In Memory of a Poor Kid Born Homeless 2000 Years Ago
A bizarre thing happened in Berkeley this week. Shrugging off its reputation as the progressive capital of the world, this town's city counsel decided to pass a bill that criminalizes homelessness.
Here's an article from the "homeless newspaper" Street Spirit explaining what went down.
I guess if you can get past the city's reputation, it isn't really that strange after all. Just remember the famous 'ole Bill Clinton line: it's the economy, stupid.
The cost of housing is painfully high here in Berkeley, as it is around the Bay Area. The average home price--average--is hovering just under a million dollars. "One bedroom apartments in Berkeley rent for $2921 a month on average and two bedroom apartment rents average $3651" (source - thank goodness we found something for less than this but its still excruciating!).
With that kind of insane real estate market, the straightforward solution--providing homes--is impossible (not to mention the additional homelessness created by displacement, something that becomes epidemic when landlords hike the rent 30% in a year). Of course, the Bible's 15 year plan to end homelessness is still on the table: "bring the homeless poor into your house" (Isaiah 5:7). But there doesn't seem to be a lot of that going around (myself included).
In other startling news, Berkeley claims illustrious spot #10 on the list of cities with the highest inequality in the country (i.e. the wealth and income differentials of its residents), higher than any other city in California. And as inequality rises, a mind-numbing host of social maladies follow.
The economic El Niño conditions have converged to pour on the homeless. This climate, for a variety of reasons, breed an atmosphere of wealthy, profit minded people who know that it is only the sensible, good-for-business act to sanitize the environment so a person (aka: consumer) can walk to shops without being accosted by dirty panhandlers who subvert their portentous sense of the sublime. Thanks to the merchant members of the Downtown Berkeley Association and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce (and to a public who went right along with it), we now have laws that make people's poverty and lack of shelter illegal. As much of an injustice as that appears at face value, it seems even more sinister once we come to terms with the truth: homelessness is a natural byproduct of the economic system we as a society have chosen.
In the classic tradition of empires everywhere, we have criminalized the victims of our own injustice.
Though this response falls dramatically short of what's needed, I feel prompted to post a paper I wrote this past spring for a class called Ministry Among the Marginalized. I'm going to chop it up into several chewable pieces to appear over the next couple of weeks. I hope it busts some myths, guides your imagination toward paths of action, and in some small way shines the light of the gospel on an issue of our day.
You can expect part one next week.
Blessings my friends, and may the spirit of our Lord who knew what it meant to have no place to lay his head be with you.