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Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

Feeding vs. Foodsharing

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Food Insecurity, Poverty

The National Coalition for the Homeless differentiates between feeding the homeless – objectifying the hungry as simply needing to be fed – and food sharing. The sharing of one’s meal with another is to participate in the mutual fulfillment of the human need to feed both in body and soul. It is the difference between blindly providing resources and services to someone and breaking bread with them.

The religious connotations of breaking bread are profound: Moses told the Israelites to break unleavened bread with each other during the Passover, Jesus broke bread with his disciples both at the Last Supper and again following his death as their risen Lord. The ancient Greeks would invite random travelers homes for a meal, fearing offending them in case they were gods. Zen Buddhists practice a tea ceremony with guests as a way to achieve enlightenment together. Each of these examples provide cultural or religious guidance for going out of one’s way to satisfy the needs of another person, often at the lower end of a power dynamic. In the relationship between host and guest, breaking bread as a way of sharing an experience with someone is to achieving spiritual fulfillment or accompaniment, as expressed in Liberation Theology.

Liberation Theology developed as a Christian movement in Latin America against traditional forms of foreign aid and charity. Its central thesis was to return to the roots of what Jesus taught about the preferential option for the poor, believing that the poor must be the focus in every Christian endeavor. This focus is enacted through the concept of accompaniment, which argues that charity must be a shared experience. The giver must give in solidarity with the recipient, and the recipient must take an active role in their liberation from poverty. In a recent article in the journal Foreign Affairs, Prof. Paul Farmer, a noted Harvard University anthropologist and physician explains that accompaniment derives from the breaking of bread together or ad cum panis.  

We are reminded further of the practice and concept of accompaniment through the life of Saint Francis. During the event of his religious conversion, St. Francis de-clothed in the public square, denounced his father’s fortune and adopted a life of poverty. Later in life, after being relieved of his possessions during a roadside robbery, he responded by stripping off his shoes and cloak and offering the robber his last possessions. St. Francis’ life was a true example of sharing one’s possessions most fully, the epitome of accompaniment or breaking bread with the poor.

In recent years, the concept of charity and service has lost much of its focus on the individual being served and unfortunately has shifted its focus to giving credit to the provider. Food sharing allows us to rebalance our relationship with charity and accompaniment, allowing us to once again see those who receive our offerings as blessed and occupying a role that enables the giver to better themselves spiritually.

Realigning oneself with charity and services provides the giver a greater appreciation for themselves and those they serve. At the same time, it allows the receiver to be an active participant in their own liberation. This relationship between the server and served is described beautifully in the Jewish Tzedakah. The philosophy describes charity as a partnership between those who possess and whose in need – the relationship of host and guest, as two who break bread together.

As a homeless advocate, the relationship to services and charity – the ability to break bread as equals -has profound consequences to the way in which we do our work. Within the framework of accompaniment, homeless services must become about quality, love, and sacrifice, rather than quantity, efficiency, and image. We must unlearn the concept of “feeding the homeless,” and take on the mindset of sharing our food with those experiencing homelessness.

By Hunter Scott, Fall 2011 Intern

It’s in full swing: National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Hunger, Outreach, Poverty

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is finally upon us! From November 12th to the 20th, nonprofits, religious organizations, universities, high schools, and even grade schools across the continent are spending the night in cardboard cities in front of city hall, hosting hunger banquets, and organizing food drives to raise awareness about the problems of homelessness and food insecurity within their communities. These groups are reaching out to more than 50,000 people across almost all fifty states and Canada, advocating for those experiencing homelessness and hunger.

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness WeekToo often, we take for granted the festivities surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. It is just another excuse to watch football and eat as much as you can, while mingling with relatives you rarely see. For many who cook the meal, Thanksgiving can even be a stressful time. You have to watch the turkey, make the rest of the food, and entertain your family at the same time. Throughout all of the hoopla, we forget that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives. We are clothed, well-fed, and housed. Because of our circumstances, we can look past the problems of today and focus on long term goals like vacations and retirement. We are fortunate, yet during the Thanksgiving season, many of us forget just how fortunate we are.

