Friday, February 15, 2008

An Experiment in Homelessness

Here's an interesting premise for an upcoming book:

In a test of the American Dream, Adam Shepard started life from scratch with the clothes on his back and twenty-five dollars. Ten months later, he had an apartment, a car, and a small savings.

It is an intriguing experiment in the domains of charity, captialism, and attitude. It is, however, possible to read far too much into it. Although choices that people make contribute greatly to homelessness, in my experience, depression and despair (two factors that would not impact Shepard) help keep the homeless impoverished from climbing out of the abyss.

HT: Instapundit


Dan Trabue said...

I agree. If I were to be destitute and alone tomorrow, it is entirely likely (although not beyond doubt) that I could bounce back. How you are raised has a lot to do with it.

Additionally, I come from a middle class background. I have middle class habits and tendencies and privileges, even if all the physical stuff was taken away, all of that would remain.

Now, it does happen that a middle classian loses some of those intangibles (mental breakdown, stroke, etc) and THAT, in addition to the loss of one's stuff and support, can and does easily take one to the streets.

But I agree, one shouldn't read into this fella's experiences that "anyone can do it." It's more complicated than that.

John said...

Not to speak of the other advantages that Shepherd had: no indebtedness, no drug addictions, and no felony convictions. These are burdens not easily overcome -- especially for the homeless. They need more than just "Get a job, ya lazy bum!" It ain't that easy.

Oloryn said...

I find myself agreeing with the comments here, but I can't help noticing the implication that if it's the attitudes, the 'intangibles' that make the difference between staying poor and homeless, versus being able to climb out of it, and not just the smount of stuff they have, then effective long-term ministry to the poor has to involve helping them change, rather than having bureaucracies hand out stuff to them.

And that further implies to me that the dichotomy between evangelism and "social justice" issues is a false one. Evangelism isn't an "addon" to helping the poor, it's part of it. Handing out financial aid is one thing. Introducing them to the One who can, from the inside out, change the attitudes and intangibles that keep them in poverty is a whole 'nother level.

We're definitely called to give financial aid to the poor, but we're not called to stop there. There has to be meaning to the fact that the first thing Jesus saw himself (and by implication, we, as his body) anointed for was to "Preach the gospel to the poor". We're called to give aid to the poor, but for Christians to see wealth-distribution or bureaucracies handing out stuff as the solution to poverty is to miss the point.

Conservatives seem to preach self-sufficiency, liberals tend towards government-sufficiency. We, as Christians, preach (or ought to preach) Christ-sufficiency.

Dan Trabue said...

I'd suggest that it's not a fair point to say that liberals preach gov't-sufficiency or dependency. I'm surrounded by social workers and none of them advocate gov't dependency. The point of case workers when they work with the poor is for folk to get a handle on what steps they need to take to move towards self-sufficiency.

I think stories of so-called "liberals" desiring to throw money at problems, just "giving" money to the poor to fix their poverty is mostly a myth. I'm sure that that stereotype exists out there somewhere, but I'm in an urban church, surrounded by and working with the working poor and the homeless and that stereotype just doesn't exist in the real world that I have met.

Dan Trabue said...

I might suggest Robert Linthicum's work as a better representation of what I'm talking about. Or John Howard Yoder or Walter Wink.