The Christmas season is a painful time for those children, women and men who are homeless in the United States. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has estimated that 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. In 2013, the numbers for child homelessness went from 1 in 50 (1.5 million) to 1 in 30 (2.5 million). In January 2013, there were more than fifty-seven thousand homeless veterans.
This crisis of poverty is especially poignant this time of year, when we remember the birth of a great religious leader whose life began in a stable, because there was no more room at the inn. The fact that homelessness persists and is increasing is a challenge to what we value and honor in our society, including the very core of our religious beliefs. As Pope Francis said just a few weeks ago in a November sermon, “Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes…it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path…God weeps, Jesus weeps.” The same must be said for a world that continues to abide homelessness and poverty in the midst of plenty.
We would like to share some words from those who are spending this season with leaders who are living on the margins of a cruel world and who are fighting like hell to live out the power, truth and love of Christmas:
From Aaron Scott of Chaplains on the Harbor Episcopal Church in Westport, Washington:
For Christmas, folks are so down and fragile and worn right now that we’re basically focused on doing everything we can do lift people’s spirits. I’ve recruited [a friend] to dress up as a reindeer and come Christmas caroling with us at the encampments next week. I’ll be dressing up as redneck Santa with a big sack full of cigarettes, cigars, socks, hats, gloves, jerky, etc. We’ll also be throwing a Christmas party and a Christmas Eve service at our building in Westport. We will be getting the biggest live tree we can fit in the sanctuary. Some of this strategy is simply suicide prevention — a harm reduction approach to managing all the pain poor people feel during Christmas in a capitalist society. But I think some of it is also real resistance. Coming together on our own terms, on our on territory, with our own theology, digging deep in order to share with one another the little bit we have and taking pride in that. My hope for Chaplains on the Harbor is that we establish a Christmas tradition of celebrating poor people’s autonomy during this season, and the power of our collective radical hope in lowly places.
For more information, including about their caroling on December 17-18 and their service on Christmas eve, visit Chaplains on the Harbors’ Facebook page.
From Lindsey Krinks, Director of Street Chaplaincy and Education at Open Table Nashville in Nashville, Tennessee:
On Saturday, we’ll remember and honor the lives of 67 of our friends who died this year. 67. Some of the deaths were exposure-related, others were hit by cars, others were murdered, others had terrible health conditions and went for years and years without the care they needed. They were loved and are greatly missed and we will work every day in their memory to create a better world where there is less suffering and less early death.
For more information on Homeless Memorial 2015 (December 12, 9-11 (CST)), visit Open Table Nashville on Facebook and look for their Homeless Memorial 2015 page.
From “In Violence and Travail: Advent on the Streets”, also by Lindsey Krinks, originally written during advent last year for Vanderbilt Divinity School’s alumni blog:
At Open Table Nashville, we tend wounds, share burdens, help people access housing, build community, and listen for hope. But all these things are not enough—we also work to disrupt cycles of poverty and oppression. “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
So during this season of waiting, let us awaken to the hope-charged air and seize the possibility of creating a better world. Let us wade through systemic violence, through racism and hatred, through hopeless travail, and feel our feet pound the pavement in protest, in prayer. Let us lay down our credit cards, our worries, and our silence at the feet of the living Christ and lean into the coming newness born in the midst of suffering and uncertainty. And then, with God’s grace, let our voices be the cry that cracks open the darkest night and let our very breath, our very marrow, our very being, be the in-breaking of hope, equality, and justice in the world.
From Picture the Homeless in New York City, New York:
December 21st is the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year. It’s on this night, when the cold and the darkness seem most overwhelming, that communities across the United States come together to honor the lives of homeless men and women who passed away this year, and to draw attention to the fact that many homeless lives are cut short because we, as a society, can’t find a way to end homelessness.
Our annual Longest Night of the Year service is a powerful, deeply moving event. No matter how cold and dark it is now, there is light in the dark and reason to hope that the future will be brighter. So we’ll celebrate the loves ones we’ve lost and we’ll resolve to fight harder and lose less of them next year.
The Longest Night of the Year Service will take place on Monday, December 21, 6pm, at Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square). For more information, visit picturethehomeless.org.