“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” — Jesus, Matthew 25:35-36
I pulled up to the CVS Pharmacy at approximately 1 a.m. My headlights beaming on the concrete vanilla wall, I saw the saddest sight I’ve seen in a long while. My car had spotlighted on an elderly homeless woman wrapped in blankets and newspapers sleeping, her head on a backpack. I quickly turned my headlights off, hoping not to wake her. I walked into the pharmacy, purchased some water and NyQuil, walked back to my car, backed out of my parking spot, and once my car was no longer facing her direction, I turned my headlights on and went home. I wished I could do more, but I don’t have the resources. Had she been awake I would have given cash. In the past I’ve given food and blankets. But I’m only one man. So, when I see the city of Thousand Oaks trying to push the homeless out, I can only ask, where is our conscience and where is the church?
At a recent City Council meeting, residents of Thousand Oaks expressed their fears.
“Seattle is out of control,” said Karin Ralston, one of seven residents to address the council. “I’m very, very concerned that there will be more homeless coming here. I’m very concerned about what is going to happen in our neighborhoods.”
Nick Pavich argued, the “homeless problem is going to get worse. You don’t want that happening here.”
The fuss comes due to a recent U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. In September, the court decided it’s unconstitutional to criminalize the act of sleeping outside on public property if person has nowhere to go, like a homeless shelter.
Thousand Oaks City Council voted unanimously to comply with the court’s ruling. The ruling will go in effect in early July, allowing homeless people with no other place to sleep to sleep on city-owned property between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Police Chief Tim Hagel added at the meeting that Thousand Oaks has 271 homeless people.
“I share the same fears and concerns that you do,” City Councilman Al Adam said. “I own a condominium in Santa Barbara that I just bought. It’s a beautiful city that’s being marred by this problem. . . . It’s out of control. . . . And it’s not going to happen here, as far as I’m concerned,” causing an eruption of applause from the residents.
While there are concerns having homeless people on the streets, basic humanity and empathy must be a guiding factor for a community with approximately 30 churches, three Mormon Wards and numerous other spiritual organizations. With numerous mega churches and Christian private schools, this community must have a heart, as Jesus did, for the homeless as well.
Jesus once defined the righteous in Matthew 25:35-36 as such: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.”
After the righteous asked when did we do this?, Jesus answers, “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ” Jesus then condemns those who did not help to the fires of hell.
While a city council is not required to use religious values when it comes to making decisions or allocating funds, a city with so much religious fiber and wealth should be using their resources and finding ways to live out their religion by creating shelters, utilize extra space in churches, and find ways to help those who have no other options.
Too often we hear about the separation of church and state, but we forget that group-based personal charity can be more powerful than any government program, and especially more powerful than just isolated individuals living out random acts of kindness.
While people wanting clean and safe streets is important and necessary, the vile tone towards other human beings is unnecessary and demeaning. Although I applaud the City Council being pragmatic with the sleep times, I call upon the churches to go beyond and act out what their savior commanded.