Yesterday evening I was waiting for an order of dessert with my daughter. The restaurant we had stopped at had a TV on in the corner. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I could see what the story was about – homelessness. More specifically, it was a story about how some businesses in California were moving due to the increase in the number of homeless around their business.
I don’t know what exactly was said. I have no idea what was being reported. No sooner was I able to see what the story was about and then our desserts were ready. And off we went.
But just seeing the story brought a few thoughts to my head. Homelessness is one of the issues that is much more complicated than most people actually know. It’s easy to say that homeless people should try harder, they are lazy, or anything else like that. It’s easy because it doesn’t take reality into account. It’s easy because it treats homelessness as an abstract issue.
Abstract issues are easy – just take your pick of issues. Doesn’t matter if you are talking about homelessness, immigration, abortion, sexuality, etc. What do I mean by abstract? Simple. That’s what I mean. We can simplify these issues down to something simple with simple solutions. The problem with keeping an issue abstract is that life doesn’t work in nice simple ways. If the solution to homelessness, or any of the other abstract issues for that matter, were simple, we would have already solved them. The problems exist though because people are complicated and messy.
Homelessness is a complicated matter for which there are rarely nice easy answers. There are personal issues to deal with. There are many homeless who work full time. That should raise questions. The definition of homelessness changes based on which agency you are dealing with. That should raise questions too. There are many homeless who follow the rules, reach out for help, do all they can to get out of homelessness, and are still trapped. That should raise questions. Considering we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, why does homelessness exist at all? Is it because everyone who is homeless is lazy? Really? Do you really believe that and have proof to back that up?
I think that for the most part, we don’t really know what to do with the homeless. Their presence makes us uncomfortable and so the easy thing to so is explain them away and dismiss them easily. But it’s different when you get to know people who are experiencing homelessness – when you know their names and their stories. You hear about their efforts and how they still can’t get out. And you celebrate with people who are able to somehow. And you keep them all in your prayers hoping that they will all be able to have a home in the near future and keep it and that aren’t sucked back into the black hole of homelessness and poverty.
Homelessness is easy to talk about in a short news segment when it is abstract. But it’s not the whole story. Not even close.