Tackling the homeless problem in our nation

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, July 2, 2019

By Clark Bailey

The Loyalist

“I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” ― St. Mathew’s Gospel 24:36

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I had an individual come into my work at dispatch recently inquiring about shelter for the night because he was homeless. I really didn’t have a good answer to the man’s request and really do not know the resources available. At the time of writing this piece, I am unsure of what the hours of operation at Christ’s Hands and unaware of any other facility in the county that houses homeless.

I also read an article recently that put the number of technically homeless children in this county at over 1,000. In a county of less than 30,000, that is a staggering number. People have also spoke of the mobile homeless community that moves from place to place under bridges to wooded areas just outside the towns.

That recent article also spoke of how some local high school students are donating their time and energy to tackling the problem. A group of students from Harlan County High School seek to build tiny homes to help transition recovering drug addicts from treatment to independence — a daunting and laudable endeavor for sure.

This is a microcosm of the huge problem now being experienced in our large urban areas, as cities, once jewels of our country — Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle — are littered with trash, junkies, prostitutes, drugs and homeless, and even tons of fecal matter. Conditions are to such in many of those cities that diseases once thought to be eradicated are re-surging. Even diseases more associated with the Middle Ages are making a comeback.

In Los Angeles, in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, thousands of people litter the streets. This convergence of crowded streets and little to no sanitation is the impetus to the return of typhus. Health officials also warn the conditions are conducive to the Black Plague returning, as streets have countless numbers of rats and fleas.

I know many people are working towards solutions and a better day here in our community, as referenced in the recent news article I read. I also know some of us do not wish for the left hand to know what the right is doing. I also know, that on a national level, and more particular on a local level, more can be done.

More can be done from our churches, from our community and civic groups, from local government, from all of us, you and me, and even the people struggling and on the street, for I think any long term solution is one involving charity, hard work, care and personal responsibility.

Some thoughts I’ve had recently include:

1.) Churches make a monthly or yearly pledge towards funding for Christ’s Hands or another homeless/hunger related project. I am well aware some already do, and some struggle as it is anyway. This is in no way a condemnation or calling out, but it is a workable suggestion.

2.) Local entities and even national entities need to work on solutions and programs to move people into care and off the streets. I know full well some will refuse, some will never accept and I also know full well some of these are already in place. I know we can do better though.

3.) People need to find some semblance of personal responsibility. The drug crisis, in particular the opioid and meth epidemics, have created almost literally zombies of human beings. I’m not going to go into the pointless debate of whether addiction is a disease or isn’t. I honestly see both sides and I think the truth lies in the middle concerning that, but, as I said, I’m not tackling that debate. But disease or choice, choice comes into play at one point and people need to start being responsible when it comes to that choice. People also need to be responsible when putting that choice into people’s hands, via prescribing medicines.

Obviously, all opiate derivatives, even when used medicinally (of which they should be) are dangerous enough to get people addicted. People and their doctors should take great care. I do not think the drugs shouldn’t be prescribed for they have their purpose and use. I do believe great care should be taken though.

This crisis both locally and nationally is one where we need to act sooner (preferably now) rather than later. As stated earlier cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have problems with littler, crime, diseases and drugs that will soon be so out of control there may be no turning back. If that isn’t already the case.

It isn’t just urban areas on the West Coast, or former bastions of industrial might like Detroit. If you travel in certain parts of cities close to us as Lexington, Louisville and even Knoxville, you can see it. The latter I have witnessed literal tent villages, if not “cities” under bridges near the old World’s Fair site. The human misery and hopelessness on display is heartbreaking, even to the most strident hard case.

Even in Harlan County, there is talk of homeless camps that move from place to place to avoid entanglements and encounters with law enforcement. One can argue, and we all do, the reasons for these problems. But to me the root cause is the thick spiritual malaise that permeates this country from our little mountain home to the skyscrapers on the east and left coast; from our hollers to the back alleys and bridges.

Drug use and abuse, prostitution, runaways, life on the streets and surviving in rural areas stem from brokenness. This leads to broken homes, broken institutions, broken communities, broken churches, broken health (especially mentally) broken economies, all of which unable to operate in society as they should; unable to hold together the civilization that they built.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Our apathy, indifference, laziness and oft times cowardice do not have to define us. They don’t have to dictate our responses. A proper response can be given to these problems.

We can follow the lead of the young people mentioned earlier in this piece. We can also do what we should have been doing and take the lead. There’s organizations to volunteer with. Time and money to donate. Encourage others, your churches. Encourage responsibility to those who need to be encouraged, in as much as it can be done. Become involved in local politics and influence local policy. Pray daily for wisdom, strength and insight, as well as compassion.

This problem did not appear overnight and won’t be solved in a generation, and in fact we’ll always have problems like this to some degree until Christ returns, but we’re called to heal not to apathy. So, be encouraged as these local high school students were and let’s step up to tackle the problem.