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Questions from YOU!
Hi everyone! I’m so excited to get to this week’s post, which is a Q&A! You sent in questions through Substack, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other places and I love to get to bring you those in one place.
Before I get to that though, I want to talk to you about CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA! I will be there next weekend (Labor Day Weekend) doing multiple events on Saturday and Sunday! If you’re around please, keep an eye out this week for my official itinerary. Comment below if you want to make sure you’re in the loop!
What are the top 3 myths about homelessness you wish everyone knew?
This is a great question, and something I’m always talking about—myth-busting is a core part of my work. If I had to narrow it down, it would be these three:
Most/Everyone experiencing homelessness does drugs
Most/Everyone experiencing homelessness has a mental illness
Most/Everyone experiencing homelessness just “wants to be homeless”
I don’t have the space to debunk these here. (I mean, I wrote a book about it if you’re interested.) But I want to take this extra moment, especially regarding the first two, to say a big fat, “SO??” It’s not true, but even if it were, how are either of those excuses to disengage from the issue?
What’s your favorite thing about harm reduction?
My favorite thing about harm reduction is that it keeps people alive for longer!!
Harm reduction means more time for people to live lives, to experience joy, to build relationships, to find healing. The only thing harm reduction “enables” is LIFE!
I don’t have much in terms of financial means and other resources. What can I do about homelessness? (Adapted from multiple versions)
I get this question a lot, and I think it comes from a beautiful, empathetic place. It also comes from hearing stories about individuals making friendships or becoming involved with causes and bringing about change.
But I gotta tell you: this is the exception, not the rule.
The truth is, change happens when enough people collectively make it happen—through organizing, voting, disrupting, allying, teaching, and acting, together.
We need to change our “I” questions to “We” questions. The best “I” question worth asking is, “How can I come alongside a group that is already doing this?” And if you can’t find one, start one! It doesn’t have to be big or earth-shattering. The key is commitment and relationship. Try something, and let feedback determine how you continue to show up.
What’s the biggest thing people misunderstand about housing first?
It’s a tie for me between these two:
Housing first does not mean housing only
Housing first only works as a strategy if you have housing to offer
The first one is self-explanatory—many critics of housing first mischaracterize it as an intervention that is uninterested in supports beyond housing. (And, to be fair, there are a lot of nonprofits and government initiatives that have done just that.) But that’s not housing first.
The second one seems obvious, but it’s so important to stop and consider. When I did this work in LA, there wasn’t an org or politician or publication worth their salt that wouldn’t declare “housing first” as the way forward. And yet, LA continues to be a disaster on this issue. Why? It’s not because “housing first doesn’t work.” It’s because LA can’t scale up the housing fast enough to meeting the need. When you don’t have enough housing to offer, you lose every aspect about what makes housing first work: people wait months (sometimes years!) to move in, they don’t get to choose where they live, and they’re constantly asked to re-certify their eligibility. Without housing, “housing first” is just the same old system with a new coat of paint.
How does a church that has a valued history of trying to help the unhoused know how to do so in a way that it helps them long-term?
This question is specific, but I wanted to include it because it gets at two really important things.
Every service/ministry/program to unhoused people needs to include an open and safe channel for feedback and input from the people they serve.
If you don’t have this, you will remain aloof to the actual needs of the people you serve. Many orgs and churches fall into the trap of believing they already know what people need and how to give it to them. It’s yet another extension of the superiority complex that drives the inequity in the first place, only now it is clothed in “compassion.” It’s just paternalism wearing a hat that says “I’m here to help!”
We need to be open to varying ideas of what success looks like
We have to be really mindful of the superiority and market-driven ideas of success that we have when we approach this kind of ministry. There is a temptation to only view success through the lens of “participating in the dominant culture” or “achieving a preconceived notion of ‘normalcy.’” We need to redefine success along the axis of human flourishing, and that can happen in a variety of circumstances. Some churches may just be filling the role of keeping people fed, or sheltered during the winter. That is ok! So long as you are not working against long-term solutions, not every group has to be doing everything. If you serve food, serve it in a way that maximizes the dignity and the flourishing of your people each and every day that you serve them. If you offer refuge from the weather, do it in a way that reminds people of their inherent worth and what they deserve, rather than using it as an opportunity to coax them into church or to show them how “compassionate” you are.
Play your part, and do it humbly and excellently.’
Is there any room at all for evangelism/witness in Christian ministries to the unhoused? (Adapted from multiple versions)
I know a lot of my readers will bristle at this question, and I confess I had a similar response. But I also know that it is asked in good, earnest faith, so I will do my best to answer it in the same way.
I’m going to be very honest—I believe the answer is no. Despite how much I emphasize in my work and writing the need to demolish power dynamics between those who serve and those being served, they still exist. Those who are serving have power to withhold life-changing (and life-saving) resources from those who need them. Within that dynamic, any evangelism is suggestive of “the real reason we’re here is not for your body, it’s for your soul.” This is a duality that I reject (and that I think the Bible rejects, too.) I think the Gospel is tainted when we put it into this uneven power imbalance.
Ultimately, is a person making a free choice to move toward Christ if they have any fear that, if they don’t, they may not eat that day or sleep safely that night? To quote my good friend Steve Rogers, “This isn’t freedom—this is fear.” If it’s presented with manipulation, intended or not, I don’t believe it’s the Gospel of Jesus.
Here’s an alternative: invite them to your church. Let’s be honest: if people want to get to know Jesus, they know where to go. Maybe a personal invite from you might let them know that there is a particularly safe place for them to go where they may have a friend already. But I see no reason why a presentation must be brought to the setting of the unhoused ministry—as though the homeless shelter is a remote island that’s never heard the good ol’ Story.
But a caveat—if you do plan to invite them to your church, you need to make it abundantly clear that it is not an expectation of your program or relationship for them to say yes. That’s manipulation again.
If you didn’t get your question answered, I’m sorry! I got a lot, and some I had to combine which meant losing some nuances and specificity. And some I had to ignore altogether just for time/space constraints. I promise to do another one soon!
Until then, know that you can always message me specific questions and I’ll do my best to explore them with you.
See you next week!
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