Not In My Backyard

Are we our brothers/sisters keeper? Well yes, we are. The question first comes up when Cain dares to challenge God when God asked Cain where Able was: “Where is Abel your brother?”Cain answered,“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”It was for Cain a rhetorical question and the way God answered it was to curse Cain for murdering his brother. God didn’t answer the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” but he did answer the question about murder that in a roundabout way also answers the question of being keeper.

Paul writing a letter to the Galatian Christians says this: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”The context is caring within the church but when you’re talking about the “law of Christ” the clear implications are that everyone is our brother. We certainly learn how to behave inside our family, but that goes out from there.

The question then, are we our brother’s keeper moves on to how are we our brother’s keeper, what does it look like? This is a more difficult question because “just do something” doesn’t equate to anything we do is good. If you give a beggar $5 because his sign says “I’m hungry,” doesn’t mean he will take your money and buy food when we know many will take it to the nearest liquor store and purchase cheap wine. But maybe not, some are genuinely hungry because bad luck has overtaken them.

Los Angeles, like so many large cities, has a large homeless problem, some 580,000, some say, for which L.A. residents have been taxed $1.2 billion dollars to deal with them. The L.A. city council has decided they know a way to help the homeless, take part of those backyards homeowners enjoy, build a small apartment to house a homeless person because you don’t need that yard space. But don’t worry, the city has approved a $500,000 pilot program to build those small houses so a citizen’s only responsibility is to give up part of their land sharing their property with a homeless person. But all homeless persons are not equal, the causes for their homelessness is not the same.

In a book I’m now reading, Exodus: God, Slavery, and Freedom, by Dennis Prager, he said these very important words: “All the good intentions in the world are likely to be worthless without wisdom.” Prager also said these challenging words: “However, we live in an age that only has little wisdom, it doesn’t even have many people who value it.” This thought is really disheartening. Generally speaking we can break down the homeless into these categories: mentally ill, addicted to drugs or alcohol, long-term vagabonds, tragic circumstances taking away economic viability where someone loses their home with no ability to move somewhere else. There is no solution fits all to answer the problem. Building a modular room for someone in the last category might solve at least a roof over their head but still doesn’t answer and fix the problem. It would not solve the problem, including a roof over their head, for the other categories of homelessness. Plus there are real worries for the homeowner brought about by the issues of the more serious homeless like mental illness or drug or alcohol addiction.

Rescue missions have as a NGO’s (non-government organization) tried to work with the homeless with limited success and while it changes a few lives it can’t solve the issue of homelessness. The romanticized hobos of the early 1900s were more of the last class of homeless I mentioned, but now many are suffering from mental illness driven out of institutions in the fifties and sixties when politicians and public concern lost confidence in those institutions. There were enough anecdotal stories on the mal treatment in mental institutions that raised concern, but wisdom was not applied to answering the problems and we end up with this statement from The New York Times, “How Release of Mental Patients Began”:

“In retrospect it does seem clear that questions were not asked that might have been asked. In the thousands of pages of testimony before Congressional committees in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s, little doubt was expressed about the wisdom of deinstitutionalization. And the development of tranquilizing drugs was regarded as an unqualified ”godsend,” as one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists, Dr. Francis J. Braceland, described it when he testified before a Senate subcommittee in 1963.:

Moving them out of institutions into the community didn’t solve anything and caused issues making it harder to deal with as they make up a large enough group of homeless to make answers hard to find. Certainly moving them into prefab boxes in the backyards of people’s home will not make them better.

I don’t have answers. I do know it’s more complex than the simple solutions we’re looking at. Giving them a home in someone’s backyard doesn’t begin to answer the cause that made them homeless.

The hard truth we have to accept is that we’re not going to end homelessness. We can reduce it but we must stop letting political correctness from getting in the way. We can find ways of being humanitarian which for some will be all that we can give them.