When a Dollar is Not Enough

[box type="shadow"]Ed. Note: Chris Craig has moved to Atlanta. This month we’ve reprinted some of his favorite Religion in the City commentaries. “When a Dollar is Not Enough” originally appeared on Metro I4 News, August 22, 2010. Next week look for a new article from Chris…[/box]

ДолларMost everyone with a heart for the poor has or heard a horror story about someone homeless who wouldn’t accept offered food. Most people have experienced a homeless person who simply wanted their money. I do not care if you have the soul of Mother Teresa; everyone gets frustrated with a dirty person pan-handling on the same corner, day after day, asking you to give them money as you trudge your way into work.

One might think after reading my articles “Oh Danny Boy” or “Speaking for my Constituents,” that I was some flaming liberal who wanted to foster a social welfare state in the City of Lakeland. Some might think that I think that our public officials and community need to dismiss the needs of merchants and taxpaying citizens to tend to the homeless condition in Lakeland.

For the last several weeks some people apparently read into my articles that I believed for someone to be right in their faith, they needed to blindly give their money and resources to everyone who claims to be homeless and hungry in our city’s parks and streets.

Thus, I want to make a few of my Religion in The City opinions a bit more clear. First, I myself do not believe that blind faith or any other spirit-centered action should ever be done without prayerful consideration for the person, place or community. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not a story about a traveler who finds a beat up man on the road and in a sacred fashion decides to throw the man a couple of bucks so he doesn’t feel bad walking around him.

I am not advocating that either the City of Lakeland or individuals in it throw money or resources which would blindly allow camping, loitering and pan-handling in the City of Lakeland. What I want to awaken is a community of soul-centered citizens who do not want to walk around those who are beaten and broken. I desire to speak words of unity and oneness in our community. Blind giving can be just as sinful as cheap grace. Both are requests and expect answers with no intent of a relationship. For even though it appears we are tending to the poor, giving someone a dollar or handout just appeases one’s guilt. Giving just so that we don’t have to really encounter or address a person’s real needs. It has the potential to be as wrong as a blanket no-camping ordinance which has the potential to criminalize homelessness.

Once again, do not get me wrong. I am not against a Camping Ordinance which sets boundaries and fosters healthy opportunities for appropriate shelter and care for our neighbors who might be lost and struggling in our community.

For example, wouldn’t it be amazing if — before seeking to trespass homeless campers — our city police were instructed to give them the option to appear in front of a partner church or social service agency? An organization trained and funded to hear and address people’s individual homeless needs?

This still gives our police the tools needed to keep the peace and set boundaries. Yet, it also grants those with broken stories the opportunity to write a new healthy chapter to their life’s narrative.

Whether you seek your religious calling or voice from Moses, Mohamed, The Buddha or Jesus, your calling to your neighbor will never be one that asks you to blindly dismiss or dehumanize another’s brokenness. There is no easy black and white answer for why the “poor will always be among us”. But there will always be an individual life story in the midst of a person’s brokenness. Only when we are willing to join in people’s individual journeys will we be able to end homelessness.

An ill given or dismissive dollar won’t buy a cup of coffee, but a mindful dollar given with time and dignity can build community, grant hope and renew a life.

Creative Commons License image credit: Alejandro

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