WASHINGTON (ABP) — Social acceptance and compassion fatigue are leading Americans to leave needy individuals — and efforts to help them — out in the cold, according to leaders.
Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said the public believes homelessness is an accepted byproduct of capitalism. Homeless people incorrectly are viewed as being in their condition because they do not want to work, he said.
This is reinforced when people do not see a decline in homelessness, said Whitehead, leader of the nation's largest advocacy group for the homeless.
This notion of a never-improving homeless population hurts Christian ministries, said Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco. The negative connotations make it difficult for homeless ministries to raise funds.
Dorrell has encountered this resistance firsthand as he tries to raise funds to construct Waco's first shelter for the chronically homeless.
He acknowledges it is difficult to get a homeless person on sound financial ground, a sad fact that demoralizes workers. Volunteers continually give of their time, energy, resources and hearts, but seldom see someone get off the streets, Dorrell said. Workers burn out and give up hope, believing the socio-economic factors are too great to overcome.
Directors of Christian ministries have to alter the perceptions held by many Christians about what it means to have a successful homeless outreach, Dorrell said. While ministry leaders would like each person to find a home, success comes in many small steps.
Whitehead agreed success is largely an individual measurement. Victory can be as simple as entering a rehabilitation program, eating a warm meal or finding a temporary job. “Success depends on the individual,” Whitehead stated. “For some people accessing treatment is success.”
This redefinition of success is important for Christian businesspeople as well, Dorrell argued. Christian efforts are largely dependent on believers who are willing to give a homeless person a job and a chance, Dorrell said. A job does not guarantee a person will get a home, but it gives them a better opportunity.
These steps, no matter how small, are movements in the right direction, Dorrell added. Believers must continue to minister to those in need, despite the length or difficulty of the work ahead.
“In the kingdom of God you can't give up on these people,” Dorrell commented. “But it's hard to convince results-oriented church people of that. Change may be as small as getting a day-labor job today or finding a safe place to sleep for a few days.”