Outside in Yolo County: Learning About Homelessness, Working for Change

by Pastor Chris Neufeld-Erdman

There are many reasons people find themselves homeless.  Regardless of the cause, being homeless almost always comes with some sense of vulnerability and shame, and, if chronic, it can bring a sense of hopelessness. Cities across our nation are struggling with the very real humanitarian problems that come with the rising tide of homelessness in America. Economic conditions and political agendas aren’t helping. Even in our own city, there are considerable arguments over how to cope with homelessness in our community, even while we’re gridlocked over initiatives to offer more affordable housing options throughout the city.

Lawson Snipes, part of the DCC community and a strong advocate for the homeless, often writes about homelessness in his publication, The Spare Changer.  “Ask any downtown merchant or customer,” says Snipes, “and you will realize just how tired people are of seeing the symbols of poverty everywhere they go. . . . I want to see more Americans living good lives, at least to the point of not having to worry so much about the basics of every breathing moment” (in “What Can We Homeless Do to Help Ourselves?” The Spare Changer, February 2016).  Lawson himself struggles with his own homelessness in our city where affordable housing is meager.  Lawson is an example of the way most of the truly unsheltered poor around us are truly invested in our community; they are our neighbors.

DCC has long been an advocate for the homeless in Davis.  For several decades we provided sack lunches daily for homeless friends as well as transients passing through Davis.  DCC, led by Pastor Bill Habicht and many others, initiated the successful Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter that houses homeless individuals and families during the winter months; DCC and its volunteers continue to provide leadership and support for this vital community support program.

More recently, we’ve shifted our decades-long daily sack lunch ministry to a Friday sit down lunch called, “Friday Faith and Food”; it gathers dozens of homeless friends (as well as those who may face some level of food insecurity) for a meal that creates a sense of community and a sense of worth for every person no matter what economic, social, physical or mental challenges they may face; there are homeless persons who are on the streets because of addiction, mental health issues, and life-style choices, but there are those who are homeless by choice or temporary circumstance in this city with scant housing options for the poor.  The meal always includes an invitation to participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper hosted by our staff and members of the local clergy.  These are ways DCC is working to do what Snipes and so many others want to see: more unsheltered people, “not having to worry so much about the basics of every breathing moment.”

Homelessness is not something that is going away—not in this current political climate and in these economic conditions.  And so, we’re going to have to become more sensitive to the plight of those made vulnerable by a whole host of conditions, some of which they may have little control over.  We’re going to have to partner with others throughout the city and region.  The new Pathways to Employment program here in Davis is an example of just this.  Bill Pride of Davis Community Meals, Pastor Bill Habicht, and others in our community network have created a remarkable new program that gives the homeless a viable pathway to employment and to the dignity they deserve. Read about that here.

We’re also going to have to find real solutions for temporary shelter, affordable housing, mental health care and social services in similar ways by not merely doing things for the homeless but working with the homeless.

As we continue our legacy of being a community shaped by the biblical vision doing justice, showing mercy, and walking humbly and in solidarity with the earth and all of its inhabitants (Micah 6.8), I invite you to educate yourself, get involved in whatever ways your heart may pull you, and find the courage to show hospitality and challenge injustice whenever you encounter it.

To help with this, DCC will periodically post episodes and articles from The Guardian’s recent series, “Outside in America”— an online series that can bring you closer to the people and places grappling with the homelessness crisis in the US; these resources will trouble you, inspire you, and help you learn from their stories.

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