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Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

Goofus and Gallant

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Uncategorized

I’m in a constant wrestle with the whole notion of ending homelessness in the United States. The lack of affordable housing and the resulting struggles of millions of un-housed Americans are profound and can be paralyzing. But, sometimes we’re presented with clearly contrasting personal stories that can help us make sense of these global problems. Recently, two law enforcement officers were each faced with a situation all too familiar to both of them: a homeless man was living-out his private daily existence in “the public square”.

In Sarasota, Florida, Police Sgt. Anthony Frangioni spotted Darren Kersey charging his cell phone in a public park. Mr. Kersey was homeless at the time and unable to access a private resource for recharging. The officer arrested him for theft of a public utility. He spent the night in jail.

In New York’s Time Square, Officer Larry DiPrimo spotted a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk in frigid temperatures. DiPrimo crossed the street and purchased socks and boots for the man with $120 of his own money. He crossed back over and helped the man on with his boots. The homeless man spent the night with warm feet.

These two examples remind me of the cartoon I used to read as a child in Highlights Magazine: Goofus and Gallant. The cartoon featured two contrasting boys responding to the same situation. Goofus was irresponsible, while Gallant chose the responsible route. The situations were always stark comparisons of right and wrong.

If we are to end the nationwide tragedy of homelessness, we could begin by respecting the inherent worth and dignity of each and every human being, especially those we may find most abhorrent. An important aspect of respecting someone is to understand them and their condition. Officer DiPrimo accepted that challenge and met it with compassion. The result was an outpouring of support from the general public. Sgt. Frangioni confronted the challenge and met it with ignorance and cruelty. The public cried foul.

I’ll end this message the same way the narrator would end each Goofus and Gallant strip. When Goofus saw the homeless man charging his cell phone he saw only the wrong that was being done, instead of a person in need of understanding and compassion. When Gallant saw the homeless man without shoes, he saw someone in need and a problem that he could solve. When we see our world as full of offenders requiring consequences, we see things only punitively. When we see our world as full of people with problems that we can help solve, we see things with limitless possibilities: perhaps an end to homelessness.

– Neil Donovan, executive director, National Coalition for the Homeless

Why We Fight For Those Who Are Homeless

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Poverty

As we close out another year of hard work towards ending homelessness, we reflect on our struggles, our successes and our inspiration to keep pushing forward.  Here, Yvonne Vissing, PhD, National Coalition for the Homeless Board Member, reflects on why we keep fighting:

“We are the National Coalition for the Homeless.  We give our time, our energy, our talents, our resources and our money to make sure everyone has a home. Why do we do this?  We give generously of ourselves because we believe that home is the singular foundation that supports us, protects us, and enables us to build better lives and a better world.   A home can be a physical structure where we can store foods and cook nutritious meals so our bodies will be strong.  It is a place where we can get clean so we can stay healthy. Homes ideally have a safe and comfortable space where we can curl up when we are tired, sick, and weary, where we can close our eyes and revitalize ourselves so we can get up and live another day.  A house is a physical place and space. A house and a home can be similar, but they are not necessarily the same.

Photo thanks to pillowhead designs on Flickr

A home is far more than walls and refrigerators and beds.  While “a house is made of walls and beams, a home is built with love and dreams.”  A home is where people care for us, listen to us, help us, and believe in us. Home is where our values are born and where our futures are paved.  “Home is where the heart is” is a commonly held notion, and people think of home as the place where they grew up, played, laughed, and shared fond memories. Children need a home to give them a good start in life, since “home is where one starts from,” as T. S. Eliot reminds us.   What children get in the home sets them up for the rest of their lives. Our nation’s original leaders knew this; Benjamin Franklin reminded us that “a house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”  Home is where we have the space to think, to read, to reflect, to work and to plan. It is the place where we may become loved and accepted for whatever we are.  Home comforts us when things don’t go well and celebrates our joys and accomplishments.

Sometimes people may have shelter but no sense of security. Their struggles of fighting to survive, to hold a job, to have enough to eat and a place to sleep may be exhausting and enormous. The pressures associated with lack may be overwhelming and lead us down a path filled with problems and despair.  The social forces associated with poverty may rip families apart and etch in the minds of children a picture of reality in which they are not enough and the world doesn’t care for or about them. Children may not have a mental place where they can go to be safe or build dreams.  They may suffer from a lack of belonging.  Physical homelessness breeds emotional homelessness, and neither type is good for individuals or the world.

What happens in the home doesn’t stay in the home. When children live in a sense of abundance they can grow forward to spread it around to others; when they are deprived they will require assistance to merely survive.   We are all interconnected. One person’s sense of lack inevitably impacts us; we pay for others not having or being “enough” with our own money, time, energy, and resources. The biggest way lack hurts us is by creating a skewed way of thinking about things, ourselves, and each other. The result is that our world suffers from the creation of a host of preventable social problems.   Conversely, every act of loving kindness and generosity nurtures the heart and makes the world a better place. Confucius said that the strength of a nation is derived from the integrity of the home. Growing strong children brings forth strong societies. We don’t need a crystal ball to show us what will happen if all levels of society don’t step up to help children and families – the result is inevitable and unpleasantly clear.

We are the National Coalition for the Homeless.  We fight for people who are downtrodden because the integrity of society depends upon someone having a voice for those whose plight is ignored or discounted.  We fight for the homeless because we believe in our nation’s underlying principle of equality. We believe that each person should be treated with respect. We fight for democracy-in-action so those deemed the least among us may have the same chances as those who are regarded as best. We fight for the homeless because our nation can’t build a strong house without investing in the human foundation. We believe that homelessness is unacceptable for any citizen of the United States of America.  We fight for those who are homeless because others can’t, won’t or don’t. We hope that each citizen, organization, and governmental leader will join us in a new partnership to ensure our nation’s mandate of liberty and justice for all.”

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

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