News and Views

Working to develop a complete picture of homelessness

Posted by Guest Author on

By Rev. Katie Grover
Pastor, Patapsco UMC

Patapsco UMC in Dundalk was recently cited by Baltimore County for reportedly having trash, debris and human waste on its property, left by homeless people who sleep on the grounds of the church. The citation is part of the continuing struggle of the church caring for the unhoused, poor and marginalized.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This week, I was sent pictures of soiled toilet paper. I was sent pictures of a person’s worldly goods stacked neatly against a brick wall. I was sent pictures of a blanket peaking out from behind a bush. I was sent pictures of trash trapped behind the wheel of a bicycle. Trash trapped along a fence line. The thousand words these pictures may evoke include disgusting, unkempt, negligence, disarray, ugly, hazardous, unsightly.

But what about the pictures that were not taken?

Where is the picture of the man on the other end of the soiled toilet paper, a man who does not have a place to go to the bathroom with dignity, a man who relieves himself just like an animal? Where is the picture of the man on the bench covered in blankets trying to stay warm in freezing temperatures, no place to go because the cold weather shelter is not open this year?

Where is the picture of the man who found himself on the street when his place of employment folded up shop after he had worked there nearly all of his life? Where is the picture of the woman whose every possession has been abandoned because she went to the hospital? Where is the picture of the person who likely found refuge behind the bush, covered in that blanket? Where is the picture of the person who is just trying to stash his bike, his only mode of transportation, hoping it won’t get stolen?

The pictures not taken, they are worth a thousand words as well. They tell a story of a community of people that are overlooked, a community of people invisible. They are not seen, only the evidence they leave behind.

The pictures taken tell a story of people who are more outraged over something that is not aesthetically pleasing than the ugliness that perpetuates the conditions that create the situation, the ugliness that is homelessness.

Their pictures ignore the ugliness which is mental illness. The ugliness which is addiction. The ugliness which is unemployment and underemployment. The ugliness which is broken relationships. The ugliness which is hopelessness. The ugliness which is dehumanization. The ugliness which is benefits denied. The ugliness which is poverty. The ugliness which is the callous government and the under-resourced church. The ugliness which is communities unwilling to be the place where shelters and resource centers can be located.

The pictures taken of the outward ugly are only evidence of an ugliness far greater.

How do the two become reconciled?

The viewpoints expressed in these commentaries do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, its staff or leadership