Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church, I got to announce that, although we are a relatively small congregation, we have been given a gift of $1 million for our community outreach ministry, which primarily serves the homeless in Atlanta. Now, however, our small local ministry must step back and ask what is possible with greater resources.
We have a taskforce that will seek the answer to that question, but we already have decided that one of the keys is that we cannot do what is being done already. We don’t want to be simply one more bandage on a gaping wound. Considering the intentions of some of our political leaders to abandon the poor and elderly, it is critical we get this right.
Like all churches, and I suspect all Christians, we are more than willing to stock food pantries, cook meals, and buy blankets, jackets, and socks. We have thought of lots of creative ways to serve people who live outdoors, specifically those who are unlikely ever to be housed. Our next project is weaving plastic shopping bags into weatherproof mats. We love doing these sorts of projects. We are great at shopping for those in need, and we are even pretty generous, if that is what is needed.
What is much harder, though, is getting a handle on, and combatting, the root causes of homelessness. Even compassionate people avert their eyes when they encounter homeless women and men. America has abandoned mental health care so completely that it is little wonder that there are so many people on the streets struggling with mental issues. How can a schizophrenic person ever get their medication and treatment balanced while sleeping under bridges or in bushes? People who must live outdoors in the cold and rain and heat self-medicate with alcohol and drugs … well, wouldn’t you?
Buying water and socks, or putting a dollar in their cup. makes us feel better, but they don’t help end homelessness. That will take a lot more effort, sacrifice, and diligence, and, in the end, we may not feel nearly as satisfied. The question, in all we do, always is, “Are we trying to make a difference for them or for us?”
Rev. Michael Piazza