Most of the blogs I write percolate in my mind long before I start writing and this one is no different.
It is sparked by the on-going homelessness crisis in our community, which has become much more public since many of them set up camp not too far from where we live. In fact, I drive by this camp every day, and my heart is moved…
I also drove by several signs last week advertising haunted houses – tis the season – and the thought came to me: what really haunts me is that we don’t know what to do for the poor, for the marginalized, for those whose lives are gripped by mental illness and addiction. Many of us feel helpless.
The conversations, the arguments, the protests, all rage on in our social media and newspaper. It hits the news regularly, and has become the regular topic of our town counsel.
I don’t believe our town is alone in this crisis. There is a drug crisis, a mental health crisis, and it has become a social crisis that affects all of us, whether we like it or not. And I am well aware that I just used the word crisis five times.
I don’t want to become hardened to this… but the heart cry is that there is no easy answers. I see those who are compromised, who are addicted, and I am so saddened by their suffering. Each person has a story, and the need to be treated with dignity.
I am careful. I know what is like to be manipulated, and I will be honest… I don’t always trust. Sometimes I am afraid. I don’t always know what to do in a given situation.
And the truth is I also have compassion for those who are affected by illegal behaviour, loitering, even crime in some cases, and feel their sense of safety has been violated. I recently went to a meeting I was facilitating in the area, and felt intimidated when a fight broke out near by. I was perfectly safe, but wondered about how this affected the attendance of some of the support services offered in this building. Our police force and town officials have the very difficult challenge of caring for all their citizens, providing safety and social nets for those who need them.
I have long believed that every person has the right to affordable housing and food. I applaud agencies who are working in that direction.
So what to do? I think it is a question we all ask. How do I practice compassion?
As a follower of Jesus, it is pretty clear to me that he had a strong commission for us to care for the poor and the marginalized. This cannot be ignored.
But sometimes I need wisdom… and I find myself reaching out to those who understand and work with the homeless and marginalized. Often these workers are discouraged as well, but they have a far larger understanding of what is happening. We need to encourage them! When I want to donate, I like to give to those agencies who already are established, and caring for this segment in our society. That I CAN do.
We can all treat each person we meet with compassion. Recently I had a conversation with someone who was very mentally ill, and if I was honest, part of the conversation was not easy for me. And yet, I sensed that this was a person who needed to know they had value, they were loved, and that someone saw their suffering. We need to acknowledge their suffering.
I’m grateful for local agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Mission who do so much in our community. Every year they put on campaigns to help with food and backpacks and many other very practical items. I am glad to support them, and to support local workers like our street nurse and local community Chaplain.
Practicing compassion implies I need to DO something. When we feel helpless, it can be easy to turn away. But we CAN have the conversations, we CAN deepen our awareness, we CAN learn from the agencies who are actively helping. Instead of complaining about the situation… something I’ve seen so much of in recent weeks… can I be part of the solution? Even if my part is very small, we can all practice compassion.