‘Responsible Compassion’ is neither

The Rev. Bill Freeman

Special to Valley News

‘Tis the season when we remember a homeless family. There was no room for them at the inn, so Jesus was born in a barn. Think of how difficult that must have been for Jesus growing up. If he ever left the front door open at someone’s house, people would shout, “Jesus, close the front door! What?! Were you born in a barn?!” And Jesus would have to say, “Actually yes, I was born in a barn.”

Perhaps you think about other homeless people during this holiday season, the homeless people we see in and around Menifee. Some cities, including Menifee, said they have a solution for homelessness. It’s called “Responsible Compassion.”

Proponents of “Responsible Compassion” said people shouldn’t give homeless people food, water, clothing or money; rather they should refer them to the proper agency or let them fend for themselves, and they’ll stop being homeless.

A church in Malibu, which gave out 100 meals a day a couple of days a week to homeless people and others at their soup kitchen, has been asked by the city to stop offering that ministry under the guise of “Responsible Compassion.” The theory being that by feeding homeless people they’re enabling them to remain homeless, and perhaps they’re enabling them to remain in Malibu, rather than moving on to another city. The church is complying with the city’s request.

So what are homeless people supposed to do in Malibu? Or in Menifee? Pick themselves up by their bootstraps? What if they don’t have boots? Is helping homeless people enabling them to remain homeless or enabling them to remain alive?

It seems to me that “Responsible Compassion” is neither responsible nor compassionate. And if the ultimate goal – in the event that homeless people aren’t able to fend for themselves – is to get them to move to another city, rather than remaining in  Malibu or Menifee that seems particularly heartless.

We’re told that homeless people cost cities like Malibu and Menifee money in increased police and emergency responses. Granted it would be nice if Malibu and Menifee could be like Mayberry, the 1950s fictional town on the old Andy Griffith show, where the town drunk, Otis, would let himself into the jail each night to sleep it off. But this isn’t the 1950s; this is the 21st century, where cities have to deal with homeless people who face unemployment, addiction and mental health issues.

It reminds me of a sign I saw in a store once. It said, “Customers are not an interruption of our business; they are the purpose of it.” In the same way, helping homeless people is not a burden for cities like Malibu and Menifee; helping homeless people is part of the reason the cities exist.

So my church will continue to give food, water, clothing and money to people in need, including homeless people. If we didn’t, we’d have to stop calling ourselves a church. Because to do any less, I believe, would be neither responsible nor compassionate.

Bill Freeman is the senior minister at Menifee United Church of Christ, which meets Sundays 11 a.m. at 26701 McCall Blvd. in Menifee.

2 Responses to "‘Responsible Compassion’ is neither"

  1. Hans Laetz   December 25, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Mr. Freeman,

    I live .8 mile from the church that you write of, in Malibu. I also live 6 doors down from the woman who was awakened by a naked man in her bedroom, several weeks ago. This man was a homeless person who was known to sheriff’s deputies to be living on the beach.

    The last murder we had in my neighborhood was one homeless person killing another, 700 feet from my house.

    The church you mention was — with the best of intentions — attracting a large number of homeless men to a street that is the connection between the local high school/grade school and the bus stop on the state highway.

    Young girls and boys had to walk through what had become a large number of homeless men, waiting at the local bus stop for the free dinner.

    The church was — with love, compassion and the best of intentions — attracting a large number of people who would ride the bus out from Santa Monica, eat dinner any this location, 28 miles from the nearest services for homeless brothers and sisters — and then either take the bus back to the city — or just sleep on the beach our canyons.

    Malibu has been quite generous in funding both private and public efforts for the homeless. Our community — through tax money, donations, and grants — pays for two full-time outreach workers who have been successful in moving people into transitional, and then permanent, housing.

    You preach responsibility and compassion. And you fail to practice either. It was not responsible for you to cast Malibu or Menifee for making this an issue of costs for police. It is not responsible for you to cast stones at me and me neighbors like this.

    Some compassion. Using us a a bad example to your flock without ascertaining the facts. Shame on you.

  2. Bill Freeman   December 28, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Mr. Laetz,
    Like Will Rogers, “All I know is what I read in the papers,” as far as Malibu is concerned. (Although I did drive to Malibu once to see where they shot “The Rockford Files.”) I have lived in Menifee for 3 and a half years. Three years ago, when we had four homeless people living in our church and 4 homeless people living in our Peace Garden, I asked the Menifee City Council to put homeless people and their plight on their agenda, if they hadn’t already, which they did a year and a half ago, when they started a “Homeless Task Force.” City officials cited police costs as a factor in their decision to go with “Responsible Compassion.” Initially the city talked about “Housing First” for the homeless, finding them places to live, which never materialized. Instead they passed a tougher anti-panhandling law, hired Park Rangers to, in part, run the homeless out of parks and other places, with no place for them to go. Are you saying the city of Malibu wouldn’t like the homeless there to move to another town? That was not the impression I got in the newspaper article I read. And that’s certainly not the impression I get from some people in Menifee, who would seem to be delighted if the homeless would move to another town.


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