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is about advocating for and raising awareness of people who are less fortunate than we are. During H&H week, people from across the country work together to ensure that everyone can celebrate Thanksgiving in their homes with their families and have some of the same blessings which many of us often take for granted. Whether it through giving supplies to our neighborhood food drive or by advocating for affordable housing in front of city hall, H&H week is about being so thankful for what we have that we want to share it with others. This week gives all of us, from Maine to California, a week to be in solidarity with those experiencing homelessness. By participating in activities in your area, you are raising awareness of those we often ignore while walking down the street. With more people aware of those experiencing homelessness, more work can be done to increase the number of affordable housing units, to work toward living wage requirements, and to make sure that no one goes hungry. Together, we can Bring America Home.

If you know of any events taking place in your community that are not listed on our website, please email us at handhweek@nationalhomeless.org or fill out the online form.

By Evan Thompson, NCH Fall 2011 Intern

Are you on Facebook? Have you voted for your favorite charity on the Chase Community Giving application?  You get 10 votes to help your favorite charity win up to $250,000.  Make your commitment to ending homelessness known by sharing one of your votes with the National Coalition for the Homeless!

Guest Post: National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Norweeta Milburn, Professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Milburn chaired the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2009 Presidential Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness.  The task force released a great report, and NCH is proud to partner with the APA’s Public Interest Directorate to raise awareness among psychologists of how we can all work together to end homelessness.

As I walk my daily early morning route up Westwood Avenue from the parking garage to my UCLA office in the old Neuropsychiatric Institute, it is impossible not to see what appears to be bundles of clothing in doorways are actually people sleeping. Homeless people have found a place to sleep that provides some security and shelter in the doorways of office buildings and store fronts in a relatively safe area.

In the mild Southern California October evenings, the doorways do not seem like such a bad spot to spend the night, but people will still be there, layered deeper in their worn clothing, when our weather turns wet and cold.  In the late afternoon, homeless people are sitting on benches or walking on the sidewalks; some are seriously mentally and actively psychotic, but some are not.  Other homeless people come to Westwood to panhandle but do not sleep on the streets.

Photo courtesy of davco9200 on Flickr

There is a man that I exchange “hello, how are you and have a nice day” with every day who gets off a bus in the morning to walk to his “spot” to stand with a cup asking for donations.  His cup says he is a homeless veteran.  There are other homeless veterans on the street in wheelchairs.  In the shadow of one of the world’s great universities, Westwood is no different from urban areas in many other cities where homeless people seem to be everywhere.

Before we accept this as the inevitable result of the new normal, what can be done to move public policy further in the direction of ending homelessness?   The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness, it ‘s report “Helping People without Homes: The Role of Psychologists and Recommendations to Advance Training, Research, Practice and Policy,” advocates for  federal legislation to create supportive housing and safe low-income housing across geographic areas (e.g., urban, suburban and rural) and for legislation that provides  for mental health and a range of other needed services for homeless people: low-income housing, supplemental income, food and benefits.  Even in this era of limited funding, the needs of people who are homeless cannot be ignored.

What do I do personally?  Sometimes I put money in their cups. I try to always acknowledge homeless people who approach me – say  hello when greeted with a hello, and say sorry, no, when asked for spare change and don’t want to give it.  I also carry granola bars in my car (as suggested by another psychologist).

I wasn’t sure about this tactic, but one day after I had parked my car on the street, a rather sullen homeless young person sitting in a doorway by the parking spot asked for spare change.  I said no, sorry, but asked if he would like a few granola bars.  He actually perked up, lost his adolescent attitude and said yes.    His entire demeanor changed – I don’t think it was just the food, it was the fact that another person had taken a few minutes to stop and connect with him. Sometimes that is all we can do daily – continue to remember that homeless people are fellow human beings just like us and those brief social connections do matter.

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