PADS and the Hidden Face of America

I spent yesterday evening at the First Christian Church in Chicago Heights helping a contingent from our church serve dinner to a group of homeless men at a shelter run by PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter).    Our church has done this since October of last year, and this month is the last month in the year that these winter shelters are being run.   It will resume in October of this year.   It was good that they kept it going until April because, being Chicago, it started snowing and temperatures went into the 30s.    

There I got to see the hidden face of life in America today.   There were some men that had the “grizzled prospector” look that before I would have associated with the homeless, but most of the faces I saw told a different story than the ones painted by the media.  

–There are former blue AND white collar workers who cannot get work no matter how hard try because of policies which deliberately exclude them from consideration for jobs on the very basis that they are unemployed.

–There are veterans who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country, and now they find that their country’s indifference is an enemy that is harder to fight against than any enemy they ever faced on the battlefield.

–There are young people who ARE working, but their bare minimum wage does not give them enough money to pay rent.

–There are those who have such a tenuous grasp on reality that they are cannot work even if they want to, but any programs that would help them regain their sanity have disappeared in the name of fiscal austerity.  

Having heard those that would like to make blanket statements like “homeless people are lazy” or “people are homeless by choice”, it is clear to me that these statements are used not to afflict the homeless, but rather to make themselves feel comfortable.

If they didn’t believe these patently untrue statements, then they would have to admit that our system is broken and would have to turn to politicians to solve the problem, or they would have to attempt to contribute their own energy to solve it.    And they would have to feel compassion for these people, which would put even more emotional pressure on them to do something about the situation.    But by telling these lies, they allow themselves to sit back, ignore the suffering, and go back to sleep.

I choose not to go to sleep, but to wake up.   I do not have the power on my own to fix this broken system.  I can, however, do what I can from time to time to remind these people who are caught up in it that they are still human beings, after all.


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