homeless and prevent them from helping themselves and use their police force to oppress the poor. By individuals beating and stealing from those who are trying to survive.
Churches usually pity the homeless and feed them in their cycle of poverty and oppression. There is a place for that when there is no opportunity to escape the hole.
But the real solution is to provide opportunities for the homeless to help themselves. The homeless cannot provide these opportunities themselves. What do these opportunities look like?
-Provide jobs that reflect the skills and work abilities of those in need.
-Provide places for people to sleep and store their possessions without harassment.
-Provide safe places for people to be during the day where they can cook, clean and help themselves.
If we provide these kinds of opportunities, then we can stand by and watch the homeless escape the hole themselves. It won’t happen immediately. It won’t always be easy to watch. But it will happen.
Right now, Anawim is in the process of changing from being a place that provides services to those in the hole to providing opportunities to get out of the hole. It’s not easy, and it will take some time. But we are committed to making transformation, not just comfort.