LINCOLNTON––A local homeless man froze to death in subfreezing nighttime temperatures early this week.
That’s the sad word from executive director Mitzi Williams of Christian Ministry of Lincoln County. She added that the man was among the ministry’s clients. Ironically, he was known as “Lucky.” But it seems whatever luck he had finally ran out.
“He was a nice man,” said Williams. “He was an alcoholic. It’s a sad situation when our federal government spends millions on mental illness, and someone still dies from freezing in the woods.”
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, some 700 people freeze to death on an annual basis in this country. It can happen in less than an hour. About half a percent of the nation’s population is without a home. Some 2,000 Americans die each year from weather-related causes. It’s a problem especially bad amongst homeless military veterans, who are actually in greater danger from homelessness than they were in overseas combat operations.
Homeless shelters across America open their doors to save such people. In Lincolnton, there is the Hesed House of Hope at 100 Ann Gaither Court. It provides beds, meals, showers and more. Last year, it served some 88 people: 41 women, 38 men and nine children. Such entities as Christian Ministries and Hesed House abound around the world; some rooted in religion, some agencies of the modern secular state.
But of course, many homeless people are often too proud, too stubborn and/or too chemically dependent or mentally ill to darken the doors of such establishments, and they prefer to go their own way, seeking shelter in abandoned buildings, in the woods, beneath bridges and elsewhere. And some people without shelter actually have jobs, but they don’t make enough to afford rent. It’s a problem that defies easy solutions. At the end of the day, you can’t force people to accept help, even when they desperately need it, if they refuse it and simply will not be helped.
The answer? Probably there isn’t one. Christ Himself told us: “The poor you will always have with you,” as St. Matthew records in his Gospel. Thus the problem is intractable and maybe even insoluble––a perennial test of a society’s ethical mettle. And perhaps the most that may be done is to just continually serve such people as best one can, regardless, as Moses instructs in the 15th chapter of Deuteronomy:
“If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart…and thou givest him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give unto him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest, because for this the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works and in all unto which thou puttest thine hand, for the poor shall never cease out of the land. Therefore I command thee, saying, ‘Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy in thy land.’”
In performing His miracles and serving the poor, Jesus passed no judgements. Being the ultimate Judge, He could have, of course. But He did not. Unlike the Pharisees who opposed Him, He was never supercilious or officious, and He never demanded proof of employment, identity or sobriety. He simply did what was needed, from feeding the poor and healing the sick to cleansing lepers and casting out demons. And He commanded––not asked, but commanded––that we go and do likewise.
We cannot do less, not even if said problems remain with us until He comes again.
Located at 207 S. Poplar St. in Lincolnton, Christian Ministry is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Call (704) 732-0383 to learn more.
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