in response to abcrystcats and tfire...
in order to continue to do the work i do with the homeless, i've had to do something as ab suggests: judging the behavior, not the individual. i must create some distance between myself and our guests to remain objective - not to condemn them for what appears to be bad behavior which might not be under their mental or physical ability to control, or to go on to judge an entire group of people - which if you think about it is how evil plants its seeds and grows in the first place.
in the course of the work, i've done what ab suggests but in a different fashion: i group our guests into hi-function, medium function and low-function. as far as the highs, these are folks who are capable of moving on and escaping life on the streets with a little helping hand.
the medium functions are a mixed bunch - alot of them work in day labor jobs, confined to that by their backgrounds, culture and education - with not much hope of escape. day labor, at $35 a day, will not lift you from homelessness in a county where affordable housing is considered to be a $220,000 home. and, yes, a lot do spend a considerable amount of those funds on alcohol and drugs, but, hey, it's a hard life out there on the streets and in the woods, and it's their way of escape, even but for a little while. there is also no detox/rehab in this nimby county for poor folks - most detox if they can't secure substances in our shelter or in jail. this is not evil - it's pathethic - i can't turn my back on them even if they bring a lot of grief onto themselves.
the low functions are the folks who have no job, no money, no resources, no family, no support network but for us. a lot are long-term alcoholics whose life span won't likely exceed 45 to 55 years. for those, who we sometimes call 'long suicides in progress', we will do the best we can to introduce some fellowship and dignity into their lives.
and you're right, ab, this life takes a toll on those who choose to serve. my personal life is a mess - it's why dorothy day, the great Catholic activist called her auto-biography "The Long Loneliness". when you substitute our guests in your heart, in place of family and friends, or at least alongside your family, you lose a lot of normalcy and you gain, it seems at times, a lot of trouble and grief. but there you go: it's a strong pull when this work calls your heart - is it God pulling that string? i don't know ... but we do persevere... and you are not alone, ab, in your intellectual leanings towards tfire - i would guess that 98% of the folks sitting in pews feel the same way, and that's no judgment on them.
yet those in the pews continue to support our 100% faith based shelter with money, goods, and volunteer time in that extraordinary generous way of the American heart. i believe the existence of our shelter is a means of justice in itself - a place where the usual ways we look at things are turned on their heads - like Jesus perhaps meant when He said, "the last shall be first". it doesn't make sense, but i like it.
tfire mentioned Hitler. i've read that some folks said there can be no art after the Holocaust. i've also read Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning". In that he said it was those who continued to have something to live for - whether to be re-united with a beloved wife, or to write a book to conclusion, that were able to survive the camps of the Holocaust. the day there can be no more art, then evil has won - for as long as there is art, there's hope, and there's the ideal of a better life still standing.
when tfire and i both write of justice, tfire looks towards an Old Testament version of retribution through the means of captial punishment and so that some type of cosmic balance is restored. i look at justice as a concept where the power of the state or society is tempered by a sense that it's not all black and white -- that there are folks who just can't make it on their own, and that as neighbors, we are bound to help them, even if they can't ever make it very far. a good example in this regard is Moses versus Pharoah.
i'm not a pacifist - i would have fought in WWII, as my father did, for the evil the world was fighting was very clear. it's what happens when things aren't so clear that matters to me in the mean time, 'right here and now' as tfire says. and in the end, for me, it's trying to create a world with more kindness, more compassion, and more heart with the certainty that it can yet be achieved if we but try. that's where i thought my generation was headed 40 years ago - i try in my own way to keep on carrying that torch.