Our friend Mark, who has been homeless off and on for over a decade and now lives with us, told us something about homelessness yesterday that astonished me. He was discussing a homeless friend of his named Tom--a bearded, scraggly fellow who drinks and chain-smokes and seems headed for an early grave.
How did he become homeless? I asked.
"A woman dumped him," replied Mark.
"You're kidding," I replied.
"Lots of homeless guys got that way because some woman dumped them," Mark assured us. "Think of vets coming home and finding their wives sleeping with some guy. Lots of 'em start drinking or doing drugs and end up on the streets."
I thought of the line from that great Motown poet, Smokie Robinson: "What becomes of the broken-hearted?"
Is it possible that many homeless men have lost hope and ended up on the street because of a broken heart?
This sounds romantic, so I did some google research.
My first discovery was a report from Scotland, my mother's native land, a place known for being hard-headed and practical:
"In Scotland, over the past five years, two-thirds of the total number of people who present to local authorities as homeless say that the reason for their homelessness is the breakdown of a significant supportive relationship. That relationship can be with a spouse or partner, friend, employer or a local community." (See http://www.jubilee-centre.org/document.php?id=172)
According to the Jubilee Center, homelessness is about broken relationships and an important part of helping a homeless person to get back on his or her feet is to establish a relationship of trust.
"As part of the broader church we have a Christ-given duty, according to Matthew 25, to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised in society. One way that we can fulfil that duty is by welcoming formerly homeless people into supportive networks in our own communities. In this way we willbe providing a very practical and caring demonstration of the gospel."
Closer to home, Andy Bales, of the Union Rescue Mission here in Los Angeles, confirms that isolation and broken relationships contribute to homelessness:
"One of the most common denominators for homelessness is isolation. Too often we hear “I have no ties to family” as the first of many issues that led to a guest becoming homeless. Families were disintegrated or bridges were burned, young people have ended up in foster care and then left foster care only to end up homeless or in prison and on their own. The reality is that broken relationships result in broken lives. Broken people lose touch with their humanity, their dignity, and their value as a person created by God. They are truly lost." http://urm.org/2013/08/14/how-will-we-ever-end-slow-homelessness /http://urm.org/2013/08/14/how-will-we-ever-end-slow-homelessness/
Homeless people need food and shelter, and affordable housing, but they also need a friend, someone who cares about and believes in them. That's one reason that programs like Family Promise work: they not only provide shelter, they also provide a caring support system for homeless families.
Perhaps if we cared more, and judged and analyzed less, we might be able to help the broken-hearted to find the home they are seeking. We might even be led to welcome them into our own homes! That truly would be the kind of Jubilee that Jesus called for!