What if the “Point In Time” (aka) “PIT” count of homeless individuals was used, not so much to actually HELP the homeless, but as a way of generating money? Would this qualify as a case study in When Helping Hurts? I wish someone would pose that question to Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, authors of the bestselling “Christian” book by that title.
What if the PIT is just part of a fairytale rich and powerful Americans tell themselves to justify their greed and that rich and powerful American “Christians” believe blindly since it provides conscience salve for their guilt and shame?
Sound far fetched?
I reckon it does. But that has nothing to do with how ridiculous the theory is and everything to do with the skewing of facts in a very carefully constructed arrangement of smoke -n- mirrors. Let’s talk about it.
As I began considering this post, I initially had a very different idea in mind. I wanted to question the actual numbers estimated of homeless people in Lubbock, Texas this year. I saw a news item in the local TV news reports ostensibly discussing the “fact” that our homeless population is shrinking over the last 2 – 3 years, according to statistics developed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development using their PIT count.
According to the PIT, in 2018 Lubbock had a homeless population numbering at 333 which has steadily decreased to 283 in 2020. Questioning the accuracy of this trend is the point of the news item I watched which I will link here:
It turns out that Chris Moore, Executive Director of Grace Campus (formerly known as “Tent City”), doesn’t believe in the accuracy of the count. He is now on record with this concern. It is his experience that the service he provides has been flooded with “a lot more” people in need this year AND his observation that there are many “new faces all over town.”
Other experts in the field are relying on the PIT numbers, such as Erica Hitt, Director of Social Work at the Salvation Army – who also was interviewed for this news item. Thus, experts in the field disagree with each other about the PIT numbers.
This is important because… SO DO I. I have been disagreeing with the numbers provided by the PIT for the last five years at least (as long as I have been aware of PIT). The problem is that I am not an expert. I am not in a position of trusted authority. I am a keen observer, but, if you read this blog, it is entirely understandable if you see me as “biased.” (I don’t see myself as the slightest bit dishonest, but I am not in the business of promoting the status quo, but rather of critiquing it. There are power-players in this town serving the homeless who have found my rebuttal of their “Christian” service to be intolerable, thus they have sanctioned and rejected me.
I have not only been a keen observer, I have been a street minister. I have spent exorbitant amounts of time and money ministering to the street homeless of Lubbock. (To be fair, I have not spent time on the streets in the last two years, so my experience(s) are becoming somewhat dated.) I personally know at least 100 people with some measure of intimacy. My prayer list has 100 names on it! Yet, I see people all over town, like Chris Moore claims, that are new or that I don’t know. Sometimes I find them in sizable groupings!
It was my estimate five years ago that we had about 500 homeless people in Lubbock living primarily on the streets. It was my estimate that the population of homeless was growing, not decreasing. While I was not in a position to substantiate my findings, I reserved my criticism of the PIT and handled it very carefully. I see no real use in taking my anecdotal experience up against a carefully crafted and executed PIT with the backing of the US Dept. of HUD behind it.
But today, I have another expert in the field questioning it. That alone makes this information worthy of a post on the Fat Beggars School of Prophets blog. I am no longer alone in estimating the count to be skewed and telling the wrong story about Lubbock. I am not just some kook, some nut, nor am I alone in this opinion.
But, this post and this ministry is not really about ME either. If I were a terribly significant person, I would share my name and build a reputation for myself. But I aim to mute my part in all this.
On the contrary, as I look at the news item and consider posting about the false narrative, I begin thinking about what drives this phenom. It’s not actually a settled matter. The PIT count is accepted by most of the experts in the field. We have me (who doesn’t rate) and one other expert questioning the PIT, but that is not enough to call it false or to paint a picture of nefarious conspiracies. I know that, but it is enough to raise questions and put the PIT under the light of inquiry.
It is right there, at that point, that I decided to look up the PIT on the web and verify its legitimacy. That leads me to a website which explains it in basic terms, which I will now link here:
The the basic nuts -n- bolts explanation of the PIT here. It all sounds very good, very important, and useful. The people engaging in the annual (or biannual) count gather data which surely does help law makers in congress and local authorities understand better many of the complex facets of homelessness and its causes thus “enabling” wise and “effective” strategies for addressing the problem.
What can possibly be wrong with that?
Well, it occurs to me that Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (among others) have made quite a name for themselves in the last decade (and more) by “caring” about exactly these kinds of matters and critiquing the response(s) of governments, churches, and charitable organizations in effort to make their work more “effective.” In fact, Corbett, Fikkert, and friends have advanced their personal careers (if not built them from the ground up) on this exact endeavor. They present themselves as experts, write bestselling books, hold seminars and teach classes on “effective” charity and “economic development.” And they have done quite well for themselves to say the least.
Have they ended poverty and homelessness?
No. Not at all.
Are they making a positive impact?
Well, the PIT numbers in Lubbock, Texas in recent years might well be used to support the idea that they do. If you trust the PIT, Lubbock’s numbers are going down. As Erica Hitt of the Salvation Army puts it, “It means we are actually getting somewhere you know the fight that we are fighting here is looking better and better.” Hitt speaks specifically for the local Salvation Army, but her remarks represent, I believe, the sentiments of other organizations too – in fact a conglomeration of organizations.
While the Salvation Army has been with us for many generations, long before the PIT and long before many (if not most) of the other charitable organizations of Lubbock), decreasing numbers of homeless in a PIT count, though they should be something to celebrate in their own rite, also stand to legitimate current strategies AND THOSE WHO IMPLEMENT THEM. Hidden in those words are a lot of paychecks and career advancements.
That is a whole OTHER untold story.
