OPINION – Last week’s town hall meeting in Draper provided a fascinating glimpse into the way many residents there view the plight of the homeless.
Hundreds of people filled the auditorium at Draper Park Middle School in response to a proposal to place two homeless shelters for women and children within their city. The vast majority of residents were very vocal about their opposition to the proposed shelters.
At no point was the opposition more clear than the moment when the crowd began booing Lawrence Horman, a homeless man who addressed the audience asking for patience and compassion.
The protesters’ message was received loud and clear, and civic leaders withdrew the proposed sites following the meeting.
On the one hand, most of us can understand the not-in-my-backyard mentality when it comes to considering things we perceive as uncomfortable or inconvenient. On the other hand, what this angry response says about our priorities is pretty disturbing.
It would be very revealing to know the religious makeup of the most vocal participants in that Draper audience. Specifically, I wonder how many of them identify as Christians and claim to adhere to the moral obligations that accompany their faith.
Is it possible that our desires for comfort, security and prosperity have outpaced our ability to show genuine charity to others?
I understand that the problem of homelessness can appear overwhelming. But the hostility with which the homeless are treated seems disproportionate.
For example, one participant at the Draper meeting suggested that a solution could include buying the homeless one-way tickets to another city. This is a practice that has been done in Southern Utah on occasion; it has also been done in a number of cities across the nation.
Such an approach definitely kicks the can down the road for someone else to deal with, but it hardly changes the nature of the problem.
I’m not suggesting that a government-funded homeless shelter is the proper or best expression of Christian charity.
I think real solutions start at the individual level.
Instead of waiting for some sterile, taxpayer-funded solution to absolve us of our moral duties, it’s time to rediscover the concept of doing unto others as we’d have done to us.
In other words, if we would resent being treated as outcasts and less than human so that others could enjoy their sense of well-being and high property values, we shouldn’t treat others that way either.
This isn’t the same thing as inviting gangs of hobos to take over your house. It’s about treating others with a degree of respect regardless of their circumstances.
I had a vivid example of this recently while on work-related business in Phoenix. The training I was attending was right downtown where there is a sizable homeless population.
As I was walking back from dinner to our hotel with some colleagues, I was keenly aware of the number of homeless individuals we encountered. My initial response was to suffer a bout of selective blindness whenever a homeless person came near.
One of my colleagues from St. Louis had a far better approach. She cheerfully said hello to them, and when one man engaged her in conversation, she stopped and asked him if he’d like the leftover pizza she was carrying.
He gratefully accepted, and I learned two very important lessons that night.
One, my colleague didn’t have to solve all of this homeless man’s problems to make a tangible difference in his life. Two, her willingness to talk to him and treat him as a fellow human being was far more charitable than my pretending he didn’t exist.
I realized I could do a lot better.
My friend Shiloh Logan has long been a principled voice of reason on such matters. He recently related the insights that his friend Rich Galovan had while attending Brigham Young University.
Galovan shared many experiences over the years of his “adventures” in which he had befriended and learned the life story of a number of the homeless in Salt Lake City.
What he discovered was something that any of us could provide, if we wanted to.
The single biggest thing that the homeless need is a friend. Almost more than money. More than food. They need to know, feel, and have the human connection with the other.
This willingness to see others as human doesn’t require a certain level of financial status. It does require a degree of selflessness that isn’t conditional on someone living up to our expectations.
Many of their problems are the result of bad choices. Each of us has the capacity to make bad choices. Some are simply more obvious than others. Any of us could find ourselves in dire conditions.
In my opinion, what we ultimately receive in the most universal sense will look a lot like what we’re willing to give in the here and now.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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