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Q. I'm homeless and living in a shelter right now. If I go to apply for a job they don't want to hire me because of where I live. When I walk in and out of the shelter I see people looking at me strangely or avoiding me like I'm a murderer or something. This is not right. But, I don't know what to do to change the stigma of living in a shelter.
We are touched and convicted by your question. Maybe you could pass this out to people. Or, hopefully people will read this and begin to change their behaviors. After all, homelessness is becoming very common as we witness families having to live in their cars and tent cities springing up everywhere (even though we don't hear much about it).
Stigma of Homelessness
"Get a life" or "get a job" is an uneducated response to the plight of our homeless. For those of us who took logic classes it is a "slippery slope fallacy" implying that homelessness must be the result of laziness or apathy. But, it isn't always true. Any one of us could descend into a life of homelessness due to job loss, unforeseen illness or an unfortunate accident. Yes, some of our homeless residents drink too much or take drugs or don't aggressively seek out employment. But, many are homeless due to unfortunate circumstances.
Unemployed of Josephine County
A 2010 One Night Homeless Count showed that there are 846 homeless persons in Josephine County although those numbers are thought to be much higher today. The estimate is over one thousand people without homes on any given night!
Josephine County is especially hard-hit by lay-offs due to loss of forest and timber mining jobs. Workers who lost these jobs were hard working middle class folk - your neighbors and mine. (2011 Josephine Co. Homeless Task Force Ten-Year Plan, p. 4, 8).
Add to that the loss of housing construction jobs during the severe downturn starting around 2007 and our unemployment figures are really high. Not good.
Prejudice Against Homeless
Many of our Fikso Family and Wagner Center residents complain that there is a stigma against being homeless. They suffer name-calling or they are not hired for a job because their residence is a homeless shelter. Family, friends and potential employers look down on them because they live in a shelter.
Is this right? After all, adequate employment is difficult to find right now.
Second Great Depression?
Recently, Ken and I spoke with a 96 year-old lady who said that our current economy reminds her of the beginnings of the Great Depression. That's pretty bad. So I hope we can develop compassion toward our less fortunate neighbors. Certainly Christians must remember,
"Those who shut their ears to
the cries of the poor
will be ignored in their own
time of need."
Homelessness could happen to any of us! So let's not call our homeless neighbors "lazy bums," "transients," "drunks," "druggies" or other derogatory terms. If we wish that others would treat us well when we lose a job through no fault of our own, then we must show the same respect for others.
"Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do" (Deut. 15:10).
Jesus certainly loved the poor and the needy above the religious elites and the rich. "He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes!" (Psalm 113:7-8, NLT).
We can do no less.
Authors Ken Emilio is the Director of a local Gospel Rescue Mission and holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie teaches and writes for the Women's Shelter and received her MA in History from UCLA focusing upon Christian Origins.
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