My husband works in one of the university’s buildings near downtown Fargo. Since the building opened, there have been many occasions when homeless people attempt to shelter in the building, especially when the weather is bad. My husband is often the one notified when someone is in the building and has to be asked to leave. It is the policy that people who are just taking shelter from the cold can stay for a reasonable time (until their bus arrives, for example), but they cannot use the building as a shelter for extended periods or as a sleeping room.
Recently he arrived at the building on a weekend to get some work done while the building is quiet and empty. As he parked in one of the faculty lots, he saw a woman who appeared to be homeless pushing a shopping cart filled with her belongings. As she crossed the parking lot, she stopped to pick up something and add it to her cart. My husband couldn’t see what it was, only that it was white. As she continued to push her cart across the parking lot, she stopped to pick up a plastic bag that was stuck to a tree. As he watched her cross the street he speculated that she would re-use that plastic bag in some way to help her manage her belongings. Instead, she walked up toward a convenience store and carefully put the two items in the trash can there.
He was struck by the fact that a woman who did not seem to have a home of her own was taking responsibility for cleaning up trash outdoors. My husband is used to picking up trash around the building. As the associate dean he feels a responsibility for the appearance of the building. But this woman – who has no connection with the college – was taking responsibility also. He told me that this is the kind of organizational citizenship that he tries to develop in the students, and realized how incorrect his assumptions were about the homeless woman.
It reminds us of our first principle: to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This woman demonstrated her inherent worth and dignity by cleaning up trash that she passed. Our second principle tells us to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Just as our church works to promote social justice, we can also take individual actions to demonstrate compassion in human relations. With the arrival of fall and winter, there will probably again be homeless people looking for shelter in the campus building. My husband has decided that when he encounters them, he will buy them a cup of coffee or hot chocolate from the coffee shop in the lobby to help thaw them out.