Out of sight . . . out of mind.
The article on the msn.com news page stated that it was not a novel or even an original idea . . . others have tried it before. New York City, San Francisco, Baton Rouge, and Fort Lauderdale are among the cities that have tried to get rid of their homeless problem by shipping those individuals off to other places. I have heard the story—possibly myth—that other communities in Montana send busloads of homeless to Billings ever since moving to Big Sky Country. Billings does seem to have more than its fair share of the homeless in Montana . . . probably more per capita than the other cities . . . so, there might be some truth in the story. The fact is, shipping the homeless away is not new—it used to be called Greyhound therapy. Now add the state of Hawaii to the list.
Hawaii is about to embark on a new three-year pilot program in which the state will buy one-way tickets on planes (and, possibly on cruise ships . . . I suppose it depends on who has the best prices at the time) to return eligible homeless people back to the main land. So confident in the pilot program the state has designated $100,000 over the next three years to accomplish this task . . . a mere drop in the bucket once you start putting the pencil to the paper (consider the administrative costs alone . . . not to mention the cost of the actual tickets). With this move the state hopes to save on the millions of dollars it spends each year on food, shelter, and other services for the homeless. They are projecting that it will probably help a handful of homeless people in the long run. But, the bottom line is: out of sight, out of mind—end of problem.
Denial is one of the great American past times . . .
We are all guilty of it. Every day, even in the brutal winters, that I drive into the big city to work, I see the homeless. They are everywhere . . . and, really cannot be avoided. They are on the street corners with signs . . . they are walking up the street pushing grocery carts . . . they are hanging out in parking lots . . . they are lined up at the shelters . . . sleeping in the library . . . knocking on church doors . . . walking the streets. The community of Billings has a problem with homelessness . . . adults and children. I was amazed to discover at a recent workshop on homelessness that the school district in Billings has a 10 percent homeless rate among its student population. The homeless are everywhere, and most of us avert our eyes . . . we look the other way . . . take different routes home or to work . . . we avoid the homeless with a vengeance. Isn’t that a form of denial?
The article on msn.com’s news page was correct . . . it takes millions of dollars a year from the state and community to deal with the issues that are created by a large population of homeless people. It takes money to feed the hungry . . . money to provide temporary shelter . . . money to assist with health issues . . . lots of money. And, it is true, it is cheaper to buy a bus ticket or plane ticket to ship the homeless somewhere else and let them be someone else’s problem. Out of sight, out of mind—end of problem.
Or so it would seem . . . they have been using this form of Greyhound therapy—now plane therapy—for a long time, and the homeless are still with us no matter where we live.
I do not know what the answer is, but there has to be an answer . . . something better than shipping people off whether it is on a Greyhound bus or an airplane. Maybe the answer begins with all of us dealing with our denial as individuals, communities, states, and nation . . . everything is not rosy and wonderful. Surely working together . . . putting our heads together . . . we can come up with something better than shipping the homeless off with one-way tickets to destinations unknown.
Kudos to Hawaii for at least admitting that the homeless population is a burden and a concern . . . that there is a problem. I am not too sure that this will be a popular project with most the people who call themselves Hawaiian. It is just a version of what has always been going on . . . moving the problem along, but if you can convince the multitudes that it will save money in the long run—what is a hundred thousand over three years? It is still denial.
What are the causes of homelessness? No jobs? No affordable housing? Poor economy? Mental illnesses . . . disabilities . . . what are the causes of homelessness? I have a hunch, but I am no expert.
The problem I have is that I have given my life to following some guy by the name of Jesus . . . and, Jesus tells those who follow him that it is in serving the least of these that is following his teachings and ways. The problem is that the “least of these” seem to be exploding in these hard times . . . the homeless are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Denial does not work with Jesus . . . that is my problem. I am convicted in my denial.
So . . . who has a solution? Together we can work this out . . . we can create the Kingdom of God . . . but, first, we have to stop denying that there isn’t a problem. The first step might be the hardest.