God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:6)
Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, God,
you provided for the poor. (Psalm 68:10)
Many people with bipolar disorder are homeless. There is no escaping this fact. For many of these the best home they can find is temporary shelter in a hospital, respite care facility, even a prison. Some lack a home because they are rebellious, refusing to accept treatment. Most, however, find their condition and financial circumstances just so desperate, they have no better options.
Recently I heard a story that one state is considering renovating old psychiatric hospitals. Not long ago, these same hospitals had been emptied to provide more “humane” community-based care. Perhaps the radical step of shutting off sustained in-patient care without having sufficient alternatives in place is finally being recognized as a failed experiment.
As I reflect on this, I have mixed feelings. I feel some measure of “survivor’s guilt,” as one who has only briefly faced what it is like to be homeless. Mostly, I feel tremendous gratitude. Here I am with loving family members who watch over my care, abundant food to eat, warm shelter, the joys of living as comfortable a life as a “sane” person. Why? It’s certainly not because of my charm and good looks.
I am here, writing this from a comfortable home, on my very own laptop, in the midst of a spacious living room, because of the grace of God. There is no other explanation. All other answers fall short. But for the grace of God, I too could be desolate, in prison, in a parched land. Yet my Good Shepherd has led me to this pleasant dwelling where I can rest in the goodness of the LORD and have my needs met.
Just as it is important for me to recognize God’s grace with me now, I acknowledge God’s grace with me when I have not known where to turn. When I was nineteen, I shared an apartment with a young man I barely knew. After Christmas break, I returned late one night to find the apartment empty. It was too late to call anyone, and I didn’t think I could sleep on the hardwood floor. I had just enough gas to make it to a diner where I used the last dollar I had for coffee.
I spent the night reading my Bible, praying for wisdom and guidance. Instead of these, God sent an overwhelming sense of peace that things would be okay. I had no home on this earth, but I was at home with God.
Even as I write this, however, I am reminded of Woody Guthrie’s protest song, “I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore.” It is sinful to respond to the plight of homelessness with an empty promise of a “heavenly home on high.” We need to do all we can to create safe and secure homes for all God’s children who are unable to provide homes for themselves. We do this best, however, not through occasional hand-outs that cost us little and keep us steeped in spiritual pride. We do it best through sacrificial love, like Christ. As Jack London once wrote –
“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”