Being homeless means being isolated and lonely. The common answer to the question of, “how to solve homelessness” is always more housing. Simple enough. Where there is lack provide the needed resource to fill in the gap. While the housing first model is successful for some people, there is a difference between a housing program and a home. Community connection and familial relationships are more life giving than four walls and a roof. My friend Samuel died alone in his apartment last week. He had been homeless for many years and overdosed the first week he was housed. I had known Samuel for three years and had no idea he was addicted to opiates. His biological sister and the people he lived with on the street were fully aware of his struggle with addiction. Had he been living in community, his family and friends would have known his patterns, triggers, and history of abuse and trauma. They would have been looking out for him. Being alone in a studio apartment, separated from everyone that knows and cares about you can be fatal.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus seeks out and heals a man terrorized by isolation. He finds a lonely soul, naked, bound with chains, living in a cemetery, cutting himself, and screaming “Jesus, Son of God Most High, what do you want with me? I beg you not to torture me (Luke 8:28 CEV)!” Jesus responds to this terrified man, whose “demons would force him out into lonely places (Luke 8:29 CEV),” by asking a question. “What is your name?” The healing that the man in the tombs experiences starts with Jesus’s desire to get to know him. Not as a mentally ill homeless man that needs to be connected to resources, but as a beloved child of God that has a name. When the people in town who had abandoned the troubled man find him healed, clothed, and in his right mind they become terrified, demanding that Jesus leave the community. Jesus instructs the newly healed man to stay, “Go back home and tell everyone how much God has done for you (Luke 8:39 CEV).” Healing continues as the transformed man is empowered to transform his community.
My friend Donnie died last week alone in his tent. He was shot in the head. He was thirty-seven years old. He was remarkably sweet and kind to me considering how hard his life was. His sleeping bag was wet, and he was preparing to move out into the sun to get warm. He had a severe infection in his leg and his mental health had deteriorated rapidly, leaving him extra isolated among the most vulnerable. The last time we spoke, he talked about how some “bad people” had moved into the tents around him and how he believed in Jesus as his Lord and savior. “Our God, from your sacred home you take care of orphans and protect widows. You find families for those who are lonely. You set prisoners free and let them prosper (Psalms 68:6a CEV).” We pray freedom from the demon of loneliness and for the abundant life of Christ.