I need to join another group or organization like I need another hole in my head (got too many of those already!). Yet I spent half-a-day yesterday in downtown Los Angeles fulfilling my newest role as a member of the just-formed Interfaith Council for “Faith Matters.”
Every night, 668,000 people in the richest and most powerful nation on earth (America) go to sleep atop a slice of salvaged cardboard on a sidewalk, in a darkened doorway, under an overpass or in some vacant lot or park. And the capital of this homeless population? None other than my town, the City of Angels.
Tens of thousands of people without a safe, stable place to live have come to LA, drawn to its inhospitable streets by the temperate climate we enjoy nearly year-round. Even more shocking is that 13,000 children are counted among this rootless populace.
Christians and other members of religious groups routinely venture downtown armed with food, compassion, and prayers. Many of them return to their homes haunted not only by what they’ve experienced and who they’ve met, but also by the nagging sense that they haven’t made a difference at all.
I’ve volunteered monthly the past twenty years at a drug rehab community. Many of my ‘dope fiend’ friends were homeless too at one time. Many, no doubt, were grateful recipients of some of that free food or cast off clothing. But until they got into rehab, they were still stuck on the streets, still lost in the abyss of their addictions. Seeing them learn how to re-boot their lives gradually over two years has shown me that, while street-level charity is commendable, there still is a great need for systematic, programmatic approaches to getting people off the street for good.
So this Tuesday, I joined with concerned people from all kinds of faith-traditions, representing 500,000 congregants, to hear from leaders in LA in the effort to end homelessness. I met with Muslim imams, Jewish rabbis, Buddhist and Catholic priests, and a vast assortment of Protestant pastors and leaders. We spent zero-time haggling over theological differences. Instead, we focused on the heart of compassion for the poor and the forgotten that is at the core of all our religions. It was heady stuff!
The CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles told us that she’d already met with member of The Chamber of Commerce and many were convinced that reducing the homeless population would eventually be good for businesses. United Way is funding a new effort to bring together the business community with the faith communities. I’m really curious to see what will come from this unprecedented partnership. But that’s only two legs of the three-legged stool.
Enter Anthony Love, the new Deputy Director of the Obama Administration’s Interfaith Agency to Prevent and End Homelessness. While directing a community-based agency in Houston, he was determined to make homelessness rare, short-term, and non-recurring. I loved that! Anthony Love’s program drastically reduced the number of chronic homeless persons there.
Anthony and his team are about to submit a 10-year strategic plan to the White House by the end of May. The key to the plan, he said, is safe, stable housing. They’ve already challenged the Veterans Administration to direct funding and programming toward getting all veterans off the streets (now numbering 20% of the homeless) in the next five years.
Deputy Director Love said, “If we’re not trying to end homelessness, then what are we about? All humans should have a permanent place to call home. No child should be left to live on the streets. When people of faith step up, paradigm shifts happen. No one should experience homelessness. No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.”
No one can do everything. But if everyone does something, everything can get done. What are you doing? What are you going to do?
Photo credit: Frank MacDonald