Once a month our Corps takes a turn feeding the hungry in our community. Our building is used every Saturday but we cover the first Saturday of the month. It's an interesting crowd and for my very introverted son probably one of the toughest days of the month. But each month we go and serve and on the way home talk about what we experienced and the people we met.
Tonight I didn't really want to talk. I needed to think and process.
Toward the end of the meal a man came in and said he was looking for shelter. I told him that our warming shelter hadn't started yet but he should try The Philadelphia House, the shelter for men. He said he'd been there but they told him that he'd been there too many times. So I naturally asked him how many times; five. Five times. This man was chronically homeless. I offered him some food, which he promptly turned his nose up at and left.
As he walked out the door I couldn't help thinking what causes this kind of chronic homelessness. Then I thought about some of our shelter clients who have exited but keep trying to come back, or the people who we see regularly for food and utility assistance or even Christmas time, the families that we see year after year, generation after generation.
One of my training officers once challenged me on this very topic. She pointed out that this is the culture that many of our clients are raised in, sometimes for generations. This is what they know. Many of our clients have amazing skills. They are very resourceful, they know how to fill out paperwork, and they often have great networking skills (you need to get the word out about something? There's always that one client you can tell and the whole town knows.)
So how do we translate that into the job market? I really don't know.
Do they really want to have a job? I really don't know.
I want to have compassion. I want to show these people Jesus. But I really wonder how Jesus would actually handle all of this.
Am I showing them compassion by solving the same problems for them over and over again? I really don't know.
Would it be more compassionate to show them that they can do it themselves and then let them do it? I really don't know.
And if I took the second route would they actually do it? I really don't know.
And if they didn't would we step in and rescue them again in the name of compassion? Probably.
Are we just in fact enablers? I really don't know.