Tag Archive: homeless


this year we got to be secret rooftop witnesses of this incredible act of Christmas mischief that Shane speaks about in this article and it was incredible hearing some of the stories from some of the people who had no idea where the money came from and yet for some of them it was a complete lifeline and life-changing moment for them:

So here is the start of the article shane wrote but click on the link to read the whole thing:

Critiquing the thick irony of the Christmas season is fair. It’s ludicrous that we celebrate the birth of the homeless baby Jesus by indulging in the biggest consumer spending of the year, scurrying around trying to find something to buy for people who have everything.

Nonetheless, there is something beautiful about giving, generosity and the contagious cheer that fills the world (not just the malls) during Christmas. We just need fresh imagination with how we celebrate amid the frenzy and clutter.

So we’ve started a new tradition here in the post-industrial concrete jungle of North Philadelphia … we call it the “Christmas Carol Conspiracy”.

You can read the rest of it here…

i managed to find Paul’s second letter, which he gave me a copy of when i went to visit the homeless community on sunday with val and some friends from SA who are visiting to join them for a quaker type service – it has been published in a few online newspapers and i got this copy from here. when we arrived at their base, they had been issued an eviction notice and had to leave by yesterday 11am:

Paul Klemmer, a homeless carpenter — and, it’s turned out, eloquent scribe — has written his second open letter detailing the plight and desires of the group of homeless individuals who left Occupy Philly at Dilworth Plaza to seek safe accommodation and who’ve been camped below an I-95 overpass for nearly a week. (Read his first letter here)

The camp has been issued notice by PennDOT, which owns the area beneath I-95, to leave by 11 AM tomorrow morning. The group does plan to leave — but where they will go, or when, remains to be seen.

Klemmer’s letter outlines two options that several people beneath the bridge shared with CP toady: seek temporary shelter inside or outside a church that would agree to host them; or, disappear: and drop beneath the radar of law enforcement officials who’ve chased them now from three homes.

Here, in its entirety, is Klemmer’s most recent letter:

Today we face two closely-related crises. The first very immediate need is that of the 20 or so individuals that trusted the Occupy Movement and Interfaith Community to rescue them from the consequences of the Occupation of City Hall and impending renovation there.

The second crisis, an ongoing one, no less immediate because of the season, is the people of Philadelphia’s, and America’s, willingness to allow armed men and women to prevent the poor from working together to increase their fortune.

With a nail gun, even a butane-powered one, and some battery-powered tools, I and the skilled carpenters in the camp could create, from recycled materials and donated fasteners, structures like those at Christmas Village, easily disassembled and transported, to see us through the winter.

What’s more difficult to create is a sharing, loving community with those who the System has habitually fractured and fragmented. We’ve come a long way in a short time and formed the core of such a community of shared involvement and responsibility. We’ve been conditioned by being forced to exist alone, to grab all we can before someone else does, this alienation suiting the purposes of a status quo which would keep us invisible and blame us for our own misfortunes.

If we find a place to move from here, we need to immediately structure the receiving and distribution of donations in an equitable fashion and create, with guidance from the Interfaith Community, a minimal list of expectations and obligations agreed to by those who would join our community and work toward building solutions, not only for our group, but at least as an example, for all the needy.

It’s been suggested that the churches of the Interfaith Community might provide temporary sanctuary for our small tent community, providing a launching pad for other, longer-term solutions such as acquiring abandoned indoor or outdoor space through legal channels, disappearing into safer spaces ofr bouncing from church yard to church yard, doing clean up and repairs in the community, inviting community involvement and integrating the homeless within these communities. But by tomorrow, Monday, we need a place to regroup or just crawl back under the rocks we crawled out from, disappointed that the hot air generated by Occupy was insufficient to keep us warm through the coming snows.

two nights ago val got a call from a guy from a local church who told her that some homeless people [who had been evicted along with the ‘Occupy Philly’ people this week] had moved under a nearby bridge and would we the Simple Way be wanting to do anything about it – i chatted to him and got the details and told him i would try go that evening…

something more prioritised came up that evening and i wasn’t able to go, but first thing the next morning Val and i drove to go and find them and i went in to go and assess the situation and see what was happening…

and i met Paul.

