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Ending Homelessness is not a Leap of Faith

2010 Our Faith Matters Symposium

Just a few years ago, you could buy a home with no down payment and very little income documentation.

With the fallout of the mortgage meltdown that led to today’s devastating economy, it is getting harder and harder to accomplish the American Dream of homeownership; you practically have to sell off your first born and prove job security for the next decade before you can walk across the threshold of a new home.

The thousands of people living on the streets of Los Angeles, however, can hardly fathom the dream of owning their own home; they just want to escape the nightmare of life on the streets.

Rather than fighting bureaucratic barriers to buying a home, homeless persons encounter other struggles — the demons of mental illness, self medication through alcohol, or the difficulty of finding a living wage job in the middle of this tragic economy.

Solid economics is the basis for the new Los Angeles homeless plan designed by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, called, “Home For Good.”

A Smart Solution

The plan is just plain smart. Putting people into permanent homes saves society money in the long run. Caring for homeless persons through shelters, emergency room medical care, and soup kitchens is a costly short-term, albeit compassionate, solution. Studies show that a permanent home is a more cost effective answer.

Emphasizing the most hurting people on our streets is a compassionate approach. We see chronically homeless persons all over our region. We all know of that homeless man or woman sitting in the same spot day after day outside of our work or home. They sometimes converse with phantom people, and appear to be barely surviving. They, along with the thousands of homeless families and youth, certainly deserve a home.

As leaders of the Our Faith Matters initiative, a group of more than 80 congregations representing more than 500,000 congregants who are committed to ending homelessness, we endorse this plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles.

We are supporters, not just because it is a smart economic response, but because every human being is created in the divine image and should have the opportunity to live with basic necessities like food, shelter, and healthcare.

Whether society is saving money or not, we are called to protect and care for humanity, our neighbors. We are obligated as people of faith who have at heart a common belief that our Creator asks us to love one another, care for those in need, and to work for justice for everyone.

A Just Solution

Ron was 60 years old and had been living on the streets of Long Beach for 38 years, before a group of community members, including people of faith, helped him move into an apartment linked with support services. When he first entered his new apartment, he didn’t even know how to use a key to unlock the door.

A year later, Ron is still in his apartment and is successfully living a housed life. Even though for decades society had given up on him, Ron overcame homelessness through housing.

It was certainly a smart decision to move him into an apartment. His visits to the emergency rooms and his nomadic life in and out of the shelter system were costly.

But economics was not the real motive behind housing Ron. It is just not right for our society to permit a 60 year old man, struggling with health issues, to live on the streets. In fact, it is wrong to allow 50,000 people like Ron to struggle to survive on the streets in our region.

A plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles is a roadmap that this region desperately needs. We all know the solution is housing. And with thousands of people in need of a home, the price tag is steep.

Putting economics aside, our entrenched political systems will struggle with raising the capital, or even diverting existing resources, to house our hurting citizens. The motivation for making tough political decisions, like spending more tax payers’ money on housing, cannot be solely based on society saving money.

The real reason to house homeless persons is because housing everyone is an act of justice.

As faith leaders, we believe all human beings have inherent worth and deserve a place to call home. A housing policy that honors people as unique creations of God is vital to a functional, meaningful, and just society.

To that end, ending homelessness is no leap of faith. It can happen in our lifetime.

One Comment

  1. David Henderson
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    The faith community is such a big part of the social sector, yet it often gets undue blame for being less involved than some believe it ought to be. In my work I have seen a lot of faith organizations, of different types of faiths, providing essential services.

    It's great to see an initiative like this that can bring together the strength of the deep resources, and innovation, of faith organizations to create lasting solutions to homelessness.