roamin' catholic: karin rosner

The Hurricane and the Homeless

Posted on: August 30, 2011

"Hurricane Irene 2011"

NASA image of Hurricane Irene

25That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matt. 6:25-34 (NLT)

This isn’t the blog post that I thought that I would write over the weekend.   It turns out that I didn’t have much of a weekend after all, and very little time to be reflective, journal or blog. I spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday dealing with first Hurricane Irene, then with her much diminished tropical storm self, and then with her aftermath. I worked all weekend in the call center trenches, and stayed in a hotel a couple of blocks away from my office. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced where I was physically outside of my comfy middle class apartment and psychologically outside of my cozy bourgeois comfort zone.

The fringes of the  neighborhood where I work has its community of hard-edge locals, and you see them every morning  and dusk rush. There are junkies. There are hustlers, runaways, prostitutes, pimps and johns. There are porn addicts – the red light district starts behind Times Square. There are dozens of panhandlers lining my walk to work. Some might be homeless, others might have some kind of home or shelter to go to. These people, the ones with the cups and the signs were posted in their usual spots up until the time I switched from a ten-hour work shift into my cozy skyscraper hotel room before the rain really started in earnest. (I’m not quite sure how safe being on the 19th floor of the New Yorker Hotel actually was, solid as the ol’ girl seems to be.)

I don’t know where these people went to when the weather turned dangerous. Did the Port Authority let these people into the Bus Terminal or Penn Station?

Around midnight, the winds started to pick up and the rain grew steadily heavier. Irene threw things up at my window, it seemed. I thought about getting out of my bed and camping in the safety of the hallway, away from the windows in my suite.  I opened up the Gideon Bible from the nightstand to Jeremiah 33:3, which was comforting and prayerful,  and goes on and talks about the coming Messiah in David’s line further in Chapter 33, but that wasn’t the portion of Scripture I was thinking of that night. I was thinking of Matt. 6, but maybe… yes, there’s a connection. There always is.

“Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.”
Jer. 33:3 (NLT)

What was God trying to tell me or show me since I couldn’t get faces of the people I mostly quietly ignore every day out of my mind as the winds screamed outside the windows of the hotel? The verse from the Bible left me with more burning questions than a comforting answer. I’ve volunteered in the shelter system before, but I had never thought about these issues.  I prayed for those human beings who were in danger, homeless or homed.

I wondered what would happen to the birds around the City and those living in Central Park. I prayed for the birds, the squirrels and other  urban wildlife.

How does the City care for its strays, especially the human ones? What happens to the lost and forsaken in the storm?

***

On Sunday around noon, I ventured out on a work break after the rain and wind stopped to see if there were any stores open, and to see if I could find something healthier to eat than the sodium-laden stockpiles of empty calories we stashed at work.

The first person who stopped me in my walk was a drug dealer. I was dressed in a bummy Def Leppard tee-shirt and bluejeans, and not looking very professional on a Sunday after a hurricane.

“Coke? You want coke? Hash? I got special for you. You need fix, right?” I stopped short,  gave him an incredulous stare and moved on… then I realized that I probably looked like one of his  sales targets. He saw the tee shirt; he didn’t see the cross I wore around my neck.

The Korean deli on the corner had re-opened, and they had pre-wrapped vegan sandwiches, noodles, and other stuff that I love that never sells out. I bought seitan “chicken” lo mein and a Diet Mountain Dew for extra caffeine, and went to stand in line to pay. One hungry person after another came into the store, asking people standing in line with me to buy them something to eat and drink.

Where were the homeless and hungry during Irene? What did we do as a City to help them? What did we do as the Church to help them? Aren’t we supposed to be the fulfillment of God’s promise of care? And if we pray, then won’t God show us exactly how He wants us to to serve the least of His Kingdom?

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