Least of These

Least of These

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

Each day when I wake up, I do my bathroom stuff, then come out and check my phone for appointments I have that day, or messages I need to know about. Today when I checked, I saw one from a good friend of ours…I’ll call her Sarah. Sarah’s immediate family consists of herself, her husband of almost 30 years, and a daughter who is now a young adult. They were our neighbors for several years, and we became well-acquainted with them over the years.
Sarah texted me this morning before I woke, telling me she was homeless as her husband was seeing another woman, filed for divorce, and threw her out of the house via temporary restraining order. She said she was living at a homeless shelter in central Wichita, but had spent some nights in her car before getting a bed at the shelter. This was all quite a shock to her, as she had no clue what was going on.
Additionally, Sarah’s husband cleaned out the bank accounts and absconded with a lot of community property. The hearing on the temporary order is this coming Tuesday when it will either be lifted, modified, or made permanent. She has very little in the way of “things” right now, and an income of a little over $900 a month from a disability. Sarah was in shock, had no idea what to do next, and was pretty much lost.
I texted Sarah and invited her to come to the office so we could talk. She did, and we talked for an hour or more. As today was her birthday, I took her to lunch and we talked more. We talked about a lot of things, but one thing stands out. Sarah, almost 50 years old, raised middle class, living a middle class life, suddenly within minutes was thrust into the culture of the homeless. She has no family she can rely upon, and was able to sleep on the floor of a friend’s house for a short time, but needed to quickly do something besides that. So she found the Interfaith Inn in downtown Wichita. It was there where she ran headlong into the homeless and poverty culture, which provided her with an additional shock to her already fragile situation.
She said to me, “Jay, I don’t even know the language they are speaking. I don’t understand what they are saying.” Additionally, she went on, they behave differently; they think differently; they think of their families differently; they live differently; they use money differently…in short, the entire world view of the homeless and poverty-stricken is different than the typical middle class outlook on life.
That, to Sarah, seemed to be the biggest hurdle of all…the sudden immersion in another culture and another way of life and living…no, make that survival. And that’s what most people don’t “get” when thinking of ways to work with the homeless and poverty-stricken folks. Politicians don’t have a clue. Bureaucrats don’t have a clue. Churches don’t, by and large, have a clue. And the general public certainly doesn’t have a clue.
The old, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” is a good one-liner, but is useless in the poverty and homeless culture. These people don’t have bootstraps…and if they happen to have them, they haven’t a clue how to grab hold of them; they haven’t a clue what they are for; they haven’t a clue what it means to pull themselves up by them. The barriers to an education, gainful employment, and middle class life start with having to obtain an ID, which means they have to have Internet access, transportation, a mailing address (not a P.O. Box) to have the ID mailed to, money to send off to get a birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc., a utility bill or some such to use as proof of address, and so on. Additionally, they need to know the state or jurisdiction where their birth certificate is kept, which for some is an unknown.
Getting a valid ID is just almost impossible for a homeless person. And without a valid ID, there is no job. There is no renting an apartment. There is no checking into a motel. In many cases the shelters and pantries are closed to them. Government assistance is difficult or impossible to get without a valid ID. The middle class and ruling class have effectively relegated the homeless person without an ID to the status of non-person. He or she doesn’t exist. And the barriers to getting an ID are pretty much insurmountable.
I know I’ve talked about this before…but it hurts me greatly to see this culture relegated into non-existence. These are human beings. These are people. These are the “least of these” that I believe will surround the throne of God Himself while those of us who had lives of comfort are judged according to whether or not we recognized these people as our neighbors and loved them as we loved ourselves.

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