Chicken Poop, Punishment and the Poor

“Reprehensible! Debasing! An affront to human dignity!”  The outcry has been vociferous and swift in response to  the City of Abbotsford’s dump of chicken manure on a popular gathering place for the homeless. While news outlets and blogs have registered the public’s outrage against the city’s tactics, I haven’t seen much analysis asking the deeper question of what  lurks underneath the city’s campaign to want to drive away the homeless from their midst in the first place.

Pastor Christoph Reiners of Peace Lutheran Church–who was asked by city officials to stop feeding Abbotsford’s homeless–touches on an answer when he names the discomfort of city officials and citizenry to admit that their idyllic community includes those who are homeless and those who suffer from drug addiction like any other city in North America.

Steve Kimes who pastors Anawim Christian Community, a church of the homeless and mentally ill in Portland, not only names our our discomfort with the poor, especially with those who wear their poverty publicly–such as the homeless or beggars–but digs deeper and proposes that we actually punish the poor for making us feel bad.

The main reason we punish the poor is because–for many of our society [they perceive that] the poor punish them. First of all, the poor make our society look bad, as if our society has done something wrong by having the poor. “Of course,” many think, “our society is well-functioning. So the poor don’t need to be there.” But there they are, the blight on our economic statistics…In our intuitive moral systems….those who make us feel uncomfortable or guilty should be punished for imposing those feelings on us.

For those of us fortunate enough to have the means to feed clothe and house ourselves and  our families, we should never forget that…

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody bent down and helped us up.

~  Thurgood Marshall

It’s time we stepped down from our perches of privileged power and examined what spiritual dis-ease fuels our thirst for unwarranted retributive justice toward those less fortunate who have little or no power to challenge the injustices we inflict upon them. It’s time we stopped punishing the poor with chicken poop as well as the many other tactics we use against the homeless to rob them of their means of survival.

 If you take a poor man’s tent or sleeping bag or coat, even in the name of a government, that poor one will cry out to Me and you shall be homeless and helpless. For what else are they to keep warm in?

– Exodus 22:22-27, paraphrase by Steve Kimes



Chocolate, Cigarettes and Compassion

Judy Graves, advocate for Vancouver’s homeless has announced she is retiring on May 29.

After converting to Christianity, Judy Graves attended a United church, then Unitarian, Baptist, Catholic, and now Anglican. From her perspective, threaded throughout the Bible is a message about looking after the stranger. Jennelle Schneider // Province


In 2007 while a pastoral intern at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. I had signed up to help out with the homeless count in North Vancouver.  I had the privilege of meeting Judy at the volunteer orientation session.  As our trainer, her goal was to equip our well-meaning but variously inexperienced group of recruits with enough “street smarts” to stay safe and practical wisdom to get the job done. I’ll never forget her “a candy and a cigarette” approach to help us establish trust and rapport with our clients. While some may think that offering a homeless person a cigarette in order to earn the right to interview them smacks of Machiavellian utility,  at the heart of  all that Judy taught us was a profound conviction of our common humanity and the right of each person–regardless of their circumstances–to be treated with respect and dignity. Peter Ladner captured both her practical approach and heart of compassion in the song he wrote,  Angel of Broken Wings

I wish Judy, recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal,  a well earned rest,  fun with a crochet hook,  and time to play with her grandchildren.

In the meantime it is up to us to run with the baton Judy has handed off to us.

Here are some ways you can help end homelessness:

  • Each of us can get to know the name of the homeless person that lives near them and say hi to them every day, which will change everything in their world.
  • If people say they’re hungry, take them out for a meal.  And instead of just buying the meal, maybe sit down with them for 10 minutes and just talk with them about what brought them there.
  • It is your responsibility as a citizen of a democracy to go to everyone who is running for office or has been elected into office and let them know that you hold them absolutely accountable for the suffering of every single person that is on the street.

For more ideas on how you can help, check out this End Homelessness Now activity page.