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GUEST COLUMN

We must let the homeless know they are not illegitimate, unwanted

Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 9:18 am

They are often considered inconvenient. They are often considered illegitimate. They are often unwanted.

Anyone familiar with my pro-life past could jump to the conclusion that I am talking about the preborn.

I am not. I am talking about Fort Wayne's homeless population.

The preborn are small and well-hidden. The homeless take up space — tables at our parks, chairs in our libraries, benches along our walkways.

The preborn are unassuming and silent — the homeless confront us with their staring eyes, pleas scribbled on cardboard signs and gruff voices asking for spare change.

The preborn are clean and cute. The homeless are often neither.

Let's face it. We usually find them inconvenient, illegitimate and unwanted. “We,” including even those most welcoming of the preborn.

The politicians and police usually take their cues from the sheltered rather than the homeless. Thus, the homeless are driven from the parks, from the riverbanks, from the library, from city offices, from sight.

Let's be honest. Some of us could sum up our view of the homeless by paraphrasing Lord Farquaad's quip to the ogre Shrek: “Really, it's rude enough being alive when no one wants you … Do you really expect us to help you, as well?”

I have taken the time to get to know some of the Fort's homeless men. We have been meeting for lunch, prayer and discussion at the ArchAngel Institute on Thursdays throughout the fall. Many of them are broken men. One, a 72-year-old former stockbroker, looked at me through teary eyes and stated that he never dreamed he would end his life penniless and living on the streets.

Another, formerly a supervisor at a trailer factory, buried a wife and child in the same year and turned to the bottle in his despair. A fine-looking, intelligent man in his 30s tells of a marriage that broke up after two local abortions and the depression that stalks him daily. A former Wall Street finance man came home to Fort Wayne to care for his dying father, only to find that he was unemployable in this community due to the lack of jobs.

Don't get me wrong — I am not saying these men are not contributors to their homelessness. Most admit to that. Alcohol abuse figures high in the reason that many of them stand outside of polite society — and outside for another long, cold Indiana winter.

What do these men at the bottom of the socio-economic rung ask of those higher up on the ladder? Their foremost concern as winter blows in is shelter. Sleeping under the stars is freedom when the temperatures remain above 40, but now that the mercury is dipping down to freezing the search for overnight warmth is job one. A place to shower and shave is also high on their list, for, to quote one of these men, “It is difficult to rise and shine, and find a job, when the only place to shave is the river.”

There is more to their wish list — I have posted the entire list in the front window of 827 Webster St. for any budding sociologists to study. Now, as any Indiana University-trained sociologist worth her salt knows — since Karl Marx said it — the point is not to study the world, but to change it.

How do we change the world for the homeless men of the Fort? A fine question to ask during National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week. One lad at our meeting seemed to speak for all when he merely asked for help getting back on the ladder. He recognizes he has fallen down but confessed that he cannot seem to find that first rung on his own. Can you help him?

A good first step is to let a homeless man know he is not illegitimate. He is not inconvenient. He is not unwanted. Let's all take that first step together, and ask the Lord who is over all of us — sheltered and homeless alike — to move us onward from that point of mutual respect.

Bryan J. Brown is executive director of ArchAngel Institute.