Have a Heart For the Homeless -- Raising Awareness on a Social Justice Issue

The homeless are often looked down on by other members of our society. The have no place to call their own. Neither do they have a place in society. Or do they? Of late they've become pawns in a dirty political game and they've taught at Georgetown University. While the former is quite the undesirable position for anyone to be put in, it is not surprising that the homeless would be used in that way. However, the latter would come as a complete surprise to many. Homeless professors? Not quite.

Washington, DC has joined several other states in its quest for same-sex marriage. The DC Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of same-sex marriage on December 1st. According to DC Law, they must vote a second time on December 15th and then the bill goes to capitol Hill for congressional review. Congress then has 30 days to vote on it, or it becomes law by default.

When news of the impending vote came out in early November, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC threatened to end all social service contracts that Catholic Charities has with the city if the same-sex marriage bill becomes law. They don't want to pay spousal benefits to the partners of their gay and lesbian employees. Neither do they want to allow gay or lesbian couples to adopt children through their adoption services. All in all, the Catholic church doesn't want to honor same-sex marriage rights in any way, shape, form or fashion. As a church, they are entitled to their opinion and their stance on same-sex marriage.

However, Catholic Charities is not just the social service branch of the Catholic Church. It is also a non-profit which receives funding from the DC Government. Churches don't have to perform same-sex marriages or allow them to be performed in their space. But businesses may not discriminate against the LGBT community. Therefore, the crux of the issue is whether Catholic Charities should be allowed to assert its position as a branch of the Catholic Church and get a special exemption that doesn't require them to honor same-sex marriage rights or if they should be treated as a business and not be allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians, pedophile priests notwithstanding.

Nonetheless, there is an aspect of this controversy that I've only heard one person besides myself mention. It is the fact that the Catholic Church is fighting an inward battle with two of its own tenets being pitted against each other -- caring for the needy vs. being against same-sex marriage. If they remain under contract with the city to deliver social services, they'll have to recognize and honor gay marriage. If they end their social service contracts with the city, then many of Catholic Charities' programs wouldn't have enough funding to remain operational. They'd, in essence, be letting down the 68,000 poor Washingtonians that they serve, of which 2,000 of them are homeless people seeking shelter. The loss of 2,000 shelter beds during hypothermia could be catastrophic for DC's 6,000 plus homeless people. That said, which is the lesser of two evils -- accommodating a few gays and lesbians while providing for 68,000 needy people or leaving all of those needy people high and dry for the sake of making a statement against gay marriage??? Fact of the matter is that, short of making a heretonow unmentioned compromise, the church would need to forgo one of its tenets in order to support the other. we'll know by Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2010 which way they went. Let's hope that they make the right choice.

As if the homeless issue doesn't already have enough tentacles such as the ones connecting it to the Catholic Church, the LGBT community, and the political arena, now the homeless have begun to teach Georgetown University medical students. (It just so happens that Georgetown University Hospital receives funding from Catholic Charities.) It is now mandatory that all first year med students at Georgetown hear a lecture on homelessness. Though I haven't heard any offical word on the matter, I'm inclined to believe that Georgetown U. is building a social justice component from the ground up and this effort is an experimental one. While the effort is definitely a noble one and I support it wholeheartedly, Georgetown is lightyears behind other schools. American University, which is also in Northwest Washington, DC, has been known for its involvement in the community and its attention to local issues. (I was part of a panel discussion on poverty issues that took place there a couple of months ago.) Archbishop Carroll High School has a social justice class which goes into the community doing service and learning about poverty and homelessness. I'm glad to welcome georgetown aboard this train.

That said, on Friday, December 4th, ten people who were either presently or formerly homeless spoke to 200 first-year med students at Georgetown U. We each had a class of 20 students whom we had to speak to for two hours. However, it was mandatory and some of the students made no secret of the fact that they didn't want to be there. Nonetheless, they were made to realize that many of their future patients will be indigent. they were also educated on the types of diseases that permeate the poor and homeless community. They were given a dose of reality, whether they wanted it or not. Hopefully next year's students will be more receptive and sympathetic to the homeless issue. Either way, I'd do it again and I'm glad that the georgetown faculty is creating awareness on the issue.

In summary, we have a Catholic archdiocese that has stated that, in lieu of the same-sex marriage bill and its social service contracts with DC, it feels that LGBT policies are being forced on the church.Then we have med students who were forced to hear lectures on the issue of homelessness and poverty. It's enough to make you wonder where people's hearts are. have people lost their desire to do good and to love their neighbor??? While the dilemma being faced by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC is a difficult one, the lack of sympathy on the part of med students who are made to hear about homelessness and poverty is downright appalling. Nonetheless, my fellow homeless advocates and I will continue to raise awareness on the issue in hopes of instilling some sympathy in the hearts of the affluent for those who are less fortunate. Let's keep on keepin' on!!!


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