A few months ago I read an article claiming it is three times cheaper to provide housing for the homeless than simply leaving them to fend for themselves on the street.
You might have read the same thing.
It was fascinatingly frustrating; meaning I was fascinated by how tantalizingly easy it seems to be make such a dramatic impact on people’s lives and yet frustrated by our collective lack of will to act.
This week, that same article happened to show up in my Facebook feed again and an idea popped into my head.
While there may not be the political will to act, could the Church fund such a revolutionary act all by itself? After all, I hear so many of my fellow Christians making the point that they reject government efforts to aid the poor because they think that’s the Church’s job, not the government’s. So, if the political will isn’t there to house everyone who lives on the streets, but the ecclesiastical will is ostensibly there, what would it take for the Church to provide shelter for everyone in America living without a roof over their head?
Is such a thing even possible?
Believe it or not, it is.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are, on average, 578,424 people sleeping on the street every night in the United States.
If that $10,000 figure from the Central Florida Commission is accurate, then we would need $5,784,240,000 to provide housing for each one of the 578,424 going to bed on the streets of America every night.
That’s a lot of money. Like a crazy amount of money.
According to a 2013 State of the Plate survey, American Christians collectively gave about $50 billion to their various churches.
Say what you will about its biblical foundation, but most of those churches ask their parishioners to tithe. The pressure to do so varies pretty widely, to be sure, but most churches ask and expect their members to give 10% of their income to the church to fund all of its various ministries, pastoral salaries, and, of course, the cost of the building where services are held.
As it turns out, $5,784,240,000 is just over 10% of $50,000,000,000 – 11.57% to be exact.
Which means if American churches collectively tithed like they ask their members to do (and did a much better job of actually tithing than their members do), then the Church – without the aid of anyone else – could provide shelter for every single person living on the streets of America.
If we really wanted to.
And that’s the first big catch.
Saying we want to do something like this and actually taking concrete steps towards doing so are two very different things.
Sure there would be significant logistical issues involved in coordinating and implementing such an effort, but they could be overcome. After all, the early Church shared everything they had in common. We’re talking about doing just 10% of what the early Church did.
Logistically, it could be done.
The bigger hurdle, it seems to me, would be getting churches from differing theological traditions to actually work together. If Christians working together was easy, there wouldn’t be so many different denominations. But if we could, if we could stop placing more importance on ideological purity than we do the needs of people, we could dramatically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and bring more than a little bit of the kingdom of God to earth just as it is in heaven.
But it would just be a start.
And that’s the other big catch in all this.
Unfortunately, ending homelessness is not quite as easy as simply providing shelter to those who don’t have it.
For starters, a shelter is not a home. It’s a temporary situation. A bandaid on a much bigger, much more complex problem. Or, at best, it’s the beginning point of a long and difficult journey.
Shelter is incredibly important. We all need it to survive. But there are deeper issues – like unemployment, underemployment, mental health, and substance abuse just to name a few – that contribute to homelessness and which must also be addressed before we can even begin to start dreaming about actually ending it for good in America.
The importance of simply having a place to live, of having a roof over your head and an address to write on a job application can’t be overstated.
It’s absolutely just a starting point, but it’s an incredibly important one.
And one which, if we as the Church could find the collective will to act, we could – incredibly enough – actually achieve.