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Fearing the Homeless

10/23/2018 05:46:49 PM


In Peekskill, where I live, there is a controversy brewing.  The Jan Peek shelter is planning to move to a new location.  Over the years, Temple Israel has supported this shelter for homeless people by sending food and donations.  The shelter must move from its current location by the waterfront.  Its leaders plan to relocate the shelter to a location on Washington Street. In the new facility, residents will be able to access services and job training that will help them transition to a better life. 

Some of the people who live in the neighborhood around the proposed new facility have joined forces against it. When I attended a community meeting about the relocation, many of those who spoke expressed their opposition in terms of their fears. They were afraid of being panhandled. They were afraid of violence.  They were afraid of exposing their children to those who are mentally ill, addicted, or sexual predators.  As I listened to them speak about their fears, I thought about how easy it is to fear those whom we do not know.

At the community meeting, I spoke about how Temple Israel has provided opportunities for our young people to meet and speak with homeless people.  Seventh graders regularly go on Midnight Runs with Brotherhood.  Their mission is not only to hand out food and clothing, but to speak to those they are helping with respect and kindness.  During the confirmation year, students travel to Washington DC and hear the stories of people who are either currently or formerly homeless.  Most recently, Temple Israel hosts a group of homeless people for one or two weeks during the winter.  In doing so, we bring to life the words of the prophet Isaiah, who urged us to "bring the homeless poor into your house."

When we meet and speak with people who are homeless, we are less likely to fear them.  When our students do this, they can learn that there is nothing to fear.  Those who have gone on Midnight Runs often say that they are surprised about the many "nice" and "normal" people they met who must live on the streets.  People are people, even those in desperate circumstances. 


Sat, December 7 2019 9 Kislev 5780