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My Turn: Where will the homeless people go now?

For the first time this winter I volunteered at South Church’s emergency cold winter shelter. It was a life-changing experience. I got to be with the most vulnerable people in our community. It might sound like a cliché, but people experiencing homelessness are just like you and me. Most of them have experienced a bad break here or there.

Some have mental illness or other problems. They have trouble with tasks that others might think are easy. Underneath everything they are human. Maybe too human; being with them helped me to see my own humanity.

The last night I volunteered, there was a conversation about where they will go when the shelter closes. The police shut down the camps behind the Everett Arena where most of them spent last year camping. The places under the Interstate 393 bridge or along the railroad tracks are already claimed by “old timers.”

It would be nice to believe that they will find good-paying jobs and low-income housing, but that doesn’t seem realistic. Some actually do have jobs but still struggle to make ends meet.

It would be nice for us to wish away the homeless in Concord so that we don’t have to see it at all. Recently the city council tried to pass a law against panhandling, another attempt to do away with what bothers us and is in our face every day. If only the homeless would go away. But where will they go?

Simply punishing them does not seem to be the answer. How many more people do we want to put in our prisons? We can’t merely push them away.

Concord’s Coalition to End Homelessness is working on a 10-year plan to end homelessness. I applaud and fully support the efforts, but in the meantime where are the people going to go?

Let us hope we don’t forget to look another struggling human in the face and see our own humanity staring back so we can find compassion and mercy. Let us hope we find a place for our fellow citizens to go.

(The Rev. Jonathan Hopkins is pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church.)

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