Already, I am thinking of the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church of Lubbock (not its real name), of which I used to be a dedicated member before they kicked me out, and I am considering just how deeply indoctrinated that organization is/was with the influence of Corbett, Fikkert, and friends. At root, the philosophy advanced and embraced by Corbett, Fikkert, and friends by the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church is that giving money to the poor as a gift of grace expecting nothing in return actually causes harm. The term “enabling” gets trotted out right fast. But the other side of that same coin, the part that never quite gets connected for the viewing public, is that Premier (and practically ALL of the other charitable organizations of Lubbock with them too) hold their own organizational hand out seeking the gift of free money to “enable” their programs and services.
Ironic, I know. I have pointed this out a few times before.
Here’s something else ironic: Corbett, Fikkert, and friends (others like them) are quick to point out that if you give money to a bum on the corner, he is likely to spend it on drugs or booze. If you give money to a liberal government (taxes), it will get wasted. However, they never quite make the same critique about giving money to them, their organizations, or even to rich people for that matter. (I posted a year ago about “complimentary coffee and looked at the broader implications of this “enabling” idea if you actually consider the OTHER edge of this double-edged phenom.) Here is a link, in case you are interested:
Yeah, the year I got kicked out of Premier, the organization secured a $20,000 grant by winning a popularity contest here in Lubbock among charitable organizations. They became media savvy and peddled their “effectiveness” to one of the most politically and financially conservative cities in America raising money to help the homeless. That might seem almost ironic since conservatives tend to get a bad rap about caring for the poor, but if there is a fine line you can take demonstrating compassion to the poor without giving them money, then plenty of conservatives will come out of the woodwork to give you money to “enable” your program.
The next year, Premier secured grants making it a million dollar operation. Lots of expansion, name change, new building projects, new staff, new vehicles, new office space and a promise to end homelessness in ten years. That promise will require a metric by which to verify progress.
If homelessness wasn’t a business before that, it is now. It is quite a cash cow! Homelessness is the gravy train! If you want to do “Christian” ministry for the poor in Lubbock, Texas, why not build a career, an addition on your home, your paycheck in the process and all that goes with it?
You need only convince the public that you have the “effective” strategy to end poverty – one that has enough horse sense NOT to give money to the poor themselves! That would be liberal and harmful and “enabling,” and we sure wouldn’t want that!
The only thing is… if this is a true and accurate picture of homelessness in Lubbock then it will work us out of a job eventually.
Did I say that was the ONLY thing?
Okay… not exactly.
There really is a lot more to it than that.
But some of the more obvious is that we need a metric to show our progress. And who is in charge of the PIT locally?
I will let you guess.
Does that mean someone is being dishonest?
That I cannot say. I think it is possible. But I am not in a position to do more than speculate on that. However, even bias can skew things, and that doesn’t have to be evil intent.
But I have done enough to show organizational power getting a bit heady with unchecked and unreasonable influence. If we allow Corbett, Fikkert, and friends to build a pity industry and make the case they do, we really must look at both edges of the double-edged sword.
But you know what?
Here at Fat Beggars School of Prophets, the agenda is not actually some liberal, Socialist, or Democrat effort to keep conservatives honest or embarrass them or put them to ruin. Even to the extent some of that is involved, that is never actually the point. These are the rules secular politics tries to live and kill by, but this is God’s world, and he made it with entirely other agendas and ideas in mind. I would be stopping short if I didn’t call Christians back to those things.
Caring for the poor is right at the heart of Jesus’s mission and message. His inaugural campaign address in Luke 4 demonstrates most powerfully that he has come to declare, to proclaim, the Year of the Lord’s Favor – Jubilee. He didn’t come with some anti-enabling agenda of “effective” poverty alleviation. You can search the Bible from top to bottom, and you won’t find a word of that anywhere in it. Such terms are completely foreign to the Bible.
In fact, Jubilee is surely not “effective” at poverty relief in any conventional sense. Jubilee is about forgiveness of debts. Corbett, Fikkert, and friends quite purposefully lay out an agenda of using debt and debt collection as a means of straightening out the poor and teaching the poor to become disciplined about their use of finances as a means of “effective” poverty alleviation and as a strict alternative to “enabling.” And that is diametrically in opposition to Bible text! (Deut. 23:19 for instance).
No. Jubilee is all about returning lost wealth to the poor, cancelling debts, and in the process, putting a leash on greed. It doesn’t make the poor rich or more disciplined, but it does put limits on the greed of the rich and powerful and puts a stop to the OTHER blade in the double-edge sword of “enabling.” It turns out that the endless accumulation of wealth has a negative impact on vulnerable poor people and on God’s will and glory. Jubilee, the world as God intends it, has no space for such fat cats.
Go look at the link I provide above defining the Point In Time count. Notice who and how it benefits by design! It would SEEM that collecting all this data would provide caregivers the tools they need to end homelessness, and in theory it does. But in practice, it “enables” the rich and powerful make a buck off the homeless! Only the Jubilee is a real alternative to this fallen world.
This, then, is church business. This is Gospel business. This is the world God created, and the way he “enables” and “empowers” it to work according to his will and glory.
The PIT count, on its best day and working as intended (assuming that is in reality even possible), tells a false narrative of secular salvation – or worse of Salvation by Mammon.
I already know from first-hand experience that Lubbock, Texas resists the witness of the Spirit of God on this and resists my witness to these things. But we have another “expert” in the field baring witness to it now too. He is a name you can trust. Don’t trust me; don’t trust the Holy Spirit. No. Trust one of the players in the game who is finding the false narrative of the PIT to be intolerable.
PIT is a fairytale come untrue.