There was a frail old man in my town a few years ago who hosted homeless people in tents in his back yard. As the numbers grew, it was increasingly difficult for him to handle security, given that some homeless people are drug and alcohol addicted. As you can imagine, his neighbors were not happy.
I can’t remember the final outcome of his personal shelter for the homeless, but I do remember being at a city council meeting filled with smelly, scruffy-looking people whose only home had been his back yard, who wanted to express their appreciation, and who wondered, what next?
Since then, a number of local churches have banded together to house the homeless on alternate nights of the week inside their church halls, with volunteers as monitors. I’ve heard that many more camp out unnoticed by the rest of us in the few remaining wild woodsy areas in and around town.
I have long collected bedding and air mattresses, feeling that there will be a day when all of us will be called upon to help feed and shelter others, for who knows how long. I have no trouble imagining my floors covered with sleeping bodies, or tents in my and my neighbors’ back yards. One of my sisters housed a dozen of her husband’s relatives for months after Katrina. She has a head start in learning how to copy with an unexpected influx of people that drives everyone’s comfort level way down, and yet may bring us unexpected blessings of caring and connection as well.
Ultimately, abandoned homes may become squatters’ shelters. McMansions could house entire communes or extended families. Those giant lawns can all transform into permaculture gardens, tended by the neighborhood. Likewise, giant asphalt parking lots: lasagna-type gardens can be created on top of them. And the small home movement, already in play, is going to have to go viral.
Furthermore, no matter how we cope with resettlement, mobility will probably become routine, including streams of refugees from natural or man-made disasters. We need to start gearing up internally for this eventuality, learning to find our center, our home, inside ourselves, rather than in external trappings. For the more we have, the more we have to protect, the more imprisoned we are in what does not count.
I think of Peace Pilgrim, an old, empty-handed woman without even a backpack. She walked around the country for years, relying on the kindness of strangers for rest and food and company. Let’s face it, ultimately we are all pilgrims, on a sacred journey back to source.
Thanks to theolympian.com.
September 29, 2011
The Associated Press
SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council will vote Monday on an ordinance that would allow churches to host homeless camps without a permit or time limit.
The Seattle Times reports ( http://bit.ly/nEiPjW) private groups or individuals would still need a temporary use permit, which can cost up to $2,000 and take several months. An agreement that allows private tent cities expires in March.
Since the beginning of the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness in 2005, the city has provided funding to build or remodel 1,800 housing units for the homeless. But the annual homeless count in January found 2,400 people on the streets of Seattle and suburbs in King County.