Paul chatted to me for maybe half an hour to an hour [while my beautiful wife Val waited patiently in the car, not wanting to interrupt the man moment – she was originally going to go shop while i chatted but decided to wait which was cool] and it was just the raddest time. starting off by saying they didn’t really need anything [a mind blow for me with homeless people with my general experience back home] but that they had most of their needs met [there were about twenty tents under the bridge and they had access to running water in a nearby laundromat that didn’t lock up and people keep on coming by and supplying food and more] but at the end i was able to offer some bedrolls and jackets which the Simple Way has had donated and i took them through last nite.

Paul handed me this letter which he had written and was hoping to have posted in a local newspaper [i found it online fortunately so didn’t have to write it again so it definitely got posted somewhere] and gave me permission to share it with you and i think it is just excellent and felt so privileged to have spent time with him and Joe who i met last nite and Val and i are hopefully going back tomorrow to join them for a Quaker type service:

“We are not here protesting or to make a statement, We’re homeless. We are sick of being forced to exist alone, sick of being told that shelters, which are not tolerable living facilities for sober people, are an adequate alternative to being “allowed”, by the government, to work, live and share together to create for ourselves, with much less help and expense than the government can do anything, opportunities to provide for ourselves that which our troubled economy cannot.

Philadelphia has about 4,000 homeless people and 40,000 empty dwelling units, but, apparently, unless the wealthy can profit by our occupying these dwellings, they would rather see us alone, with our possessions if not stolen by regular criminals, ‘confiscated’ by police, since we have no place to store anything we can’t carry and are not allowed to congregate to watch one another’s belongings.

To have poverty forced upon us in the land of plenty, is no longer a viable solution, if in fact, it ever was.

I know how to grow food, build structures, build communities from the fragmented elements that current policy, make craftwork to supply cash for what it’s needed for, etc. My friends know how to do the things I don’t. Those who ‘have’ seem satisfied to make sure I don’t ‘have’ opportunity to gather to have a safe place to sleep, let alone organize to provide for our basic needs.

We need the use of at least one abandoned structure, if the law requires it to have water and electricity, the Obama administration provided $21 million dollars to help the homeless, this is a drop in the bucket.

We need an outdoor long term camping area, close enough to mass transit for us to meet medical, legal, pension and benefits and other needs, and large and separated enough to not disturb our neighbors and start to grow our own food and do art and craftwork, feed one another and see to one another’s daily needs.

In this sort of camp, people who get along can meet one another and we can help one another and be helped by those in the community who believe in, rather than merely preach, compassion, to get long term housing, use our varied skills to rehabilitate abandoned structures as we rehabilitate ourselves and work toward the caring, loving society that many believe we will make happen.

There are many caring people in Philadelphia, whose deeds as well as their words, demonstrate the belief that the present “crisis” is in fact and opportunity to create a land of “Liberty and Justice for All” rather than a land of “Just Us”.”

please take a minute and go read this story titled “A victim treats his mugger right” and let this story of a man called Julio Diaz challenge you to think more creatively about the people in need around you whatever shape or form or flavour you may find them in [had a super rad encounter with a homeless guy called Paul today who i will blog about later, made my day!]

so sunday nite i made a space for testimonies for people to share what God has been doing in their lives…

the second person who got up was a man named P (well not really, but let’s call him that for now) who i know pretty well from being around church and from having an amazing story of being homeless and God and the church bringing transformation in his life and so now he and often he and his wife gather with us for churching on sundays and he comes fairly often to enGAGE in the evenings

so he got up and shared a hectic testimony about his life over the last few years and his story of where he came from and how there was a guy threatening to rape his wife and this week he did and how P was able to deal with his anger and help get the guy caught by the police and a bunch of other stuff…

then this morning i find out in our staff meeting that there is actually another side of the story and that there have been some people in town walking a long (a few years) journey with him and that he is often lazy and doesn’t take the work he is offered (ranging from work in vineyards to leatherwork etc etc) and that at times he beats his wife and his kids and that the reason his kids were removed from him (part of the story last nite) was actually because of that and they don’t want anything to do with him – him and his wife were given a flat for 6 months or more and just completely didn’t take care of it and he hasn’t done a lot of the work he has been offered (in terms of being able to stay there) and so suddenly the story sounds a whole lot completely different

which is hard. and sucks. a lot.

