Posted on 3 Dec 2008 by James Willamor
A young boy stares at a homeless man in Charlotte
What: Clothe Charlotte Benefit Concert
When: Saturday, December 13 at 4PM
Where: Freedom Park
There are five thousand homeless people living in Charlotte, and a third of them are children. Clothe Charlotte’s goal is to collect 5,000 winter clothing kits and distribute them to shelters and other ministries. Each kit will contain a coat, a winter hat (toboggan), and a pair of gloves. Clothe Charlotte asks “If possible, please donate only entire kits. Label the general size they are intended for (small, medium, large) and if they are for male, female, or youth.” You can then bring the your kit(s) to the Benefit Concert at 4PM on Dec. 13th, which coincides with the annual Christmas tree lighting in Freedom Park. If you can’t make it to the benefit concert, visit Clothe Charlotte to find drop off locations.
video by Kinetic Church, watch in HD on Vimeo
“Why are you poor?” It isn’t a question we tend ever ask of a beggar or homeless person we meet on the street. Often we ignore them, tell them we can’t help, or at best give them a few dollars with the least amount of interaction possible. We in America have a problem with “loving our neighbor.” “But I give money to the homeless,” many would say. “I even give to charities and donate canned food!” That is a good first step. It is easy to give out of our abundance. But what about this word “love” in the commandment “love your neighbor?” It isn’t love to just give something to someone. Love is built through relationships. Love engages. Love asks questions. If one of your best friends was in need, wouldn’t you talk to them? “How did this happen? What can I do to help you?” The greatest problem in our city isn’t that people don’t care about the homeless, but that people don’t know the homeless.
In the book Poor People, author William T. Vollmann poses a question to those living in poverty around the world: “Why are you poor?” We need to listen to their specific stories and only then will we be in the best position to help. I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if we’re not listening to the poor when they try to tell us they can’t fish because the river is polluted and the fish are dead, or they can’t afford the government fishing license?
I recently had an encounter while walking down Tryon Street in front of Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse. “Uh, excuse me mister, do you know where a soup kitchen is? I’m trying to get something to eat.” My first reaction was one of guilt, because at the time I didn’t even know where any soup kitchens or homeless shelters were located in the city. In the past, I would have just said I’m sorry and given him a few dollars. Instead, I decided to engage him. “I don’t know, sir, but I do know a sandwich shop on the next block we can go to.” His reaction was more of surprise than anything else. As we went to get some subs, my unexpected response had spurred him to talk open and candidly. His name was Clarence and he had been to several churches that day but was told they couldn’t help him. He had finally gotten a job in hopes of getting off the street, and he would be cleaning office building late at night off of Independence Blvd. Clarence’s main concern was getting to work. “I don’t know if I’ll have bus fare every day to get to work.” I then offered to get him a bus pass. By meeting specific needs, we remove any temptation the poor have to spend money on a temporary comfort like alcohol. Clarence was very grateful, and had never actually asked me for anything, other than prayer. “It’s a struggle to keep yourself off the streets. Will you please be praying for me?” he asked before we parted ways.
I feel like I made an investment in the future of my city, albeit tiny. And more importantly, I feel like I’ve made a connection with Clarence, and I hope someday I have the opportunity to run into him again. This is where “love” starts to replace “giving” — when we try to connect with somebody. That is what makes it so hard to do, because it forces us to get out of our comfort zone on a daily basis. Honestly, it can be hard. I have to admit, I actually had the though cross my mind “I wonder if people are staring at me in this restaurant with this guy.” I hope we will all have the courage to start getting out of our comfort zones more and more and start to truly “love our neighbors” by forming relationships and listening to them.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
I was touched by this post by fellow Charlotte blogger and bicycle courier Bill speaking of his encounter with The Good Spirit, a “local Charlotte artist who had lived on the streets.” This story speaks of our values here in the Queen City; of friendship, respect, and seeking justice.
I hope we will all join together with Clothe Charlotte and help them meet their goal of 5,000 sets of coats, hats, and gloves for Charlotte’s homeless. But let this just be the initial act. Let’s engage those in need and get to know our fellow citizens.
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