As all Christendom celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ this week, we would be wise to remember and follow his teachings about those in need. When Jesus said the poor would always be among us, it was an invitation to help, not an excuse to ignore.
The ways to serve are many. We can donate of our abundance. We can volunteer our time. We can do the simplest of things with a smile and expression of kindness.
We can also thank those who have dedicated their lives’ work to helping the poor and the homeless. These heroes epitomize true compassion. Through their actions, they are creating real change and lifting others out of squalor, rather than holding them down in hopelessness.
Warm thanks to all who chose action over indifference or willful ignorance, and who recognize that street camps destroy lives, livelihoods and lifestyle; the lives of the homeless who deserve better than the unsafe and unsanitary conditions of living on the streets; the livelihood of the small business owner struggling to keep doors open through a pandemic without having to clear those doors of human waste and refuse each morning; the simple lifestyle of a mother who wants to take her children to the neighborhood park without fear of the criminal element hiding in the camps.
Warm thanks to health workers on the front lines providing assistance to those living on the streets. It is easy to turn away in shock at the unsafe an unsanitary street camps. Then there are those who see the problem and do something about it. They meet one-on-one with people in the camps to understand their needs and offer mental health treatment, drug abuse assistance and most importantly a path out of the cold and squalor to warm shelter and food.
Warm thanks to those providing support beyond essential care. The Other Side Academy is one such group that provides training and jobs. During an onsite visit, I listened to a young man describe how street camps had enabled a life of drugs and crime. His message was powerful: Living on the streets took everything and left nothing but despair. He then contrasted street life with the new life he found through people who taught him about accountability and purpose, people who had expectations of him and provided the support to meet those expectations. The dignity of work is powerful in improving lives.
Warm thanks to state and local leaders willing to make tough decisions to affect real change. New neighbors who recently relocated from Boston asked me, with some hesitation born of embarrassment, why there were so many homeless camps. I sensed compassion in their voices as they wondered why more wasn’t being done to help these people.
While I shared the embarrassment of what too many of our streets had become over the summer, I was pleased to answer that the city, county and service providers are reaching out with kindness through the Community Connection Program. These efforts bring life-sustaining shelter options and life-changing services to those in need.
One of Utah’s homeless heroes, Pamela Atkinson, has often said it is only fitting that we are kind to our homeless friends during this season, and then she emphasizes that we must not forget them once the holidays pass. Yes, we will always have the poor among us and therefore our efforts must be enduring.
While there are social and systemic issues that require continued focus over the long term, there are also good people doing hard work today to help those who are living without shelter tonight. Warm thanks to those providing real kindness in the form of real help for real change.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.