tbV and i went a long way to help out a young suicidal homeless guy with a huge story a month or so ago and ended up buying him food and sponsoring him bus fare back home to his sister in mosselbay and waking up early in the morning to fetch him from the place we organised for him to sleep and he managed to call me in the morning when he needed a lift but never managed to make the call we asked him to make once he made it safely back to his sister and the number he gave us for his sister we never managed to get through on after numerous attempts

and it just makes it all very difficult to help – or even want to help – the next guy

but you have to. at least i think you do. or at the very least continue to take time to listen and hear the story and see if it is possible to help. we definitely can’t help everyone. but at the same time we definitely can’t not help anyone. and as i always say i would rather ultimately get ripped off for R20 or R200 bucks (especially with a good story – reward for creative story-telling i don’t mind paying for altho would help if we knew beforehand it was in the genre of fiction) than keep the money and risk not helping someone in serious need who does need the money (and i generally assume someone is probly going to spend the R20 or R200 better than i would anyways)

so curveball-ade it is…

so last nite we had another incredible time with enGAGE – our church congregation – i preached a talk called ‘The Crit of the Hippo’ – crit being and assessment, a mark, an evaluation… and hippo being a really big creature… so The Big Evaluation essentially… and of course the words ‘crit’ and ‘hippo’ combining nicely to form the word ‘hypocrite’ of which the original meaning was simply actor – so being someone you are not, or as the Cretans liked to do – ‘claiming to know God but by their actions denying Him’ [Titus 1.16]

during worship an older (50ish) homelessly looking white woman walked in to the service and then out through the back towards the hall and the toilets – my beautiful wife (aka the beautiful Val) came up to me twenty minutes later asking where she was and she had completely slipped my mind so i said i wasn’t sure and she went off to find her… apparently she found he naked (or close to, with a rag wrapped around her waist) taking a bath in our bathroom (well using the sink to give herself a clean) with Lindri, one of the other ladygirls in our church hanging out with her…

Lindri then came to me afterwards – after a fine preach and some interaction on being a hypocrite or matching what we say we are with who we are – and said that the woman needed a place to stay and she had no money and could we take her to the shelter…

and that’s where it becomes real, and uncomfortable, and messy, and confusing… cos i honestly didn’t know what to do – i did know that the hostel – which is more than likely full – has a cut off time and was most likely closed – i do know that we have a general policy of not giving money to people on the streets although we also have a policy of doing what we can to help them and at the very least buying them something to eat or maybe helping out with clothes and stuff – but the reality of last nite was there was an in-your-face situation and i didn’t know what to do and so we missed it

and later in bed tbV quizzed me about the whole thing which made me quite upset cos i knew i hadn’t know what the right answer was and cos we hadn’t really done anything (except not thrown her out of our church for taking a bath which i guess would put us ahead of at least one or two other churches) and cos it meant i had to think about it again and feel guilty and not just snuggle down in my warm bed and conveniently not have it invade my thoughts

Jesus said ‘whatever you don’t do for the least of these, you don’t do for Me’ and that is a haunting piece of scripture on any occasion you don’t give money or food, or walk past someone who is lying in the gutter…

another probably reality is that if we did take her home and give her a place to stay for one night, what then? Send her out the next night to sleep in the cold? Adopt her completely and have another person in our home and in our lives to feed and look after? And then the following week there will be two people in church wanting a place to stay and by then our house is more than full (legally i don’t even think we are allowed extra tenants but i don’t think that’s necessarily the point)

as a community we have been helping one of our own guys who has been struggling with a place to stay and money recently and so a bunch of us have done a little bit to help him out – there is a car guard at Ginos, our local restaurant hangout, who a couple of our guys have befriended and we are in the process of organising him a French bible – and there are kids from kayamandi and cloetesville and vlottenberg who a bunch of okes are engaging with every week and building into… so we are doing something

but none of that really helps that old lady from last nite and i am not satisfied that me not knowing what to do and doing nothing is even close to enough – i didn’t feel a specific prompting by God to do anything specific but as tbV said well hasn’t God already told us what to do in His word and yes. the least of these

so i don’t know. It’s easy to have answers when you are not faced with situations (and people). It’s easy to have theory and preach that powerfully or effectively. It’s easy to avoid or ignore or come up with some kind of justificationary thort or reasoning or whatever

all i know is i feel crap that we didn’t help that lady. I feel crap that i didn’t know what to do. I am glad she felt the freedom to hang out and take a bath in our bathroom and i am glad that some of the women from our congregation engaged with her and hopefully shared some life and love

so what’s your answer then?

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