Guest Column

A wrong idea has taken root in the world — that some lives are less valuable than other lives. There’s a lot of concern regarding finding good solutions for those who are houseless in our community. It’s interesting to have these conversations at a time when Christians remember Mary and Joseph about to give birth to Jesus seeking shelter and being told there was no room for them.

We need to have healthy debates about the best solutions for our houseless neighbors and for our community — just as we would about education choices for our children, open space protection for our parks, and affordable housing that might help prevent houselessness in the first place.

What we ask our community to change is the way we talk about our houseless neighbors in demeaning and dehumanizing ways. We ask you, our community, to change seeing and treating our houseless neighbors as if their lives are less important than our lives — as if houselessness is the only thing that defines them.

A question we keep hearing is, “What do we do about homeless people?” as if they are a problem to be solved and not people who deserve love and respect. What if we asked, “How can we find solutions where everyone has a chance to flourish?”

An underlying assumption lurks in this rhetoric, implying that some people choose to be homeless. No one chooses to be homeless.

Roughly 90% of those experiencing homelessness find themselves in that situation due to unforeseen life circumstances. They are typically houseless for less than a year and then thrive again through access to available supports.

Roughly 10% experience homelessness as a chronic condition.

The chronically houseless are often talked about in dehumanizing ways. Many are living with a mental illness. A person struggling with schizophrenia, for example, doesn’t choose to live with that illness and deserves our compassion and not our judgment.

Many who are chronically houseless suffer from post-traumatic stress because of repeated traumatic events in their lives. Trauma is not a choice. Imagine if we had the kind of compassion that stood in awe at the trauma and burdens that those who are houseless have to carry, rather than standing in judgment over how they carry it.

Substance abuse is often a factor. Some will argue that’s a choice but substance abuse is often an attempt to cope with devastating mental illness or trauma. Dealing with mental health issues or sobriety are hard enough when you are not living on the streets and next to impossible when you lack support, stability and resources.

The answer to the question, “What do we do about this?” is easy. We offer as much compassion as possible. Everyone deserves a warm and safe place to sleep. Mahatma Gandhi reminds us, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

Father Greg Boyle founded Homeboy industries, which is the largest and most successful gang intervention and rehabilitation program in the world. Father Boyle believes what changes people is not efforts to rescue or save, but kinship. He said, “The measure of our compassion is our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with others.”

As we continue searching for good solutions and sharing valid concerns, we ask our community to remember that those experiencing homelessness are not a problem to be solved but our neighbors whose lives are just as important as each of ours.

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This piece was written by Steven Koski, lead pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Bend. Rev. Chris Kramer, Nativity Lutheran; Rev. Jen Stuart, Bend Church; Rev. Jed Holdorph, Trinity Episcopal Church; Rev. Jane Hiatt, Unity Community of Central Oregon; Rev. Andrew Bansemer, Grace First Lutheran; Rev. Scott Rudolph, UU Fellowship of Central Oregon; and Rev. Erika Spaet, Storydwelling, signed on to the letter.

(17) comments

Benderite

We need to start calling it what it really is! A drug abuse and drug-related mental health problem and address it with treatment facilities instead of putting up tents all over the city and feeding and supporting them without any accountability.

The city is trying to change the zoning code so they can put up tent camps in your neighborhood, they want to copy these solutions from cities like Seattle and Portland, just Google Seattle or Portland homeless problems and you'll see the results for yourself.....It does NOT work!!

The bend city homeless advisory counsel put up a survey and 80% of the Bend neighborhood respondents do NOT want a tent camp in their neighborhood or even in their neighbors front yard if they agree to it (YES you read it right if these zoning changes pass YOUR neighbor can agree to have a homeless person set up a tent in their front yard!!!)

We need a safer, more humane Bend. YOU can help!

https://bendhumanitycoalition.org/help

BuckeyeDuck

Well, you have part of the solution with regards to mental health care, but you're going to have to go back in time to the Reagan years when that kind of funding started getting ready cut. Cliff Bentz might help out. The latest count showed that 1/6 of the houseless were teens. What about them?

You're correct to state that no one wants a homeless camp nearby. Heck, not one of us probably wants to see anyone homeless in the first place. With such a rich nation as ours. Why do we have so many in the first place?

KJ54

Homelessness is certainly NOT a problem solely of addiction. Please read the IMO again. And besides, addiction is not a crime. Homelessness comes from several issues - low wages combined with high rents, inadequate mental health facilities (you can thank Ronald Reagan for that) medical costs, domestic violence, and other factors. I don’t have the answer, because there isn’t one answer, but breaking up homeless camps near not giving them a place to go is NOT the answer.

John675

I don’t think there is any compassion in allowing people to scream violent obscenities, defecate in the street, take drugs, and live in fifth. It is not compassionate for them or for us. We need to make sure the homeless folks have mental health and substance abuse services and they use those services. Enabling them to continue to live on our streets and in our communities without insisting they do something to help themselves in not compassionate for them or for all of society.

