Menace to society

We have a full crew of outreach workers hitting the streets tonight. Three Public Health Nurses, four Catholic Deacons, and loads of sandwiches and snacks. Doing outreach with the Public Health Nurses has been fascinating. They provide Hep A/B vaccines and flu shots as well as wound care. People living on the street represent all levels of understanding and interest in the value of medical services. Responses to the nurses’ questions range from the respectful: “I am all up to date on my shots. Thanks for asking,” to the defensive and suspicious: “I don’t do needles anymore of any kind. What are the ingredients in the vaccine? What big pharma is the government using?” Former heroin users want to avoid needles. Mental health issues and the internet help to form many ideas about what the nurses are up to. I never thought it would be important for the church to affirm and support the work of nurses. I assumed we all could agree that medicine was a basic human right and need. I never knew that pastoral care would be saying things like, “the pandemic is real,” or “washing your hands prevents the spread of disease.” I am shocked at how many people, both homeless and housed, take information from YouTube as authoritative.

The Catholic Deacons provide a refreshing non-evangelical approach to ministry. They are practical and compassionate, rallying their parishes to make sandwiches and donate money to serve the homeless of their city. I asked them about their feelings about The Church and our governor’s shut down orders. They speak with the authority of old oak trees whose limbs and trunks cannot be broken. “The church has always existed, and it always will!” Even though the restrictions are frustrating, their main concern is the care of people. The Deacons tell me, “People aren’t transformed by our opinions. They need to see Jesus in us.” Sometimes I wish I were a Jesuit Priest.

At the end of the night we meet a woman sitting on the ground in front of 7-11. She is rocking back and forth and doesn’t want anything to eat except fruit snacks. She seems like she has no idea where she is. As were talking, a woman walks up to us and asks me, “Why are you talking to her? She is a menace to society. Don’t waste your time.” The woman sitting on the ground says, “I don’t know about the world.” The outreach team walks back to the car, reflecting on all the times people have harassed us for helping homeless people. The nurses share stories of being yelled at from passing cars, “Your killing Seattle.” The pastors and deacons talk about belittling and dismissive questions from church leaders. “How is the homeless thing going?”

We get to the car and our friend Mark is setting up his “cardboard modular home!” He got clean from heroin on the street two years ago. He has had a hard time climbing up and out of homelessness. He always prays with us and reminds us not to forget to pray for ourselves. “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God (Proverbs 14:31).”

Michael Cox

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