I talked a little about this topic a couple months ago. Abundance and lack. But today, I was thinking about it a little bit differently.
Imagine a small rural town of 100 people or so. The kind of place with a one stoplight and a business or two. The families who live there maybe have farmland or they drive to work in the nearest city.
Now imagine one of the children in that town starts showing symptoms of schizophrenia as a teenager. A family of three – the parents and this kid. The parents don’t know better, so this mental illness is left untreated. Perhaps the family can’t cope. They give up. Eventually that kid grows up and tries to start a life of his own.
So anyway, now you have a man who can’t take care of himself. He’s old enough that his parents pass away. He’s 40 now. He can’t maintain the appearance of sanity for any stretch long enough to hold down a job. He loses his apartment. He has no other choice than to sleep on the bench outside the gas station at that one stoplight in town. That first night is rough and confusing and hopeless. Day one of homelessness.
Do you think the people who live there walk right by him? Do they ignore him? Are they annoyed that they are forced to see his sad dirty face that next morning as they’re gassing up their cars? Does the gas station attendant shoo him away? “Go somewhere else!”
Maybe. I really don’t know. But my gut tells me someone, or everyone, helps this guy out in that situation. They offer him a place to sleep. Someone recognizes he needs to see a doctor. Someone has mercy for this poor guy and gives him a lift to the city where hopefully he can get some assistance, some medical care. I don’t know. But I hope that’s what happens.
What I do know is that’s not what happens here in Philly. In a city where hundreds of thousands of people (or maybe more than a million) work every day. How many homeless people do you think there are here? Hundreds? Maybe more than a thousand? I looked it up. There are more than 12,000 homeless people in this city.
And what happens to those people? They’re a nuisance. They’re ignored. It was 25 degrees outside a few days ago. And I saw the same homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks the next morning. They’re just there. “Can I get some money for something to eat?” That phrase we hear several times a day. It’s an annoyance. The phrase itself, the request – that’s the problem to most people. It’s too much effort to even respond with a “no”. Instead, we look straight ahead and keep walking.
I don’t know what I think we should do. But it doesn’t seem like what we’re doing now is the right thing.
And I know this is just one problem. 12,000 suffering people. Maybe we’re not helping them because we’re focused on solving bigger problems. Maybe we’re actively helping to fund books and supplies for underprivileged kids who couldn’t otherwise have the bare minimums for public school. Maybe we’re volunteering at a shelter for battered women to help get them on their own two feet. Maybe we’re offering companionship at a hospice center to people without families.
Or maybe we’re watching TV. And playing with our phones. And updating our fantasy football rosters.
I really don’t know. But it seems like we should be doing something. Anything.