Laurie Baker: What Did You Do to DESERVE Your Home?
Deciding human rights questions is an exercise that is at once philosophical, theoretical, theological and practical. So questions like, “Do human beings have a right to housing or food?” have answers both simple and complex. Laurie Baker, director of the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons, will talk about housing as a human right and the state of homelessness in the Fargo-Moorhead region.
This is a subject I think most people don’t really think about in the Fargo –Moorhead area. It’s pretty common for us to think this is a “big city” problem that we don’t face here. This is not just a third-world issue either. The reality is we do have a significant number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and this service did a great job of introducing the truth about the issues our community faces.
You may be asking yourself what the face of people experiencing homelessness in our area looks like. Here are a few statistics Laurie shared with us:
- The most common “face” is male, around 46 years old that find themselves homeless due to hardships such as divorce and/or loss of their jobs, which in turn forces a loss of housing. Of these men 47% are military veterans.
- 36% of people facing homelessness are women who are victims of some sort of domestic violence, many of them also have children to care for.
- 38% are non-Caucasian most typically of Native American descent.
To answer the question proposed of “Do human beings have a right to housing?” The simple answer is “yes”. It turns out that housing is a basic human right guaranteed by internationally recognized laws and treaties that were created in the late ‘40’s and have been continually updated to address changing economic conditions around the world. In addition virtually all religious traditions mandate some form of hospitality. We see that as well in the Unitarian Universalist faith within our very first Principle that recognizes “The inherent worth and dignity of every human being”.
Unfortunately, where the issue becomes complex is resolving homelessness. The system for obtaining assistance is quite complex and confusing. Many of the people working for organizations that provide help often find themselves lost in the process and frustrated by the hoops needed to jump through to in order gain these basic human rights. If the agencies have trouble then how do we expect those facing extreme hardships to be able to make sense of it all?
The end of Laurie’s talk also brought up a question that I personally struggle to find an answer for. What about panhandlers? You know the guys or gals on the street corner with the cardboard signs asking for “whatever you can give” and “anything helps”. We’ve all seen them. Usually they are ignored and dismissed for reasons such as “they aren’t really homeless” or “they’ll just use it to buy alcohol or drugs”. Laurie shared that the solution is giving without attachment. What does that mean? It means giving without judging or guessing what that person will do with the money. Will they use it to buy alcohol? Maybe they will, or maybe they will put it towards something positive. That is not for us to decide. We need to learn to be truly compassionate and give without that attachment. If we don’t give them the opportunity for change, then change isn’t possible. And honestly, would you go stand on a street corner with a sign for hours on end if you didn’t really have to? With one significant loss in your life you could find yourself in the same situation.
I know this talk has changed my opinion and I know I will make an effort to give when anyone is asking for help. Who am I to judge? I challenge all of you to do the same. Give what you can. Anything really can help.
For more ideas and information on how you can help please visit the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons at www.fmhomeless.org.