going up the river: part 1

During Christmas we reconnected to the story of Mary, Joseph, and the soon-to-be-born Jesus, poor people desperately searching for shelter, for a safe place. The Christmas story particularly resonates with us at Central, because serving the poorest of the poor in Galveston is our specialty!

While we are helping, as best we can, I sometimes think of an old tale about a mythical town on a river where infants started to float by in little baskets, losing their lives to the raging current. The townsfolks sprang into action to save as many as they could. They organized rescue teams to get the infants out of the river, medical teams to deal with their injuries, teams to feed, cloth and nurture those they had saved.

Of course they did! The unnecessary death of children is the essence of an “all hands-on deck” emergency. Allowing children to die, children that we could save, is such a violation of human nature as to call into question the humanity of anyone involved in it.  
But despite the townsfolks’ best efforts, the number of children floating down the river kept increasing. It became clear that helping the drowning castoffs, while something they absolutely had to do, was not going to the root of the problem. At least some of the villagers had to go up the river and find out why all these children were being sent to their deaths. Only then could they figure out solutions.

Similarly, the work at Central with our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness is vitally important, for my money, the most important thing we do. And make no mistake, this is a life and death situation. If you are living on the streets, living without shelter or protection, you are much more likely to die in 2024 than people who do have shelter. It is asking a lot for Central to turn at least a part of our attention to “going up the river” and asking why. Why is the number of people without shelter increasing? Even more basically, why are people homeless in the first place?
On the next “Going up the river” post I’d like to examine the debate on what causes homelessness. The usual answer is to focus on the people experiencing it – there is something wrong with them (or maybe a lot of things wrong) and the answer obviously is to fix them. But there is another very different way of looking at the problem.