Another View: Honesty will help our homeless

Another View
By: Dan Appel
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As the recipient of anger from a few about my remarks in a (March 23) Auburn Journal article, I would like to clarify a few things. First of all, I would like to thank the one person, Herb Whitaker, who is attorney for the Homeless Coalition of Placer County, who took offense at my remarks and who had the integrity and grace to call me and discuss his concerns — and who managed to do so, unlike the few others who took issue with my remarks and who have responded in the paper or the Auburn Journal Web page, without calling me names. Herb’s expressed concern was not with the fact that I would classify the homeless in our area, but was with two terms which I used in my interview. He expressed concern that the average reader would lump all homeless under the “feral” title rather than recognizing the distinction I made. I apologized to him, as I do to anyone who was offended by my terminology. At the same time I am grateful that my remarks have opened up a larger discussion of the issues. And I challenged him to help me come up with alternate terminology to describe the one classification it seems that most have had a problem with. It would have to make the same distinction without sounding pejorative — because we will only truly be able to begin helping all of the homeless in our area if we recognize that they are not all cut out of the same mold and start tailoring our support in ways that accomplish the most good. I and my church choose to minister to and care for the homeless whatever the cause of their homelessness. And, as I stated in my original remarks, it is a very small minority of the homeless that give the majority a bad name. Most are good people whom a combination of bad breaks have placed in a very vulnerable place. I will not apologize for the principle behind what I said about the few. We have come to the place in our culture where we are disposed to blame teachers, parents, the government, anybody at all except the individual for our problems. We are the product of our choices in life. In spite of the fact that they are “down and out,” most of our homeless have made and continue to make good choices — or if they made bad choices, they are working to make good choices to change their situation. They deserve our support and approbation! They do not deserve to be lumped with those who have degenerated into a “feral-like state” and who choose to live like animals. There are a few who do live like that. If that description bothers you, let me take you on a tour of where they live sometime. I did not and will not call them names, I described how they live — how they choose to live and conduct themselves. I care about them. In fact I care about them enough to try to actually do something to help. I and others who minister to these people see first-hand what their choices are doing to them and it breaks our hearts. While the terms I used may have offended a few, and for that I am sorry, I have only stated what virtually every other group trying to help this small portion of the area homeless have expressed to me in private conversation. Most have come to the place where we are realizing that this particular small group of people are not being really helped by continuing to enable them in their bad choices. The Gathering Inn, who I admire and support, will not allow anyone into their program who has been drinking, who has been taking drugs, who is listed on Megan’s List, or who has not passed a Tuberculosis test — and they conduct random testing to make certain that they are catching those who are not honest when asked. Their’s is a ministry rich in love and in high accountability. The leadership and volunteers of both the Salvation Army and What Would Jesus Do give selflessly to work to provide for all of the homeless, while the leadership over and over again have expressed their conviction that we have to begin to hold the small minority of the homeless who have reverted to a wild state accountable for their actions. Both the Placer County Sheriffs and the Auburn Police recognize that most of our area homeless are good people with a lot of problems and that a very small minority cause our community serious problems. They deserve tremendous credit for not becoming jaded and cynical and for continuing to separate the few from the many. And, I am very proud of the efforts of my own and other churches in the community who give selflessly of their time and energy and finances to support all of the homeless. So, as I stated earlier, I am glad that my remarks have sparked an open discussion of the homeless problems we face in Placer County even as I am sad that two terms offended some. Just providing homes or sleeping bags and tents or clothes or food is not providing them help in the long-run. It is a Band-Aid approach that does very little to provide real help — jobs, training, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, connection to God and a host of other things that will make a real difference in their lives. We need to figure out how, in this tough economy, to do more than talk about caring — we need to care. Sometimes that means being honest about the real nature of the problems. Dan Appel is pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Auburn