Thoughts From The Riverbed
Over the past year, I’ve started running for exercise. Usually I go on my runs on the riverbed that goes through Bellflower. Fellow runners have tried to persuade me that there are better options, and I understand their point. The “riverbed” is basically a flat, cement path without tons of scenic views, and with the occasional shady character making crude remarks.
However, one of the reasons that I continue to run along this path is because of the opportunity that it gives me to pray for my homeless neighbors. At several locations along my route, there are homeless “encampments” under overpasses and roads. When I see these folks, I’m reminded to pray for transformation in their lives, and for strength for my coworkers at KCB who work with them on a daily basis.
It was immediately apparent on my run this weekend that something was up. There were lots of trucks, city workers, and trashcans filling up my normal route. When I asked one of the men what was going on, he informed me that they were clearing out one of the main encampments and putting up stronger fences to prevent the homeless from coming back.
Now, I completely understand the perspective of these workers (and the city). The encampments are filled with trash, reek of urine, and are the locations of illicit activities in various forms. It’s probably healthier for the city, and for our homeless neighbors, to clear them.
However, I can’t help but think about where the folks who called this underpass home. I wondered where they would sleep now. I wondered if they knew that all their possessions were being loaded into trash trucks.
The worker who told me the news probably assumed that I was happy about the news. I believe he said something along the lines of “you won’t have to worry about those people on your runs anymore!” What saddens me most about his statement is that before I worked for Kingdom Causes and began interacting with “those people” on a near-daily basis in our office… I probably would have been happy. Even as a Christian. Because until we make space in our lives for “those people” to become simply people, they will continue to just be nuisances to be moved from place to place.
I’m really not sure what is best for my neighbors without addresses. Should they be forced out of encampments? Should they have a right to their stuff that we call junk? I’m not sure. I’ll leave that to our homeless outreach team to figure out.
What I do know, is that I want to do a better job at recognizing what is the same between me and my homeless neighbors, instead of focusing on what’s different. This is the idea of “kinship” that Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries discusses so often. “Seek,” he says, “to build a sense of kinship in a community where there is no 'them' - there is just 'us.' Stand against forgetting we belong to each other.”
Jesus had something similar to say in Luke 14, while addressing His dinner host, “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
My friends on the riverbed were created in God’s image just like me and my family. I wonder if they feel the dignity that truth should bring? I wonder how even I could show them that dignity this week?