Perspectives: What the homeless need more than food or money

Photo by StephM2506 / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

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.

Logan writes:

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.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • comments April 3, 2017 at 11:39 am

    I somewhat agree with Bry here. it’s a nice thought, but it’s easier said than done. Most homeless I’ve talked to suffer from severe mental illness or a substance or alcohol addiction. I wouldn’t want a shelter close to my neighborhood and I wouldn’t try to befriend them (I don’t consider chatting for a moment and handing out leftover pizza as befriending–at all; thats just doing something nice– which we can all do). like I said: it’s a nice thought, but it’s easier said than done. Their problems usually run far deeper than an average person can help them with. I’d recommend never giving most of them cash or coins also, because:
    substance abuse. Some things the gov’t just does better. Dealing with homeless might be one.

    • .... April 4, 2017 at 5:38 am

      LOL. Bob the hating bigot pretending to actually care about somebody

  • Rainbow Dash April 3, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I wonder how many of those residents oppose the 5 multi-million dollar shrines the Mormons just announced they’re building?

  • NickDanger April 3, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    The homeless problem is and always has been easily solved. Many communities have already found the answer but in Utah, law enforcement and public officials simply will not cooperate with the obvious solution.

    The answer is tent cities in out-of-the-way locations. Don’t outlaw them, don’t bust them up, don’t raid them. Furthermore, provide law enforcement patrols to ensure that the homeless are not taking advantage of each other in these locations.

    Those who want to provide food, clothing, services, or spiritual comfort to the homeless are then able to bring their gifts to the location. Cost to the taxpayers? Almost nothing.

    This works in many communities, and it would work here. The problem is, around here, such makeshift communities are quickly forced out of existence by law enforcement, pushing the homeless back into the communities. I mean hey, I understand people’s concerns about the homeless in their communities. Many of them have problems that make them poor and/or problematic neighbors. I don’t want homeless people in my backyard, and I don’t expect anyone else to want that either.

    But there’s plenty of unused, off-the-grid land in southern Utah. Plenty. It’s time for people to take the blinders off and accept the clear and obvious solution to homelessness. Let them live in tents. Enable it.

  • ladybugavenger April 3, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Many people are one paycheck away from being homeless or one illness from being homeless.
    Many have family to live with but there’s those that don’t. I agree with Bob on some level. The homeless in north Las Vegas, for example, want to be homeless.

    I have been homeless so I can tell you that I fought everyday to climb out from the gutter. And it’s the gutter. People treat you like trash. I was refused a library card. A library card for God’s sakes. I had 2 kids while being homeless living out of a car. They did not miss one day of school and they got A’s and B’s. I’ll write a book one day on how My family was pushed to homelessness and the fight we were going through but until then, People have to fight to not be homeless. I never had a sign on a corner or a cup to fill. ( Don’t trust those people) it was the hardest fight of my life, I asked God why all day long, I begged God to make it stop, my waking hours were prayer and questioning God, why? Why? Why? ..but I didn’t give up hope I made it out, 11 months of crying to get a place to lay our heads and others can make it out too. 10 years later I can say, I went from homeless to home owner All for God’s glory. Thank you Jesus!
    Keep God close and fight fight fight out of homelessness. God Bless!

  • commonsense April 3, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    liberals think the government can solve everything with someone else’s money. Homelessness cannot be eliminated. Let’s make sure we don’t enable certain behaviors like drug addiction.
    Every government benefit should be contingent on a change of behavior. This will help give recipients a real benefit.

  • utahdiablo April 4, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Stop bringing in refugees and Illegal aliens to our country, build or use existing warehouse space in every city across America, set up indoor shelters, have a food kitchen there to feed everyone and have vocational training along with daily duties for every able bodied person…..But this needs to stop, take everyone off the streets of America, train them in a vocation, along with drug rehab. We have the money, as we already spend $118 Billion a year to feed, house and school the illegal aliens….so take back your country and use that money to help the homeless of America

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