Flickr photo of homeless man by Rian Castillo

Could Christianity Solve Spokane’s Homelessness?

Guest Column By Elizabeth Marlin

There is no designated agency to count churches in the greater Spokane area. A cursory review of the yellow pages find 256 Christian churches, though certainly there must be more.  

Conversely, more than 30 agencies coordinate each year to count homeless people in Spokane. In December of 2018, volunteers conducted a snapshot census across the county. Their results were startling: they counted 1,245 souls who were currently housed in emergency shelters, sleeping in cars, or un-housed entirely. Twelve percent of those were households with children, and 16% of them were kids under 18. Most shockingly, 2% (24 kids) were households comprised only of children.

Their reasons for being homeless are as varied as they are heartbreaking. Lack of income was the primary cause for 74 households, while family conflict was 46. Drug use and alcohol use accounted for 42 and 33 households, respectively. 29 households were fleeing domestic violence, and another 24 became homeless due to mental health issues. 31 more were evicted, and 19 were rejected by their families.

About 250 people were identified as “chronically homeless,” having a history of repeated or long-term homelessness, 310 people were entirely unsheltered, sleeping exposed in places not designed for habitation. These numbers reflect a 125% increase in unsheltered persons over 2017 data.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” Matthew 8:20

Christ’s greatest commandments were to love God and love our neighbor. In the Bible, God commands us often to give generously to the poor, and to speak on their behalf. Caring for the poor is the duty of the living church, and of all members of the Body of Christ. Simply put, this is the highest calling for Christians everywhere.

So how is it that in a town with 256 bible-preaching, God-fearing Christian churches, how do we have such an epidemic of homelessness?

Of course, not all of our homeless neighbors are easy to love—many are addicted or mentally ill or both. Still, Christ kept company with prostitutes and thieves, tax collectors and lepers. Surely His church would follow his example to welcome the addicted and afflicted.

To their credit, some churches have. Catholic Charities of Spokane houses hundreds of people each winter at House of Charity, and their Healthy Housing and housing stabilization programs prevent hundreds more from the same fate. This winter Salem Lutheran and Westminster UCC bravely opened their doors and hearts, turning empty gymnasiums into emergency warming shelters that were often over capacity. If only other churches had chosen to follow their example.  

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?,” – 1John 3:17

If each church in Spokane were to take in five homeless people, our “homelessness crisis” would be resolved on the spot. Imagine it for a minute. What if we followed Christ’s example and loved our neighbors, without caveat or exception or condemnation? What if we took our empty rectories and Sunday school nurseries, our church vans and our basement kitchens, and put them to work toward our highest calling? What if we treated our churches less like temples and more like homes?

What if we decided to be a little more Christian? 

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About Elizabeth Marlin

Elizabeth Marlin was raised Baptist in a small town in Northern Michigan. Since then she has left Michigan and the church, and discovered the true meaning of her faith. These days she resides in Spokane where she is a poet, community advocate, mother of two, and chair of the West Central Neighborhood Council.

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