I had a meeting with Jeff Dyer, the Chief Operating Officer at the Mustard Seed, a ministry to the homeless in Calgary. The Mustard Seed provides basic services, housing, and employment to the homeless, quickly transitioning them from shelter to a place they can call home.
I was there because I’m ignorant about homelessness. I’m tired of my comfortable bubble and wanted to at least seek to understand something, anything, about homelessness. What he downloaded left me moved beyond words. Here are Jeff’s words in the best way I can represent them. Are we willing to hear?
If homelessness was a movie, loneliness would be the villain, and the hero would be community. The power of community can solve homelessness and poverty. Read that again. And again. And one more time until it sinks in; that means you and I have what it takes to end poverty. All it takes is generosity, understanding, and an awareness that they are more like us than we think!
The problem isn’t homelessness; the problem is isolation and loneliness. When Jeff said this to me, I was puzzled. I was expecting an answer such as “addictions”, “lack of self-respect”, “laziness”, not loneliness. If the problem of homelessness is rooted in isolation, then I have more in common as a mom of young kids who’s home a lot, with the one who finds themselves without shelter.
Imagine for a moment what it would be like to go from living in a temporary shelter in community with 300 or so other people to living in an apartment all by yourself. You can’t afford cable, just four walls to look at with your addictions eating at every ounce of your self control. You don’t know how to cook or where to find the nearest grocery store. You wouldn’t even know what to do in a grocery store, as your normal grocery shop was usually done at the local garbage dump….. it wouldn’t be long before living on the street in community looks better than the living hell of loneliness faced day in and day out. Mom’s, we understand this, don’t we?
But what if community was found outside the streets and in the land of suburbia? What if that person had invitations over for dinner from your normal, typical family who treated them like a person made to be valued; who didn’t view them as a family charity-project, but as a friend? What if they were shown the ropes of living on their own; like how Superstore is probably their best bet for cheaper groceries, and some helpful time-saving cooking tips?….. this happens in community. This is something my family CAN participate in.
It will take us coming out of our ignorance of where these people are really coming from. It will take a rebellion towards the mindset that says “You stay over there”. It’s rebelling against all the myths about homelessness we’ve bought into.
Jeff said that each year the Mustard Seed has around 10,000 volunteers engaged in their ministry to some degree. He’s grateful, yet has a greater dream of seeing that same number using their energies to help create a place for the one homeless to be welcomed back into society…. an invitation to be in community.
Ending homelessness is DOABLE! If every faith community in Calgary adopted ONE homeless family, that would end it. Serious? That’s all it would take? But you know what that means don’t you? Church goers would have to be willing to make room for people they consider “odd”. Even further, they would need to be willing to engage and welcome them into their lives.
According to Jeff, getting a homeless person a place to live “isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of the end” (taken from Winston Churchill)
Can we create space in our lives for the forgotten? The vulnerable and broken? Can they be invited back into life? The church was once the astonishing ones, the culture revolutionaries first on the social crisis scene. Can we be a rebellious church that says NO THANKS to the lures of building kingdoms to brag about at conferences and YES to ministry Jesus, Himself was engaged fully in? It’s not an evangelism program, it’s a compassionate response. Will we be the first community to say; “you’re ok”?
What’s the difference between someone homeless and us? A greater credit limit? Segregation? Circumstance? The family we’re born into?…. nothing? Are any of these an excuse to allow the poor to sink poorer while the rich get richer? In an unstable economy, is it really far off to think that we could be in their shoes? Jesus message was living AMONG the poor. We need a society of rebels that wake up and pay attention.
The 20th century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing – John Berger
Are you a culture rebel? Are you up to seek to understand how to be an answer to poverty and homelessness? Will you go that far?