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.