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Criminalizing the homeless

Criminalizing the homeless

The Rev. David R. Henson says that local laws that criminalize the homeless also criminalize Jesus.

The God Article:

It’s ironic, really.

Conservatives love to tell folks that the best way to end poverty, homelessness, and need in our country is through the work and generosity of private individuals and private donations, not through government programs.

The answer, they say, is charity.

Yet in a stroke of cruel hypocrisy, when charities actually address these issues in real life, they aren’t commended for their work.

Rather, they are threatened with arrest.

That’s exactly what happened to Hollowell and others with Love Wins. But, Hollowell’s experience is far from an aberrant or isolated incident in this country, and it is critically important we recognize that. In fact, this is one of the dangers of the (appropriate and encouraging) outpouring of support for Love Wins: that we will see this one injustice in isolation rather than in its broader context.

Right now, there is a critical opportunity to pivot the conversation and show how this one incident is symptomatic of a much larger issue. See, across the country, cities and lawmakers are targeting people who are homeless (and those who help them) for arrest and for removal simply. And they have been for years, as the experiences of Food Not Bombs demonstrates as well as thiscomprehensive report from the National Coalition for the Homeless about food-sharing restrictions.

The list of cities targeting the homeless is long, and it’s not just a symptom of conservativism or of the Deep South. This targeting crosses all political lines. The list of 10 Meanest Cities toward the homeless includes conservative bulwarks like Atlanta as well as liberal ones like Berkeley and San Francisco. Their list of ordinances and tactics targeting and criminalizing homelessness is long, creative, and diabolical.

Cities have made it illegal to lie down. They have made it illegal to share a meal with people who are homeless. They have made it illegal to sit in parks or on benches for long periods of time. They have made it illegal to eat in public spaces. They change their parks’ watering schedules to douse anyone staying there after hours. They have removed completely and banned park benches. They have banned panhandling….

…As a Christian, I know Jesus teaches us that we are to offer food to the hungry, to welcome the stranger, to give water to the thirsty — the least of these on the margins of society. But he goes much farther than that. He identifies with the least of these so much so that he says any time there is a hungry, thirsty or ostracized person, that person is Christ himself.

And if we don’t share our food, our water, or our welcome, then we are rejecting the Incarnation of God in this world.

That’s why the incident with Love Wins isn’t only about sharing food with the hungry and homeless. It isn’t just about the larger war on the hungry and the poor being waged in city councils, state houses, and in the federal government.

It isn’t even about the criminalization of homeless people, their advocates, and friends.

It is about the criminalization of Christ.


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