Building a Caring, Restorative Culture

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 is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We begin doing outreach by walking with people, hearing their stories so full of suffering and trauma. Stories of never being able to keep up with bills or jobs lost in a changing economy are very common. Others tell of loss of cars and evictions as rents and bills outpaced their paychecks. We often hear of abusive and broken childhoods and flight from abusive partners. As problems pile up, health problems multiply. Some take to alcohol or drugs and get trapped in addiction, but cannot afford treatment. Others get arrested for resting in public spaces, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time—and for them, it is always the wrong place and the wrong time. As their words pour out, they are not infrequently filled with guilt and self-condemnation. But walking next to them, we see they have navigated a minefield of problems everyone in poverty knows all too well, that any of us might have walked into had we been in their shoes. Our society sees the casualties, but strangely often reacts by laying even more mines, and adds insult to injury by condemning them for walking into the only bloody road poverty allows.

We believe in a culture of restoration, not condemnation and punishment. Decriminalizing acts of daily living like sleeping is an essential step to make survival on the street bearable and end barriers to jobs and housing. Housing first enables people to begin putting their lives together, but without affordable housing more enter the cycle of homelessness. Health care for those caught in poverty reduces physical and mental suffering and, for those needing treatment, makes addiction recovery possible. In every case, it is less expensive to provide restorative care than destructive condemnation. But when we think of the suffering so many endure, of how that suffering and trauma get passed on for generations (the number of children in homelessness—officially 3081 in 2015, but the actual number of children is estimated at closer to 8,000 by MNPS experts), saving money is the least of the issues. Click on the related items below to learn about some of our efforts to transform the road into one that people can walk safely back to recovering their lives.