There’s (still) no room in the inn

Two thousand years later and we still haven’t figured out how to house the most vulnerable and poor.

There is still no room in the inn.

San Francisco knows well its reputation for homelessness. It knows that despite its standing as a leading progressive city, thousands remains homeless. Walking around those camped out, passed out, worn out and dropped out is part of the daily routine here. As a result the city has become something of an incubator for innovative ideas and new solutions to meet a basic need of housing for the most marginalized.

During a recent gathering of The San Francisco Interfaith Council, “Responding to Homelessness on our Doorsteps,” more than 200 political, social and church leaders gathered to discuss the city’s response to the stubborn problem. It was a heads or tails kind of affair.

Heads: A new innovative project in the Mission District has opened and more than 50 people have moved into a full-service community. They can bring all their gear, their dogs (16 pit bulls and a chihuahua also live there) and their friends into their new home. Occupancy will top out at 75. The model could become a preferred city solution with similar ones opening in other districts.

Tails: It opened in March and the waiting list is already a mile long. More than 100 want in. It’s full.

Heads: Courageous projects like Project Gubbio provide a safe place for hundreds to sleep each night.

Tails: They are full too and few other churches have taken their lead and opened their doors.

And so it goes. Children are one of the fastest growing and most vulnerable populations but places they can go are full too. Veterans: same. Battered women? Same. Full, full, full. Great programs, all full. Thousands remains on the streets.

Our best efforts are working great. But… but…but… they aren’t working near well enough to reduce the numbers in need of a place to call home, which really means, they just aren’t working.

What was most impressive about this gathering is the people who work to fix it. One can’t help be impressed with the sincerity of the city’s homelessness czar, Bevan Duffy. One can’t help but admire the sensitivity, intelligence, awareness and realism of the leaders of Project Gubbio or San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness.

If I took away one compelling thought it was this: Maybe we stop referring to “the” homeless and start instead seeing people who happen to be mired in the temporary, tragic, dire situation of being without a home. This is a human problem. Addiction plays a part. Mental illness plays a part. The economy plays a part. The political shift that occurred in the 1980s that attacked our social safety net continues to play a huge part.

Collectively all these parts add up to dehumanize the people who need their humanity affirmed more than ever.

Those gathered expressed a sincere need for two things: 1) A single place to send someone in need, and 2) a one-stop easy to use web site will all resources easily accessed.

The city does have a hotline. 3-1-1. It has a first-response team that can help. But I wonder too… isn’t the desire to “send” someone somewhere, admitting we don’t want them with us? If “responding to homeless on our doorsteps” means sending them away, is that responding?

When Joseph and Mary staggered into Bethlehem, they found no room in the inn. They found a stable and miserably tucked themselves in among the animals where, the Christ was born.

Each day around us struggling, tired people tuck themselves into nooks and crannies where they can. The challenge remains to recognize the divine within and find some room somewhere.

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