Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Guest editorial:
Homelessness not a crime
Last updated 1/19/2019 at 1:59pm
Homelessness, like poverty, is not a choice. Society creates the circumstances for both to exist, sometimes side by side. In other words, the misery experienced by the homeless and the poor is cruel and needless except to those who have political power to punish them for suffering under the conditions created by those who have power.
For example, the recent ordinance by the Moses Lake City Council banning all citizens from using the parks between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. is such a punishment aimed with one particular group of citizens in mind, the homeless. Such an ordinance further marginalizes the 40 or so adults who are homeless for having no power or voice in this community and allows the council to make the homeless into sub-humans deserving of punishment and misery, which, curiously coincidental, matched the outrage at the homeless expressed at city council meetings by many of the well-clothed, well-fed, well-housed and well-warmed. Where’s the outrage by these fine folks about the 281 pre-school to 12th grade students who were homeless in the Moses Lake School District in 2017? Surely, this total of homeless students has not changed that much in 2018.
In effect, such an action anywhere purposely turns life into a minefield for the homeless. Instead of trying to eliminate any of the social conditions that create homelessness, those in power declare war on the helpless. In this respect, such power elite in each community merely mirror the federal government’s attacks on the vulnerable. This is now our America, both locally and nationally: Prey upon the weak in order to make ourselves strong. George Orwell was astute when he noted, “It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.”
And perhaps it is just human nature to turn against others not like us. Therein is the problem – human nature left to its own devices does turn against others. Without a moral compass, people behave like chickens pecking an injured chicken to death. No compassion. No kindness. No mercy.
Helping others takes more than “some compassion” as a local person noted. It takes seeing others as ourselves, as all of us being connected, and supporting each other. Jackie DeShannon sang it best in 1965:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
No, not just for some but for everyone.
Of course, this message was given to us much earlier by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was a foreigner, a non-Jew, an immigrant. He was The Other in the Jewish society of Jesus’ day. Jesus, though, shows us a Samaritan helping a Jew as His way of telling us that anyone who needs help – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, politics, social status – is our neighbor, whom we must help and love as we love ourselves. No exceptions.
And Paul furthers that message in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul could not be any clearer – and America’s motto illumines Paul’s message as well – E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One).
Martin Luther King, Jr., also referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan in noting that we are to be concerned with what happens to others and to love them as we love ourselves:
“On the parable of the Good Samaritan: I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ’If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ’If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” How we answer this last question reveals if we have a moral compass.
For a nation that claims to be Christian, this country still has a long way to go. However, do not lose heart, for there are good models of a proper conscience all around us if we will but look. Trey Parker commented on one model he saw: “If you ever go to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, if you stay there long enough, you’ll see a homeless person standing in the middle of their nice, beautiful square, holding out a cup for change. And the Mormons don’t ever ask him to leave.” Closer to home, Serve Moses Lake is another model, providing assistance to those less fortunate. Numerous churches work quietly out of the view of public media to help those in need. The local and BBCC food banks help fill some of the gap faced by the homeless and the needy. The local Homeless Task Force strives to help those without shelter, and many, many private citizens donate time, money and support for the needy. Multiply this by each town and city, and we will find tens of thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of outstanding, moral and uplifting models.
All Americans need to understand that seven out of 10 of them are one paycheck away from being homeless. For Moses Lake, that probably means about 14,000 residents. And it would not take much for any breadwinner and family to become homeless: Most people become homeless when the rent or mortgage goes up but their pay does not. Losing a job or suffering from a major illness are two other major causes. None of these are choices people make. When parents lose jobs, pay, home, car, and/or health, their children suffer, too. Witness the 281 homeless students.
As Vincent Van Gogh said, “To save a life is a real and beautiful thing. To make a home for the homeless, yes, it is a thing that must be good; whatever the world may say, it cannot be wrong.” We would all be wiser to align our actions with any of the positive models noted above to make a difference in the lives of the homeless and the poor who live in our community.