A few years ago, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show featured this:
This quirky, funny, yet informative video educates us on the “Housing First” program. It aired on Comedy Central over 2 years ago. And as Hasan Minhaj demonstrates so eloquently, this extremely successful technique for changing the homeless culture cuts against the conventional wisdom of the ages – certainly against good conservative thinking.
For a more serious look at this you might check out these links:
I need to react to this unconventional wisdom in two ways.
1. I first learned of Housing First shortly after the 60 Minutes program about 100,000 Homes was aired on CBS in 2014. Soon after, I learned about Utah’s efforts to eliminate chronic homelessness statewide, and it seems they have come very near that goal! And they did it by using this most unconventional wisdom. This is important to me because in 2010, I was introduced to the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, a book that went to pains to reinforce the conventional wisdom AND try to pass it off as though it was something new, something biblical, and something that works. I purposely challenged that thinking and the book that popularized it in several Lubbock churches where I had connections back at that time, but I was shunned and/or kicked out for my efforts.
2. Though I see the incredible and undeniable power of the Housing First philosophy, I think it still falls short of the glory of God, and I hope the church can use it to shake off this unfounded commitment to the old conventional wisdom (which I strongly suspect finds its force in conservative politics) and really think critically about how Jesus would surpass even the new practice.
In the first instance, I am giving the church my “I-told-you-so”. Not that I am better than you, but I did try to tell you to think this through better way before the Housing First phenom came along and totally discredited your conventional wisdom. I knew what I was talking about then, and you wouldn’t listen; I know what I am talking about now. So the question is: Will you listen now?
This does not automatically make me right and you wrong. But it should be enough to earn me a hearing. And since that seems so hard to come by, I lay out my case this way bit by bit. The foolishness of God is wiser than your worldly wisdom. I am sure I have read that somewhere…. (I Cor. 1:25 – anyone?).
The fact is that the whole When Helping Hurts philosophy – especially that we might harm the poor when we GIVE them things or money – is now left in shreds on the workshop floor. That book peppered a handful of Bible passages stitched out of context to suit an agenda that eases your conscience when the poor don’t seem to respond in the favorable way we had hoped. It winds up letting you off the hook and allowing you to set them up for actual failure while you don’t actually care. That book was not as biblical as it sounded. Let us move on from it now.
The second part of my reactions is that Housing First was born out of a desire to SAVE MONEY – not souls. Housing First, it turns out, turns the conventional wisdom on its head alright, but does so in service to Mammon, not Jesus! As powerful as it is, and it is, we can learn from it, alright, but as Christians, we need to serve Jesus instead of money! (Matt. 6:24). This should be a NO BRAINER!
Go look at the video links above. You will plainly see. The Housing First advocates did the math. Housing chronic homeless people, despite their alcoholism and other addictions (even laziness for that matter) actually SAVES MONEY! Loads of it!!! It just so happens that success at this level revealed some marginal success at the next level too – changed lives.
But those lives were not brought to Jesus or to the service of the Kingdom of God. Yes, they are changed in very positive ways, but not to that degree or in that direction – AND THAT MATTERS.
This is where I can point into the mist, but I do not have the whole enchilada worked out necessarily. However, to the degree I know Jesus and the Bible, I sense strongly that I am not out of line to suggest that Christian church buildings and Christian homes (especially those with spare/guest rooms) can and should take in the stranger, and thus take in Jesus himself (Matt. 25:40). I am sure there are logistical concerns that vary from home to home and town to town and homeless person to homeless person. I do not suggest ignoring those concerns, but I am certain that any church or home that follows a crucified Messiah (who in turn directs his followers to take up their crosses as they follow) will be willing to work those logistics out sacrificially.
I even think we should call the program “Home First” instead of “Housing First” because I am clear that four walls and a roof, though necessary, are not sufficient to make a HOME. And homeless people need (insert drumroll please….) a HOME! And the Kingdom of God directs us to GIVE it to them.