Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Decide: "Homeless Hotspots"

The world wide web is buzzing around the topic of "homeless hotspots", a resource and campaign that was strategically placed throughout the streets of downtown Austin for SXSW this past weekend. A “charitable experiment” called Homeless Hotspots was founded by BBH, a New York ad agency with the help of Front Steps, an Austin homeless shelter in order to satisfy the network hungry needs of attendees and in parallel, provide a job for the homeless. Residents from the shelter wore a shirt that stated, "Hi, my name is [Bobby], a 4G hotspot" with information below on how to join that particular hotspot.  It was a set your own price payment for customers with a recommended charge of $2 for every 15 minutes of use. All revenue went directly to the homeless person at that particular location.

Brilliant? Exploitative? All in the name of marketing? Serves purpose despite motives? We encourage you to read/watch the following resources and let us know what you think in the comments!

"But the marketing gimmick itself requires something else: recognition of another human being, one who is suffering. Whereas plenty of people seemed to think that was dehumanizing, it’s actually kind of the opposite: it’s literally humanizing. Thinking about and looking at the homeless is hard."

"The reality is that the homeless make us uncomfortable; so much so that it is simply easier to ignore them, to look away, or to cross to the other side of the street."

"But I don’t want to feel bad, or to think about their lives: I’d rather give them all of the money in my wallet than have a conversation with them because humanizing a person makes them hard to ignore, to walk away from. That is part of what I think is at the center of the outpouring of negative feelings about this marketing stunt."

"What BBH Labs did with Homeless Hotspots is a harmless and fun idea that provides a positive interaction between homeless people and the rest of you. Plus, our homeless friends made a few bucks. And even more important – they were given self-worth. Unless you were on the streets you have no idea how low ones self-esteem gets. The number one thing you can give another person is your attention and the Homeless Hotspot vendors at SXSW got lots of that. Every one I met was smiling ear to ear."

If you feel like reading one more, this article does a nice job - Homeless Hotspots: Controversy at 4G Speeds

Note: you may have seen the We Are Visible link in the article above. For those that have seen firsthand the needs of the homeless, a site such as this is a needed resource for the homeless. A future blog post will discuss the opportunities email, social media, and other internet resources provide for the homeless. 

So what do you think? Is this a move for the betterment of the homeless or rather exploitation of an already misconceived, degraded part of society? Let us know.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Greatest Need

You drive up to a street light and BAM. Face to face. You and a homeless person. Thoughts are swirling. “Oh man. First off, I’m glad I’m in the safety of my car. Second, I’m so glad I’m not homeless. And third, this is getting weird.” He stares at you. He continues to stare. You look at him and see a face weathered from years of exposure. That face, although rugged, conceals an underlying heart that you can only imagine is tattered and nearly destroyed. So you wonder…should I divert my attention (and eye contact) to my phone and tweet #thatawkwardmomentwhen a homeless person keeps staring at me as I feel increasingly guilty...or should I give him money?” Yeah, let’s tweet because this is way too awkward to sit here and wait for the light to turn green and just not give him money…

We’ve all been there. But how do you react? How do you help? What do you do?

For a little over a year, I have been immersed in the homeless population on Lancaster Avenue and while learning so much, I can say there have always been struggles in knowing what to do in certain circumstances. As a member of Love For Lancaster, the organization’s purpose has always been clearly defined to me. Be a friend to those on Lancaster and love them by spending time with them, sharing the Gospel, and helping them the best way I know how. That said, our organization has chosen to be separated from directly providing assistance for physical needs such as food, clothes, and housing in most circumstances. But just because our mission is clear, it doesn’t mean there aren’t still pressures to provide those things along with repeated requests for money. This is where I want to dig deeper and reference a sermon I heard last Sunday at The Rooted Church. Below is a 6 minute slice based in 1 Timothy 5: 1-16. It speaks much about widows and for relevance and context, you can replace widow with homeless for my commentary below.


“Paul is saying there are widows (homeless) you need to support as a church, and there are widows (homeless) you don’t need to support. You have to qualify. If you run after sin and have no character, you are dead (spiritually). If that’s what your life is about, you don’t get support from the church. The church doesn’t fund sin…the church must discriminate.”

At face value, this seems to be a strange paradox. I love God. I love people. Why on God’s beautiful green earth would I pull my outstretched hand away from someone who is in need? Am I a hypocritical Christian, only loving those I choose to love and those that "deserve" my love?

Jesus says in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

The church doesn’t fund sin. God’s people don’t fund sin. We are called to be wise, to use discrimination, to use discernment in the way we love and serve others.

“The bible says if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t eat. So if a man shows up and he is lazy and he doesn’t want to have a job and he doesn’t want to work for his food and provide for his family, you don’t feed that man. You let his sin rest on him and you let him feel the weight of it and you exhort him and encourage him in the gospel to take up his responsibility and follow Jesus and provide for his family. You don’t just give him money. You don’t just give him food...if the church just hands out money (services) to everybody, the church just becomes a social agency.”

God isn’t saying that giving food or money is wrong but if it’s not towards proclaiming the Gospel it’s pointless.

“We work on peoples’ souls. We talk about eternal life. We proclaim the Gospel. We help people love Jesus. Besides Jesus himself said, what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but he dies and loses his soul. So feed him, cloth him, give him job skills, give him a house, an apartment…great. If he dies and goes to hell, you’ve given him nothing of any value.

Alright I get it. Eternity is at stake. The hunger of every human’s soul is the greatest need we could ever satisfy. We satisfy this with the Gospel, loving that person first just as Christ loved us and sharing the truth, hope, and restoration it holds.

"Here’s the deal, if you come across somebody that’s needy, if you come across someone on the street that’s asking for money, what do you do? What do you do? Well, here’s what I would encourage you towards because of what the bible says. I would say don’t give money to people in need unless you know something about their life (is there genuine need? what is their character? where is there family?). Or you are able to give to some sort of organization that has the tools to assess where they are in their life. Don’t indiscriminately hand out money (or other resources). That’s often not helpful and in fact, it can be harmful and enabling."

Love for Lancaster, an organization aiming to hold true to the values of the church finds itself consistently in situations where there is need but confused as to if we are to fulfill that need. That sermon helped me understand deeper what it means to serve others and better prioritize a person’s need and discern whether that person should be given aid. Society will tend to rebuke this logic and say we are forgetting about their real needs and are placing judgment on them. Judgment and discernment are different.

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 -  14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (for much more depth to these verses go here)

Let’s make friends, let's share the Gospel and let’s pray that our friends get their greatest need fulfilled and become our brothers and sisters in Christ. Heaven, a place without need, awaits those who trust in and follow Him.

Take a listen to this song by Green River Ordinance. This is a significant part of L4L’s mission: to give Lancaster residents a “resting hour” and provide for one of their fundamental needs here on Earth.

Resting Hour by Green River Ordinance on Grooveshark

 I see the sun and it's rising slowly
For every shadow there's a light
Open your eyes I will come running
Open up to me open up to me
I will always be your resting hour
Give it all to me give it all to me
Maybe I can be your resting hour
...when we are broken we're not forgotten