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August 14, 2013

GUEST COLUMN: Helping the homeless: We’re all responsible

— Who is responsible to help those that are homeless? My first answer may seem a little harsh but hear me out. The first place of responsibility lies within the homeless person themselves. They are responsible.

Each and every human being is charged with maintaining their food, clothing, shelter and transportation. Since this is the case, it becomes easy for the rest of the world to walk by people who are homeless and feel justified in not coming to their aid.

Unfortunately, the issue is a little more complicated than it appears on the surface even though the surface is where many would rather the issue stay.

For centuries, communities have taken it upon themselves to care for those who cannot take care of themselves. The reality is that many people falsely believe that if they simply pay taxes that they are doing their part. They trust that the government is going to somehow hold the best interests of everybody before the interests of one.

The priorities of government have been set so that there are not enough dollars to fund what is needed to help the poor. By the time our tax dollars go up the ladder of big government and trickle back down to service providers, there are only a few dollars left to be divided up among many agencies.

Just because this is the case doesn’t mean that our hands are tied. Even if there was plenty of money the question remains, “Who are we going to allow to make the determination, on our behalf, about which of the homeless cannot care for themselves and which are just in the need of a little motivation?”

We cannot make anything more than a value judgment unless we are willing to spend time with these people and know them for who they are.

Homelessness is a systemic issue. When the system breaks down the homeless that cannot take care of themselves do not receive the care that honors our community’s standard.

The place where this is most apparent to me is in the lives of the homeless that are mentally ill. The second place where I see this is in the lives of homeless children. The third place is in the lives of battered and abused women. The final place is in the lives of those who are chronically addicted.

Each one of these breakdowns in the system takes a set of specially trained professionals, pastors and people like you to advocate on their behalf.

Recently, the Homelessness Task Force, of which I am a part, received the second half of the funding necessary to conduct a 10-year plan centered on how to best serve our homeless in Jeffersonville. I want to personally thank the city of Jeffersonville Redevelopment Board (Rob Waiz, Jack Vissing, Rob Stevens, Jerry White, Jamie Lake, Monty Snelling, Kevin LaGrange, Delynn Rutherford, Cindy Seifert, Les Merkley), the Jeffersonville City Council (Mike Smith, Ed Zastawny, Zach Payne, Lisa Gill, Bryan Glover, Connie Sellers, Dennis Julius, Matt Owen, Nathan Samuel), City Clerk Vicki Conlin and our Mayor Mike Moore for taking a step in the right direction. I’m proud to live in a city like ours.

But I also want to issue a challenge. Paul Stensrud, Executive Director of Jesus Cares at Exit 0, is right when he says, “If every church in Jeffersonville would take in, mentor, and be the advocate for one homeless person we wouldn’t have a homelessness issue.”

I would add that I’m quite sure that there are enough empty guest bedrooms in the city of Jeffersonville to accommodate the homeless in Clarksville, Jeffersonville, and New Albany put together.

Paul has put his money where his mouth is. He has cared for the homeless in his home. Park Memorial UMC is walking beside two homeless people working on getting them into permanent housing. The leaders of the city of Jeffersonville have shown that they are willing to work toward proactive solutions.

Now it’s time for our community, our churches and each family to step up and do the right thing!

My answer to the question, “Who is responsible to help those that are homeless?” is pretty simple, “I am. We are. You are!”

— The Rev. Jim Moon III is senior pastor of Park Memorial UMC and a member of the Jeffersonville Homelessness Task Force

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