I don't understand why, but people without homes are among the most thankful people I know. It seems as though they'd be filled with complaints about all they lack. Instead, they are grateful for a meal, a few minutes of our time, a smile, a spare coin. Even when we pass by them on the street and give them nothing, many homeless people say, "God bless you." You name it; they appreciate it.
And how do we repay this gratitude?
We isolate and marginalize these homeless people. As neighborhoods become higher rent, we move the homeless out.
The most recent example is the closing of the 150-bed Randall Shelter in Southwest earlier this month. The Randall residents were relocated miles away to the St. Elizabeths campus. City officials rationalized the move by saying that the new facilities are much better than the Randall shelter. They didn't mention that the new shelter gets the homeless out of someone's neighborhood.
Why are homeless people such a threat to us that we must keep moving them farther from the places they call home, the neighborhoods that many of us also call home?
It can't be crime.
Crime statistics show that we are more likely to be harmed by a person who owns or rents a home than by a homeless person.
It can't be property values.
Miriam's Kitchen, for example, located at our church in Foggy Bottom, hasn't stopped property values from rising dramatically in the neighborhood.
So if the problem isn't increasing crime or declining property values, what is it?
In this season of thanksgiving, can we stop for a moment and ask ourselves why we push these people -- who express so much gratitude for the simple gift of being alive -- out of our neighborhoods? Can we think about creating public policy that will find homes for them and that does not change with the whims of real estate developers?
Can't we respond to their gratitude with a little graciousness of our own?
-- John W. Wimberly Jr.
is pastor of
Western Presbyterian Church.