A Random Thought: Relocating Poverty

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I have a confession.  April has never been nice to my productivity.  There are several things I could blame it on.  The nicer weather certainly doesn’t help.  The Easter festivities, particularly the return of that which I fasted for Lent, creates opportunities for procrastination.  There is also the post March slump that comes after throwing everything I have into that month’s fiscal year end activities, vision casting events and Holy Week services.  This Sunday will also mark 6 straight months of preaching at least once every Sunday and I am just running low on creative fumes.

Be all that as it may, every April I have no desire to sit inside and do anything remotely resembling “homework” which includes reading, sermon prep, and writing blogs.

Over the last two weeks I have sat down several times to write half a blog post before becoming distracted by things that aren’t even really distractions, like flowers and birds and sunshine and bees and that joke I heard on television last night and how much I love outside and, well, you all get the idea.

All that to say, my Facebook update now tells me it has been over a week since I have successfully published a blog post and I have engaged zero people this week.

So, under a slight obligation to remind you all I exist I thought I would publish a random thought that, for whatever reason, has been on my mind this week as I have been looking at birds, bees, flowers and trees.

A few years ago I was working in a Rescue Mission in downtown Kansas City.  It was a wonderful and magical place and I miss it incredibly.  We served the best homeless people in the country and the place was truly a beacon of hope for everyone who stepped inside, whether they were clients, staff or volunteers.

But one week a van pulled onto our street with 4 men in it.  None of these 4 ever entered our building for food or shelter, just the restroom.  But in no time at all they turned the atmosphere of our street from something resembling a Broadway musical, to something from a 1970s crime movie.  They sold drugs and alcohol out of the van.  They started drunken brawls.  They vandalized local businesses and I think at one point someone even got stabbed with a knife.

After a week or two the entire staff of the homeless shelter met together to brainstorm a solution.  It came out that this van with these men had camped out on other streets around town and pulled similar antics.  Before arriving on our street they had been chased away from a bus station, a city park, a train stop, a neighborhood and other places until they became our problem.  Every cop and city official knew the van by heart.

Our solution was fairly straight forward and almost unanimously approved.  We insisted they either take advantage of our services or leave the street.  We spent some time carefully writing a new rule that would make it look like we weren’t asking them to leave, just implying people like them should leave.  We said something like, “If you do not come in for shelter you have to be off our block by 5pm and nobody is allowed to hang out on the street after 8am.”

It all sounded good and when we announced the new rule to our regular clients they gave us a standing ovation.  They wanted the van gone as much as we did.  And, of course, the van and its occupants were gone that very night.  We never saw them again.  The street resumed its singing and dancing and all was well.

Except it wasn’t well on some other street that night where a mysterious and seemingly unassuming van pulled in to begin a new reign of terror.

You see the bus stop had made this van the problem of a city park.  The city park had made them the problem of a train stop.  The train people had made them the problem of a neighborhood and the neighborhood association had made them our problem.  And we asked them to leave and go be someone else’s problem.

We didn’t solve the problem.  We just relocated it.  We just forwarded it to  some other poor souls who probably weren’t as equipped to deal with it like we were.

I have no idea why this still haunts me five years later.

I wish we had worked harder to find a better solution, although I still have no idea what that solution would have been.  It probably would have taken more time and effort on our part, both of which we did not have, especially when people were getting knifed in our street and when our business neighbors were blaming us for it.

But still, it seems to me that if we are going to be faithful servants of Jesus we should solve problems, not forward them to other poor streets and neighborhoods.

This has been a random thought of go before grace.

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