Transitory Inflation

'A wrong idea has taken root in the world — that some lives are less valuable than other lives. '

I would estimate this idea has been around as long as homo sapiens have.

BuckeyeDuck

Always easier to beat down/put down the downtrodden isn't it...

Skittish

What’s wrong is the assertion that some lives are worth less than others has taken hold in the public sphere. There are no doubt some individuals, but otherwise this is not true at the community level. This is just an attempt to cast those of us who don’t agree with throwing money at a problem we can’t control and don’t know how to deal with, as heartless. They are implying that if “you care” that the community will support anything that is a feel good measure.

Second, what is a neighbor and is that the way the author is using the word? A neighbor is someone who lives in close proximity and all of Bend is not my neighbor by that definition. People across town, whether they live in a house or a tent, are not my neighbors. I believe that first and foremost, individuals have the freedom and responsibility that comes with that freedom to make their own choices. Their good or bad decisions and lifestyle choices are not my responsibility because of geographic proximity. I am responsible only to the degree I have the authority to tell people what to do.

This guest column comes across as somewhat paternalistic/maternalistic. Homeless people are adults. They are not our children or wards of the city. It is naive to treat them uniformly as “vulnerable”. Smothering them with our compassion can easily lead to a very dysfunctional symbiotic relationship, which these authors seem prone to.

The homeless problem can be dealt with, but only with realistic knowledge of the complex issue it is. Compassion is superficial and insufficient without knowledge and understanding. These authors should understand the concept of "logos": the consciousness of reality that underlies the tenets of many of the stories in the bible. I'm not a religious person, but even I understand the foundational concepts of the bible and the value of knowledge of the rules of the universe it contains.

91184

Incredibly condescending reply as always. Thank you.

Skittish

I was thinking the same thing about the letter - guess I didn't make it clear enough.

BuckeyeDuck

Actually, Southlake, I was thinking how patronizing and how ill- informed your comment above was. Particularly para three stating that the houseless are all adults. Between you, me and the authors I would say they have the most expertise on compassion because that is the path they follow in their profession.

Ayn Rand would be proud of you.

Maybe you can head over to Boise now and work against the Interfaith Council and their work on the houseless.

https://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/from-the-opinion-editor/article256408896.html

Pnwhof

"am responsible only to the degree I have the authority to tell people what to do.". Wow. Just Wow.

And "neighbor" is being used in a figurative term here we could say that all people on earth are neighbors relative to the universe!

I do think Boise would look good on you.

68973

Love thy NEIGHBOR as thyself....

Skittish

But what if the "neighbor" doesn't love themselves or me or you?

Skittish

Can you explain why you are surprised that I don't believe in having responsibility for things I can't control? I can choose to help, but no one should be compelled to be charitable, especially if those in charge of handling the issue seem incompetent. I would be more willing to voluntarily help if the City Council demonstrated more competence and is really what I am trying to get at. Show me naivete, and I will refuse to help. If they show me they know what they are doing, then we can negotiate.

My primary responsibility is to myself to be a productive member of society and take care of my family, followed by my work. Helping people who I have nothing to do with is optional.

Nothing is stopping you and all the others who agree with you from opening your wallets and spending everything you have. I suspect that everyone gives what they are willing, and there just isn't enough money from taxes and charity to cover the necessary services that could be used to maximize help. Perhaps the problem is you don't want to put your money where your mouth is?

BuckeyeDuck

Hmmm, I just watched A Christmas Carol last night and Scrooge have the same type of speech to the folks asking him for a donation. "Are there not enough prisons?". "Are there not enough poor houses?"

KJ54

You are assuming that homeless people CHOOSE to be homeless (“lifestyle choices”) . While no doubt some people can’t live indoors (have you seen the film Nomadland?) Maoist do not choose homelessness as a lifestyle. Until you fully understand why people are homeless you will continue to come across as heartless, as you do in your comment

Skittish

Of course, most don't consciously choose homelessness. You are making a stawman argument. I will spell it out more clearly. Everyone gets to decide if they want to graduate high school, defer having children until after marriage and to get a job: if you do these things, poverty is very unlikely. Work two jobs if necessary as I have done and was glad to do so. I lost quite a bit of weight doing it as I too distracted to eat, and it didn't kill me. I did all of these things and much, much more. If one really wants to be successful in life and have security, figure out how the world works and how to plan ahead.

Everyone gets to choose whether or not they will abuse substances. Everyone gets to choose the values they will hold. Everyone gets to choose what to learn from life’s lessons, even if they grew up in a highly dysfunctional household or follow the abuse and poverty their family teaches them. Finally, I doubt you understand the homeless very well and would guess you romanticize them. You don’t know what I understand about the homeless as you don’t know the capacity in which I interact with them. It’s possible I know more than you assume.

That said, if done correctly, I absolutely support helping people who demonstrate in some way the will to value and help themselves. I don’t support treating the homeless as a monolithic group of adults like children. The homeless are homeless for a set of complex reasons.

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