I preached about hospitality this morning.
We were hospitable in all sorts of ways, with lots of visitors and newcomers, some old friends, and at least two homeless people. The VA discharged a man who was barely ambulatory and sent him to the shelter. He had come to the VA hospital yesterday from another town in the area so he’s unfamiliar with Madison, the shelters, and had no information about what limited services are available on Sundays. They discharged him this morning around 8:30. Of course the shelter opens around 7:30 this evening. One wonders what VA staff expected him to do for eleven hours, or worse, if they even cared. He came to service, enjoyed coffee hour. Earlier someone purchased him a cup of coffee; as I was leaving church this afternoon, someone else had just gone to the store to buy him a couple of packs of cigarettes.
I called the VA between our services and gave the discharge nurse an earful. I also left messages with the homeless outreach program. It outrages and sickens me. It’s bad enough that all of the hospitals do it; I think it’s criminal that the VA does it.
The other homeless person who came to us today was wheelchair-bound. She had been sent from the Salvation Army to what she called the “rescue mission” to eat. Unfortunately that facility is not accessible so they told her “to go to the church on the square.” That’s how she found us. She will attend our Spanish-language service and join them for lunch.
I’m proud of how we as a congregation reached out to these two individuals (and to lots of other strangers who came amongst us today). Such things don’t happen every week but it’s not uncommon to have a homeless person or two join us for coffee hour (and in the winter for services). But it’s a shame that churches have to fill the gaps when our society fails our most vulnerable members. And it’s especially shameful when the federal agency that exists to care for vets discharges patients directly to homeless shelters.