Thursday, January 8, 2015

Moral Dilemma

For the second or third night this season, a homeless woman has lodged herself inside the entry way to our condo building. It provides a fairly good shelter: doors to the walkway close but don’t lock, and the entry has plenty of room for someone to lie down in it. It’s almost a private room; she can’t be seen from the street. And we are safe from her coming into the building itself since the next set of doors require a key.

I was aware of her down there again last night as I went to bed and heard voices (actually one—hers), so I went down. Bundled up in untold layers of clothing and an overcoat, she had arrived with several grocery bags of her belongings, and a folding chair. She’s a middle-aged black lady. “I’m waitin’ on a friend here,” she said as I opened the locked lobby doors to talk to her. “I got permission.”

Well, of course she didn’t have either one of those things.

“I’m not sure that you should stay here,” I said. She continued to sort through her bags, guardedly ignoring me, but not being unfriendly. “Did you try to get into the city shelter?”

“I got permission cause I got a friend here. I’m jus waitin’ on my friend.” Out of one of her bags came a Starbucks cup and what looked like a half-eaten piece of cake.

What to do? As the HOA president here, I’m charged with looking after the property and its welfare. I was fairly sure that our residents would have big objections to our uninvited guest staying over, even in our outer entry way. On the other hand, what was the harm? She was fairly neat and apart from her Starbucks drink and cake, hadn’t done anything toward making a mess.

The temperature was falling slightly and it was getting late. “Okay,” I said. “You’d better camp out here for the night and wait for your friend. But maybe you can find a different place to sleep tomorrow night?”

Her guarded look softened. “Thank you. I’ll be gone in the morning. Thank you.”

“Oh, and one other thing. I live right above here and I’d appreciate it if you and your friend would not talk anymore tonight.”

She smiled. “I be quiet.”

What I will do if she comes back tonight, I don’t know. She’s very likely to return now that she’s found not only a relatively comfortable and protected spot, but also someone in the building who granted her permission to stay. Now, I guess, she probably thinks that she really does have a friend here.

The bigger question begs the moral one. We have a vacant entry where she’s away from the elements so why wouldn’t a sense of charity bid us share it with her. The other part of the issue ushers in the possibly unintended consequences of her spreading the word to other homeless rovers who would also want a night or two in our lobby entrance.

See? That’s the dilemma. Any comments?

Robert Heylmun


Elizabeth said...

You post a true moral dilemma and I am grateful that Penny shared this with her FB friends that include seminary classmates. Here are my thoughts and hope they are helpful.

1. You posed a real question about a shelter. Here's the thing - do you know where the shelters are? Do you know their conditions for entry? Do you know who might come and pick this woman up to take her there? It's possible that looking into that would help.

2. Perhaps a condo meeting to talk about the issue of homelessness might prompt gather information on resources, so if residents felt concerned, they would have access to such information as I outlined above, including some phone numbers. I know that in many ways might seem like both a cop-out from one perspective and too engaged from another, but if this will be an ongoing problem, it isn't a bad thing to try to think about non-polarizing solutions that will both help someone who needs shelter and reassure concerned residents.

3. Perhaps concerned residents might do some research into how to contact shelters, volunteer there, make information available to people in the situation that you found this woman in and further action steps. In other words, you would be recognizing a humanitarian concern without demanding that everyone in the building immediately get on board with a specific plan.

4. It does you great credit to be concerned about this, and I salute you for it.

Brian M said...

A thought or two.

First, I would like to commend you on your caring response to this woman as a human being. Many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, would have offered a much different response than yours. I respect your position within your HOA but yet acted in an assertive Christian way to care for this person housing needs if only for those two evening.

I fully appreciate the concerns that you have expressed about this morphing into a more complicated situation. I am sure no one in your complex would be in favor of turning your entry way into a small homeless shelter. While this person certainly needs shelter I am sure that she is in need of much more comprehensive care than just a place to rest her head for the evening.

The City of San Diego has the HOT teams or Homeless Outreach Teams. These HOT teams are made up of police officers, psychiatric technicians and mental health workers. HOT teams engage homeless individuals like the woman sleeping in your lobby and offer them comprehensive care. The least of them is actively placing them in a shelter. It may be advantageous for this woman if you were to contact the HOT team; you would be provide much more care to her than just a safe place to crash for the night. The website for the HOT team is:

Many Blessings,

Brian M.