Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reflections on Homelessness at the beginning of winter

On Sunday night I attended the Homeless People Memorial Service in front of Union Station with a group from Alliance Friends Church (Ohio). The memorial service was to remember the fifty people who died on the streets of DC during the last year. The organizations planning the service held it on Sunday night, because it was the longest night of the year. During the service, there were speakers from several organization serving the homeless in DC and former homeless people speaking about their experiences on the streets. The messages themselves were very eloquent.

Attending the service was the last event of the weekend workcamp that focused on homelessness for the Ohio group. During the weekend, we painted at Maurine's house, an elderly lady with an low income, at Friends Meeting of Washington preparing shoe boxes for residents of the DC area homeless shelter and then help serve a Christmas Meal at Martha's Table.

For me this event was a good closing to the weekend, because it serves as a important reminder that I need to do more to help out in DC. It is not enough to serve the homeless, but we need to find ways to help end the causes of homelessness and create a support network to help keep people off of the streets.

The most powerful part of the whole night was the background of this entire event. Behind the speakers, the dome of the US Capitol was lighted up. As one of the speakers noted, the US Capitol is the seat of the most powerful government in the world. On this evening, for me the juxtaposition of the Capitol behind the memorial service further illustrated the injustice that exists in the US. The government has enough money to bail out businesses who went bankrupt, businesses that further the pay inequality between CEOs and their workers and many who still engage in practices that led to their own bankruptcy, but it does not have enough money to house the most vulnerable of the population.

The Moral Majority has said in many ways over the past couple decades that we have a moral problem in the US. I am in total agreement with them, but for completely different reasons. How do we as an nation let people sleep on the streets and die on the streets? We are the richest nation in the world, but we do not want to house and feed everyone. Notice that I said do not want to, instead of can not, because we can definitely find ways and money to house everyone if that was actually a priority in this country. Actually if the US really wanted to, we could fund a global hunger campaign to end hunger forever in this world. It would only cost a couple B-2 bombers.

There are some great ideas to end homelessness here in the District. Earlier this year DC Mayor Fenty introduced the Housing First Initiative. The goal of this initiative aims to end homelessness in DC by housing the most chronic homeless people in supportive housing, mostly apartments. This idea was based off of a program that New York City implemented to help their homeless people. But with the recent downturn in the economic, the first thing cut from the budget was the initiative.

To add insult to this whole issue is the fact earlier this fall, the DC City Government and the Washington Nationals struck a deal on back rent that the baseball team owed to the city. The agreement ended up with the city actually paying for more improvements on their stadium than the back rent the team would pay. This money would have benefited homeless families more instead of helping a team that pays its players more than $54 million every year.

We need to do more as a community and as a nation so that next year we do not have to have another memorial service to mourn the deaths of more homeless people due to the weather.

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