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  • Reverend James Squire

A Model to Address Homelessness?

I took courses at Cal Berkeley Graduate School (The Graduate theoligcal Union) during their summer school sessions. You don’t go there if you are not ready to be enlightened and challenged in the courses that I took that were cutting edge views. Two of the courses that I took were by Marcus Borg and his movement to support biblical research on his belief that 80% of Jesus’ words particularly in the Gospel of John should not be attributed to him based on linguistic analysis. His point was that those words that Jesus didn’t say did not reduce the impact of their meaning. Professor Deborah Winter, author of Through her Eyes: Women in Scripture, explored the role of women in the Bible that are not known and overlooked. In essence, women have been overlooked in the scripture for their contributions to the spiritual life of many.

Cal Berkeley has a reputation for being a very liberal institution as well as being one of the finest schools in the nation. My dorm was at the top of Euclid Avenue. I arrived very late from Philly and went down Euclid Avenue to get some dinner. I stood in line with others. Those in front of me and behind me were tattooed and pierced to the hilt and would quickly match that term of hippie. I was a distinct contrast. Khaki pants, white shirt and power tie and a blue jacket was my attire. A man behind me asked politely, “Hey Dude, what planet are you from?” I responded by saying, “Philly!” His reaction was, “Oh, that explains the foreign dress! Enjoy your meal.”

Berkeley was where the free speech movement began. There is a circle that looks like a manhole cover where you can stand and say anything you want at the top of your lungs. Once you leave campus and walk down one street where the hippie movement started, you could easily still smell the marijuana in the air. The protest movement was still there!

I learned a lot in these intensive courses, but I learned a lot as well about how Berkeley residents related to the homeless in their community. Their approach was a bit jarring. They gave the homeless coupons to only buy food, allowed them to sit on their front porches, invited them to dinner, and even let some of them babysit their children. I asked a Berkeley faculty member how that approach was working. He said, “Just fine!” I had trouble believing this, but recently I read an article, A Canadian Study That Gave $7,500 To Homeless People. Here Is How They Spent It by Sigal Samuel, (Vox, September 2, 2023)

In a new study done in Canada by the Foundation for Social Change, $7,500 was given to 50 homeless people with the caveat that they could do with it what they wanted. The response was compared to a control group of 65 who did not get any cash. Both groups got access to coaching on developing life skills and plans. They had 1,100 people predict how they would spend the cash. 81% of the group indicated that they thought that they would spend it on temptation goods such as alcohol, and drugs.

The group prediction turned out wrong. Funds were not spent on temptation goods but rather on food, clothes, and rent. Contrary to the stereotypes, the recipients made wise financial decisions. The conclusion of the study is self-evident that people providing cash to people not only here but in Latin America had similar results. This study is leading to the idea of giving cash to those who are homeless which can also save the government more money and provide happiness, school attendance, and trust in institutions as well as reducing crime. They also discovered that giving a large amount at the beginning of providing the cash created long-term thinking about how it should be spent as opposed to monthly payments. Not everyone was eligible for the transfer of funds such as those with mental health problems or those who were engaged in substance abuse.

The Canadian government is now considering a guaranteed income to cover basic living expenses for people over the age of 17. The people thought that the study was valuable as well for correcting the image of homeless people. It strikes me that this approach was close to what the residents of Berkeley were doing when I was taking courses there. You may have to shift your expectations or maybe not.

The conservative viewpoint which has merit as well is that work needs to be attached at different ages to receive funds from the government to help build peoples’ self-esteem. This will hit home now that work is required for any funding for people who will be on Medicaid. 18 to 24 million people will be dropped from the Medicaid rolls.

The conservative Christian movement has strong anti-abortion bills, but it seems to me that they have forgotten one of Jesus’ answers to the question, “When did we see you hungry, Lord? “His response was “When you fed the hungry in need.” Ghandi said it another way, “Even the Lord himself would not stand before a hungry person except in the form of food.”

We are blessed to have a neighbor who isn’t waiting to be helpful to the underserved. He is doing that in his own particular way. He is a retired architect, was a paratrooper during the Vietnam War, and is a world class sailor. At a recent dinner with us, he told us a secret that no one else knows. When he goes food shopping, he takes $100 bills with him. If he spots a person in need as he is making his way through the store and sees a person with healthy food and not junk food in his or her cart and are wearing simple attire, he will hand them a $100 bill with the words, “I have been very blessed in my life so I want you to have money to help you in a small way.” It is not unusual for the receiver to be extremely grateful and then cry. In one of his recent visits to the grocery store, he saw the woman in front of him had not calculated her total cost accurately. She had only so much to spend, and it wasn’t much! As she was taking her items out of the cart and placing them on the counter to be restocked, he gave her a hundred collar bill and told her to put them back in her cart. Those emotions of gratitude are matched by how great he feels doing it in an anonymous random way.

The biblical words come quickly to mind. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

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