How should Christians address homelessness? The situation is worsening despite lip service by politicians and “homeless advocates” about fixing a problem they’ve helped create.
One only needs to look at California. I’ve lived in Los Angeles County (twice), Sacramento County (twice), and Sonoma County (once) across the past ten years. I’ve seen firsthand how politicians exploit the problem to manipulate constituents out of more money for more resources –– only for the issue to intensify.
The Christian starting point on this issue should be a biblically based anthropology; we should reject the redefinition of compassion that facilitates the degradation of the imago Dei. Compassion isn’t defined as legitimizing self-destructive behaviors that contribute to diminishing human dignity and quality of life.
Concerning homelessness, that’s what has happened –– thanks to progressive policies attended by the muted objections of an apathetic citizenry. Believers in this approach have abdicated their moral responsibilities regarding their fellow citizens. Properly confronting this issue, reducing the size of the problem, and diminishing the human and financial costs, should start with Christian anthropology: human dignity first, not politics. Christians should lead in fundamentally recognizing the humanity of those in misery. The homeless suffer from mental illness, substance addiction, and violent behavior; they live in sordidness and contract medieval diseases, which signifies they’re profoundly damaged. This fact remains: they’re still people. Their humanity, however damaged, should be the starting point when dealing with homelessness, not politics.
The problem in California is out of control because political solutions have become the sole focus.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notes California has more than 160,000 people who are homeless. San Francisco, a city that has become synonymous with policies that encourage homelessness, has more than 18,000 people living on the streets. Los Angeles County has more than 66,000 people who are displaced, and in the city of Los Angeles, more than 41,000 are homeless.
Left-wing politicians, ‘homeless advocates,’ and the media have identified the cause of homelessness as the result of excessive housing costs. California’s high cost of living is partially responsible for this crisis.
Seldom discussed are contributing factors that increase monthly mortgages and rental costs. These are consequences of implementing progressive policies that prioritize reverence for the environment over the well-being of its most vulnerable citizens. These factors include ever-present environmental regulations, restrictive zoning laws, misguided rent control policies, and expanding restrictions on single-family home construction.
Christians can concede that inflated housing costs contribute to homelessness, but we must reject the view that it’s a comprehensive explanation for this problem.
Attributing high housing costs as the reason for homelessness mistakenly suggests that homeless people would otherwise be able to afford homes provided prices were “affordable.” However, this ignores the obvious: most homeless people are unemployed. Likewise, it disregards and softens the reality that most homeless people suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, (severe) mental illness, and public policies allowing them to live as animals with few consequences — incentivizing this lifestyle.
When people abuse drugs and suffer from mental illness, they lack precise decision-making capabilities: they aren’t in control. For thirty years, San Francisco has intentionally distributed thousands of hypodermic needles for “safe” drug use, primarily to homeless drug addicts. Many used needles are left on city streets, sidewalks, public trash cans, homeless camps, and playgrounds. San Francisco’s Department of Public Health must clean up used needles and remove human defecation from streets.
Most homeless people in Los Angeles suffer from mental illness. According to a recent UCLA study, 78 percent of the city’s “unsheltered population” suffers from mental illness, while 75 percent suffer from substance addiction.
“Tolerant” public policies permitting homelessness are due to the interdependence of sympathy and cowardice. Politicians are terrified of being accused of criminalizing or stigmatizing homelessness and being blamed for restricting people’s “civil rights” to panhandle, public encampments, and drug use, so they hide behind sympathy. Fear, excessive liberty, and irresponsible “compassion” increase homelessness and self-destructive behaviors.
Social and legislative permissiveness dodges a central issue, to the extent that it can be applied, of society holding people accountable for their actions. This permissiveness also obstructs legislation that would admit the disinherited into treatment centers where they can receive much-needed help. Consequentially, it fosters resentment of the homeless among the general public.
The overall effect is that homelessness has been normalized. Homeless people are seen as human street appendages to be gawked at, ignored, and avoided when driving or walking down city streets.
Progressive anthropology intentionally minimizes the connection between homelessness, alcohol/drug addiction, and mental illness — preferring ideological fidelity and dishonesty regarding the reality of homelessness –– above what can be done to alleviate these destructive effects on people’s lives. By denying the obvious, elected officials prefer politically correct dishonesty concerning a protected underclass in progressive politics over a human-centered approach. This attitude toward the omnipresence of homelessness further scandalizes those tormented by the disorders strongly associated with this lifestyle and rapidly diminishes what remains of human dignity.
Sympathy for homelessness has been manipulated for political purposes. It’s replaced justice and righteousness concerning how we deal with our neighbor. The homeless have become pawns and victims –– not of circumstance –– but of an unwillingness of politicians and those who purport to speak on behalf of the indigent to admit that homeless people need more than the politics of “compassion” and public extortion to help reclaim their God-given dignity and what remains of their lives.