Homelessness in the valley
Last Tuesday MassPIRG held its semester kickoff meeting in the basement of the Campus Center. After some brief introductory remarks by leaders, the group divided up into four smaller sections. One of the sections was dedicated towards addressing the issues of hunger and homelessness. This section was perhaps the largest of the four sections in attracting new students.
It’s extraordinary to know that our fellow University of Massachusetts students are interested in such a serious issue. Many of our political leaders, those possessing good hearts and sincere desires, have tried over and over again to address the issues surrounding hunger and homelessness and poverty more generally. Yet today we continue to see many of the same problems in America.
Hunger and homelessness are present even here in Amherst. According to the document “All Roads Lead Home,” put together by a workgroup established upon a November 2006 conversation among the mayors of Holyoke, Northampton and Springfield, homelessness occurs also in suburban and rural areas. It’s in these suburban and rural areas that homelessness often goes undetected because it can exist much more easily behind the scenes. Homeless individuals can camp in the woods and never be seen by their fellow citizens.
In the early days, most of the response was handled by private organizations, especially churches and missionary organizations. The federal government began to take on some of these responsibilities in the 1930s as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, and America officially declared a war on poverty in the 1960s as part of President Johnson’s Great Society.
The Town of Amherst even established its own Committee on Homelessness in 2007 with a charge to make recommendations to the town based upon “All Roads Lead Home” and other sources. The fact that a local community like Amherst established such a committee is quite unique and provides testimony in favor of the character of the town in which our University resides.
Amherst is quite distinguished in the sense that we offer free community meals seven days a week at the Amherst Survival Center and the Not Bread Alone kitchen based downtown out of the First Congregational Church. Both of these locations offer complimentary groceries to residents in addition to nutritious meals. There is no reason why any person should go hungry in this area.
We can see from all these attempts –– at the national level, at the local level and at the level of our fellow students, there is a natural desire among many to alleviate the problems of our fellow citizens who have become hungry and homeless. Yet, after all of these attempts, the situation persists unabated. Deuteronomy 15:11 offers insights into the matter, “For there will never cease to be needy within the land. Therefore, I command you, saying, you shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor one, and to your needy one in your land.”
It seems that at some level the situation of hunger and homelessness is an enduring one. This does not indicate that we should choose to ignore the problem. Just four verses earlier, in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, we see that, “If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother. Rather, you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.”
We see several biblical injunctions to help the needy with a tender heart and an open hand, to the extent that to fulfill the command, a person must lend to his fellow citizen to cover him in all that he needs. Such a practice is rare to find due to the nature of our humanity. It is quite natural to take care of our personal needs first and foremost. For most of us, we can barely afford to take care of our personal and family needs, how can we even begin to take care of those every person we come across, especially to the extreme demanded by the bible?
There is truly one way to bridge the gap that none of our governmental committees and personal initiatives could achieve. This is to understand our fellow, and we must literally reside with him, to move into his neighborhood. If we place ourselves in his life, by doing so we bridge the gap between us and him. Then his needs truly become our needs, and we can be there in his time of trial. Through this we can share in the rescuing work of God, and with man’s faith and God’s grace, our hearts will be restored to the nature they were originally intended to have.
Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.