A few weeks ago, I was leaving the campus of Austin Theological Seminary in Austin, TX on my way home to Bulverde, TX. I drove down busy streets filled with bicycles and motorcycles on the University Of Texas campus. As I made my way along the service road past the Frank Erwin Center, there was off to the left side an encampment of homeless people underneath I-35. There must have been at least twelve people in pup tents, plastic tarps and other protective gear. One woman was leaning up against the overpass support staring into space on a late Friday winter afternoon. The presence of these people cut through the atmosphere of contemporary prosperity here in Austin, TX. I wondered about if the seminary community was aware that this group of people was only about a mile away from their campus. Might there be some kind of outreach program that the seminary could do for these people ?
I was a bit bemused by the tale of Tech Bro who is the high tech worker in San Francisco, Ca who is berating the presence of the homeless in his city. He apparently wrote a letter to the Mayor and the Chief of Police and observed:
"I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society," he wrote, saying that he arrived in San Francisco only three years ago. "The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, worked hard, and earned it. I shouldn't have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day." S.F. 'tech bro' writes open letter to mayor: 'I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people ...Washington Post - 9 hours ago
This kind of sentiment is not that all usual. Some people feel that their environment is being encroached upon by those who are less fortunate. I have even heard mental health providers say to me " well you know, they chose to live that way. "
Tech Bro further observes
"Every day, on my way to, and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces, and the faces of addiction," he continues. "The city is becoming a shanty town... Worst of all, it is unsafe." ( Washington Post )
Our high tech worker has made some accurate observations regarding the plight of the homeless amidst modern day American reality. What I don't think is being highlighted,however, is the interconnection of homelessness to the lack of affordable housing , income inequality and the scarcity of mental health treatment along with the cutbacks in social services.
There is the notion expressed here that if this reality doesn't affect me than there is no need for concern.
We have seen this before. During the Occupy Movement there were lots of encampments that converged in city parks, squares, other public spaces. The square in front of City Hall in Portland, Or was occupied for weeks; and then in a flash, the police evicted the occupiers and a chain- link fence was erected around the entire square.
Chris Hedges in his book " Losing Moses On The Freeway " remarked concerning the poor and how more well- off people might feel about them.
"They liked the poor, but they did not like the smell of the poor. "
Tech Bro is correct about his reaction of disdain. He does not like the appearance and the odor of the poor because it clashes with the atmosphere of the five -star restaurant.
Yet, we are at a time in our history where current economic policy, housing regulations, social service resources and lack of health care is not working well for poor people who will find themselves homeless.
Instead of railing in disdain to those who are less privileged, may be it might be in order to follow the dictate of "whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me. ' ( Matthew 25: 40 )
May it be so.