Black churches role in homelessness

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Sometimes you have to address unstirred waters. Such is the case when you address the role of predominately Black churches in their mission in aiding the homeless, especially here in Nashville. While there are churches that unapologetically can go on record as staunch and avid supporters in helping the homeless, there are those churches that play a trivial (if any) role at all.

As a church member, you know your position and involvement in aiding the homeless and may have no need to become defensive. However, too many churches who claim to be concerned in outreach do little if anything in helping their brothers and sisters who are downtrodden and in need of public assistance.

I guess as a whole, the public thinks that most churches are prioritizing and meeting the needs of the less fortunate. But all too often you find churches promoting individual prosperity over helping those in dire straits, such as the homeless. In fact, there are those who feel that unless you are financially prospering—you are failing to get all your blessings, leading some people to believe that many of the homeless are unmotivated and falling short of their own accord.

In honesty, nothing could be farther from the truth. The majority of the homeless are those who have fallen on hard times due to factors often out of their control. Such an example may be the loss of a job that makes it impossible to support your family and meet your financial obligations. When opportunities do not prevail toward finding new employment or comparable pay to what you were getting previously, you find people unable to pay their bills and eventually losing their homes. This could happen to any one, even those who have been blessed so much they are unable to see the pain and suffering of others. The face of the homeless is comprised of people who look just like you and should be given the same respect and dignity as any individual.

You also must acknowledge that there are some homeless who are mentally impaired and not privileged to the proper attention or resources because of the reduction in federal funding that precipitated in the closing and reduction of many mental health facilities that once provided help. Thus, you find some mentally ill individuals that are underserved and literally relegated to the streets. Then again, it must be noted that many of the homeless who are able to gain work are unable to secure housing because they don’t even receive a decent living wage.

If any institutions are to address this human travesty and seek understanding and encouragement, it should be the churches. If not, the whole premise of the church and its purpose and directive are a lie. Anything short of loving and helping your brothers and sisters when they are down and out is not spiritual and not of God. Nothing should trivialize or take a second seat from this spiritual directive that supersedes denominations or universal religions. Do not let some of those masquerading as your spiritual advisors have you believing anything less. It seems that man has put political, economic, and personal gains ahead of spirituality hoping everyone drinks the Cool Aide and remains asleep.

No one should be ashamed at using their God given tools and talents to better their economic plight in life. But it should not take precedence over treating others the way you want to be treated. Too often getting ahead no matter the cost (or who you have to hurt) seems to be the mantra for many of our young people. This philosophy is only endorsed when churches put prosperity over outreach. Helping the homeless is the epitome of outreach.

There are several outreach programs for the homeless. In Nashville, we have Room in the Inn where churches offer homeless victims, food and nightly shelter during some of the days of the week or month. Clothing and personal hygiene items are provided by many church groups, who offer coats, socks, gloves, and blankets during the cold fall and winter months. Providing training opportunities, counseling, and affordable housing for the homeless is appreciated.

If you have a small church and lack resources, you can always come together as a congregation and rally for legislation that promotes help and support for the homeless. Ask your church what it is doing to aid the homeless. It is the right thing to do. As a religious institution, you have a standing mandate. As the scriptures say, “what you do for my brethren you do for me.”

I was prompted to write this editorial after being approached by an advocate for the homeless while in church. I was asked to write about this issue that so many churches talk about—but do little if anything to personally correct. His emphasis was on Black church’s role in helping the homeless, since a disproportionate number of the homeless are Black here in Nashville. He expressed that there was no shortage of White churches addressing the needs of the homeless, but that more Black churches must become involved. This conscientious elaborator asked, “If God’s people turn their heads, then who can we turn to?” While an uncomfortable issue for many, it must be addressed in each one’s individual church. Can you honestly say your church (and the congregation is the church, not the minister) is doing its share in helping the homeless? If not, help change this scenario.