A week ago, SJCC hosted a gathering of folks committed to helping those who are homeless in our community. It was an open discussion featuring multiple people who have themselves been homeless, and one who is currently homeless. Some of what I heard in this meeting shocked me. Below is a sample.
Warning: some disturbing things are mentioned below. Any swear words are edited out.
When you're houseless, your whole day is spent in a ---------- line for a haircut, shower, or feeding. You are not able to do anything else that day.
People need to eat seven days a week. People take the Max (Portland's public transportation) and look twitchy not because they're tweaking, but because they got on illegally to go across town to get some food.
When I'm hungry I get mean and turn into somebody I don't like. I was hungry one day, and there was a truck with an open door, and I took a sandwich from inside the car and when the guy saw me, I dared him to come take it from me. I was hungry, and that's how I get when I'm hungry.
I used to put one bullet in the cylinder of my gun, and every night I'd spin the cylinder, put it to my head, and pull the trigger. I left it to fate whether I'd live another day.
There was a prejudiced person at a church that does meals, and he wouldn't give me anything because I took water from the church. You people are sorry pieces of ----.
As the person was telling this last story about being sent away from a meal, I immediately wanted to speak up. As a pastor, I'm aware that when a choice is made at a church, there are likely multiple reasons for that choice being made. I wanted to defend the church and say something like, "I'm sure there was some other reason they sent you away."
Luckily, someone spoke before me and said, "I'm sorry. Maybe we can talk to them."
Often, compassion involves hearing both sides of a disagreement. I immediately wanted to defend one side. Obviously this is because I work at a church, and understand the struggles and difficult of running church events. However, siding so quickly with the church kept me from hearing the experience of the homeless man.
I'm guessing the person at the church is probably not prejudiced, or at least is not as prejudiced as this man claimed. I definitely do not think of Christians as "sorry pieces of -----." I can, however, see how someone who was sent away from a church after waiting all day for some food and water would be angry at the people from the church.
Conflict is complicated. People are complicated. Stories and experiences have multiple angles. Sometimes there is a clear answer or conclusion when two people are in conflict. More often, however, there are multiple things to consider.
I had no idea that a person's whole day is lost if they have to go somewhere to get a meal. This would definitely be frustrating.
I don't know if there is a great fix for this problem. People are going to be angry or ungrateful sometimes when they are given food or clothing. However, it is probably better to exert some patience when dealing with ungrateful people. While someone's words or actions may seem childish on the surface, there may be more angles that we do not know about.