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Why Homelessness?
A series in Faith Today by the EFC Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness
Why Do People Live on the Street? by Greg Paul
Would Jesus Give to Panhandlers? by Leaurie Noordermeer
Giving Only at Christmas? by Dion Oxford
Why Don't They Just Get a Job? by Kent Dueck and John Mohan
Isn't Homelessness a Government Problem? by David Adcock
Faith Today - Archival Site

March/April 2006 Issue

Is Homelessness a Government Problem?
By David Adcock

Hundreds are huddled over heating grates in the canyons of downtown Toronto. A fire at a shelter in Edmonton drives 130 men back out on the streets. Dozens line up for hot meals outside Hope Cottage in Halifax. Children crowd the door of a mobile kitchen in Moncton to take food home to their younger siblings. Young people standing outside a community agency in Regina hope for some path to any sort of job that they only hope exists. So while stepping around another cardboard shelter in Vancouver or Montreal or Regina or Calgary, we ask: “Why doesn’t the government try harder?”

The big picture is staggering: agencies estimate the total number of homeless children, youth and adults in Canada at a minimum of 250,000. Many more are desperately poor. Tens of thousands live at constant risk of losing their housing. It is tempting to say, “This is too big for us. How can we ‘minister?’ This is a job for government not the Church. That is why we pay taxes.”

Without question, government must provide for citizens who cannot care for themselves. Christians should promote good, just, social policies and economic policies. We should encourage strong political leadership and hold our government accountable for its decisions and actions. But if we exempt ourselves from direct responsibility for impoverished people, we ignore God’s call to do what government cannot—to reveal the face and compassionate heart of God, and offer people the experience of community. This is our duty and privilege as the people of God.

The Bible makes it clear that paying taxes is not our only responsibility. The principle underlying Deuteronomy is that God’s people are expected to create a certain ethos in the nation: “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your . . . poor and your needy, in your land’ ” (Deuteronomy 15:11 NKJV). Deuteronomy 14 reminds us that each village was to bring a tithe so as to care for the poor within “their gates.”

In effect God prescribed a national standard of care to be provided by the king and local action by individuals and communities. Jesus reinforces this principle: in the parable of the beggar Lazarus, a rich homeowner is held personally accountable for the plight of Lazarus regardless of any official systems to help the poor.

Throwing up our hands in despair at the intractable nature of homelessness is like Pilate washing his hands of the death of Christ. I’m sure he felt badly; we know he blamed other levels of government. Will we, like Pilate, wash our hands of responsibility for the poor among us? Or will we choose to follow Jesus, Immanuel, the Creator who chooses to be with us, to create a future of hope? Can we as followers of the Christ decline the invitation to join Him on the streets?

What can we do? How about getting to know someone who is homeless? Bishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador said “You can’t really understand poverty until you have a friend who is poor.” Friendships with the vulnerable transform our hearts and lives in mysterious ways. Our friends will keep us honest and ensure that our efforts are meaningful. And what’s more, our advocacy on behalf of those friends will be much more potent: if we “walk the walk,” the audience is much more attentive when we “talk the talk.”

What next? Learn about the issues (start at the websites listed below) and the great work being done among the homeless across Canada. Find a place you can support or perhaps volunteer at in your community. Make at least one friend who is homeless. Pray for your new friend by name.

But don’t let governments off the hook just because you’re out on the streets, walking with Christ and becoming more like Him.

David Adcock is vice-president and C.O.O. of Yonge Street Mission in Toronto (ysm.on.ca), and a member of the EFC’s Roundtable on Homelessness and Poverty, which is organizing the Street Level conference in Ottawa in March 2006 (www.streetlevel.ca). This column is the fifth and final in a series.

Other Articles
Mar/Apr 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Meeting Christians Online: Does Internet Dating Really Work?

Beware of the Con Man

Featured Articles
Church, Conscience, Corruption and the Conservatives

Four Types of Canadian Voters

A Provocative Public Voice

How to Lose Weight and Gain a Congregation

From the Editor
Blind Dating Online

The Gathering Place
Have Evangelical Optics Changed?

Guest Column
Is Homelessness a Government Problem?

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