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A major stumbling block in addressing homelessness in this country is NIMBY.

 

Not In My Back Yard.

 

“But they are already in your back yard, everywhere, even in the best neighborhoods,” said Dennis Beavers, during a recent panel discussion at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. “Wherever they can hide and be invisible, they’re camping.”

 

How Christians can be a factor in aiding the homeless was highlighted in this discussion, part of the church’s Sweet Justice series, which explores social topics not often talked about in a church setting.

 

Beavers is involved with the SOAR (Street Outreach, Access and Recovery) Network, which attempts to bring churches, corporations and individuals together in a coordinated program to help the homeless.

 

He was joined by Jimmy Pritchett, the homeless services coordinator for Little Rock; Harvey Johnson of the Salvation Army; Sarah Catherine Phillips, a stock analyst who also works with the mayor’s commission on the homeless; and Chris Ellis, minister of missions and outreach at the church.

 

One of the major practical issues addressed was the difference between panhandlers and the homeless.

 

“Every bit of research that I have seen has shown homeless people are not panhandlers,” Pritchett said. “Homeless people don’t really like panhandlers. Homeless people want to be invisible.”

 

“The only thing all the homeless have in common is they don’t have a place to stay and they try to be invisible,” Beavers said. “In their world, if they become visible, there are problems.”

 

“There are people sleeping in their cars all over the country,” Pritchett said. “It’s real and it’s out there. One question we have to ask is, ‘Are we enabling people or are we just helping them?’ ”

 

And the homeless people nowadays don’t fit the stereotype.

 

“It’s not two weeks’ growth, unkempt and a person carrying a paper bag anymore,” Johnson said. “The face of homelessness is changing. Twenty-eight percent of homeless people are children. And we’re now seeing people who used to be donors coming to us for help.”

 

“We need more collaboration to build a network where people can’t fall through the cracks,” said Parker, who helped develop a homeless day care center in Phoenix.

 

“One problem with the current system is asking people to change,” said Beavers, who has lived among the homeless in rental houses in order to mentor to them. “We’re asking people to give up their only support system to come over to a suspect system that has already rejected them.”

 

In working through various issues related to developing a homeless care center in his inner-city neighborhood, Ellis found that people in his neighborhood, which has many African-Americans, have a mistrust of the project because of a history of abuse, neglect and lack of integrity overall of secular-run social projects.

 

“I found myself having to choose between the poor and the poor,” Ellis said.

 

“Somehow we have taken a Henry Ford, medicine-type approach to taking care of the homeless,” Beavers said. “We diagnose them, put them on an assembly line and expect them to come out fixed. That doesn’t work with humans. Human beings are complex animals.”

 

Panelists agreed that more communication and coordination is needed among corporations, governments, churches and individuals on homeless issues to prevent duplication of services.

 

“There are a lot of random acts of kindness out there that are really a waste of resources,” Johnson said.

 

Beavers noted that there were about 600 churches in the Little Rock area. He said if each of those churches would purchase a rental house that would serve four people, it would take a lot of people off the streets.

 

“I believe God gave each one of us a piece of the puzzle,” Beavers said. “And if we can each take our piece and come together, we can form something bigger than all of us.”

 

David McCollum is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com

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