Beve went to Lowe's the other day. He had to pay a small bill. But while he was there, he wandered through the tile section, checked out the cooktops, sat in a few pieces of patio furniture, then wandered out to the garden sheds. We actually do need to replace our garden shed. The old aluminum shed in our backyard is no longer waterproof, which tends to be a problem for some of the things we have stored in there. So Beve's had his shopping hat firmly on recently as he's looked for the best deal. This means getting the size he wants for the best price. Well, you know the gig. Beve's a shopper, and I gladly leave it to him.
He was opening up the door of one such shed outside of Lowe's Saturday morning when he saw a backpack just inside the door. He reached inside to lift it out, thinking it had been accidentally left there when he realized it wasn't there accidentally but had been placed there by the person sleeping at the back of the shed. I have to tell you my tall, strong husband isn't easily spooked but he was a little startled by seeing a person in what he expected to be an empty shed. But almost immediately it made perfect sense: a spot out of the rain for one of the myriad homeless people in our community.
Bellingham is a haven for the homeless, actually. The most recent count I could find was from 2006 and put the estimate of homeless people in our community at 1200. And on cold days, there are only so many places to get out of the weather. The public library is one of them. I know this personally because I'm a weekly patron of our library. Every time I'm there, most/all of the computers are being used by someone who seems to have all their worldly goods beneath their feet. I actually love this. I love that libraries provide services that do not discriminate based on wealth. It's impossible to know why all these people are homeless. It's easy believe that homelessness is caused by drug or alcohol abuse, but this is an oversimplification of the problem. Too many people have lost their jobs, which resulted in the loss of their homes, to be this naive. However, even if such dire straits has come via drug or alcohol addiction, the plight is no less real. I had a brother who was homeless. He carried his life around with him in a gym bag. One scruffy blanket, one old beach towel, and a single pair of jeans was all he owned. My brother had a full-time job with benefits, but the wage didn't extend far enough for him to actually live on it. He was a good employee, a hard worker at a job he loved. And I believe there are thousands out there like him. Wanting more, but not able to make their money stretch.
I confess I do not think often enough of the poor among us. I have friends who do. I know people who have passion for caring for the homeless in our community. They'd practically give the shirts off their backs just to give one more meal to someone in need. And I remember the days when Beve used to buy bags of hamburgers for those panhandling on the streets. He had/has a hard time just giving them money, not knowing what might be done with the cash, but those burgers were gladly received--and eaten. And every year Beve has a few students who are in this predicament. A few years ago, a couple of students were actually squatting in an abandoned house here in town. Getting themselves up and to school each day. Beve didn't hear about it until almost the end, when someone reported it and the cops came and kicked them out. I realize this might sound wrong, but I admired those kids. They could have simply skipped the school part, without an adult there to force the issue, but they wanted to have better lives. So they pushed themselves and each other. And I felt badly when I heard about it, and yes, badly too, when I heard they'd been 'shut down' and spread out. They who weren't related had become each other's family, and were making it. What was so wrong with that? I know, I know. But still, there was something wonderful about the little community they'd created together.
We don't do enough for those around us. That's the bottom line. We see them on the street corners and become inured to them holding up their signs, or pushing their overloaded shopping carts. But we should be convicted by those things. Convicted by the sight of a person sleeping in a garden shed at Lowe's. These are 'the least of these' Jesus spoke of. How will He judge me if I don't see Him in their faces?