Criminalizing Uptown's Homeless!

What irks me a lot is knowing that my homeless brothers and sisters get ticketed, arrested and land in jail a lot more than most Uptown citizens.

It irks me, because more often than not, many of their "offenses" are just what a lot of Uptown's public does, resulting in highly different consequences. 

It irks me, because some arrests, convictions and punishments are the direct result of having no home, being visible and being seen as an eyesore. 

It irks me, because their lack of money means they're unable to post bail and hire a lawyer, resulting in longer jail time, convictions and harsher sentences.

It irks me, because I know all this causes increased debt and growing rap sheets, making it harder to climb out of the holes they're in and eventually find housing! 

It irks me, because I know too many folk who've been arrested for not having an ID, while also knowing many who've had their ID's callously tossed down drains by vindictive police. 

It irks me, because I also know how hard and frustrating it can be for someone experiencing homelessness to get their ID, or any other of their vital documents.

It irks me, because I see how unfair and unjust criminalizing people experiencing homelessness truly is, making life so much harder for people already burdened by continued sorrow!

It irks me, because people experiencing homelessness should be lifted up, but instead, they're stomped deeper into the ground by locals who take pleasure in calling 911.

It irks me, because city officials and the "powers-that-be" often turn the other way or exacerbate the situation, when they have the power to turn things around and create good opportunities.   

It irks me, because certain neighbors are more interested in their property values and how Uptown looks, rather than the lives of those experiencing homelessness! 

It irks me, because I often see fellow-Christians at the forefront of judging and criminalizing these poor souls, when they should be following and imitating the One who lifts up the "least of these".
Why does all this irk me?

I've been working with and amongst people experiencing homelessness for almost 20 years in this neighborhood. I've seen it all! I've seen too much! I've seen an unprovoked officer unjustly hit someone in the face and point a gun at him, while his pregnant wife screams "please don't kill him!". I've seen entitled neighbors yell at and threaten people, simply because they look weak, mentally ill and homeless. I've seen neighbors call 911, simply because someone looks suspicious. I've seen so much more and those experiencing homelessness tell me so much more!

I've seen the criminalization of those experiencing homelessness and I know the affects of it. I know the affects, because I've had to, on countless occasions, help people renew their ID, knowing that if I don't, they'll get arrested for not having a ID.

For years, I've had the honor of trying to help people experiencing homelessness get housing and jobs. This task isn't easy, because I've seen how many landlords and employers are reluctant to rent to or hire people who are homeless. This challenge becomes insurmountably larger, because "background checks" are so assessable. Time and time again, people in charge don't know how to read someone's "rap sheet", and discern the difference between arrests and convictions, resulting in a rejection from services!

I know my lament just touches the surface of the lasting and traumatic affects of criminalizing those who are homeless. I know that in my mourning, I also see so much hope, love and compassion of God's Kingdom in Uptown. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted", and when I look around, I can proclaim the truth of this verse, because I am comforted.....

Despite all the trauma they go through, I find comfort in their resilience and strength! People experiencing homelessness are some of the strongest, toughest and most patient folks I know. They're knocked down, but they don't stop getting up! I am continually a student to their examples of humility, faith and perseverance! Despite all their horrendous trauma, they keep fighting and don't give up!

Despite all the opposition they face, I find comfort in the homeless communities. They have each others backs and look out for each other. When someone falls, they lift them up. When someone lacks, they give what little they have. When they fight, it often results in a love and forgiveness we can all learn from. Despite all their horrendous opposition, they keep loving and being compassionate to each other.

Despite all the criminalization they experience, I find comfort in those advocating for and loving them. Even though there's many "powers-that-be" who are infatuated in arresting, incarcerating or booting certain people out of their ward, there are also many people fighting to make life a little easier for them. Despite all this horrendous ugliness from certain citizens and elected officials, I find comfort in seeing activists, clergy, case-managers, outreach workers and concerned citizens uniting together to feed, clothe, house and bring hope to those being ostracized.

Despite all the persecution hurled upon them, I find comfort in Jesus who loves and cares for those He called the "least of these". Jesus was very aware of injustice, people being harassed and the horrific divide between the "haves and have-nots". He witnessed this and wept over it, but He didn't give up or fall into self-pity, but instead, He healed people, spoke parables and boldly proclaimed this truth; "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God", followed by, "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full." (Luke 6) Therefore, despite all the horrendous inequality and blatant indignation we witness, Jesus has reversed the order with His Eternal Love, by giving those who have little hope in this life, Eternal Hope in His Kingdom! 

I am also comforted by these words spoken by the One who brings hope to those who are criminalized and ostracized in our neighborhood, reminding us that the captured, poor and oppressed are not ignored or forgotten by the One who has the power of life and death in His hands....
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind, 
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."
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