A cold night in Arkansas

February 21, 2014

Homeless folks lost a devoted friend in the early hours of Thursday as Dennis Beavers departed this mortal life. I only met him once or twice, but my wife Marie (who is a devoted advocate for the homeless) knew him better. Dennis was the kind of man who could be called out any hour of day or night to bring a pair of shoes to some stranger who also happened to be so unlucky as to be without a regular address. He was tireless in pursuit of an exhausting ministry.

Maire is a regular volunteer at the Arkansas Dream Center. She organizes the clothing good people donate for fellow human beings who have fallen through the so-called “social safety net,” Marie is part of what Little Rock politicians and business types sneeringly refer to as the “homeless community.” The unspoken implication is that, if are are in need, it’s your own damn fault.

It is an odd thing that those who so easily and bluntly criticize those without possessions or influence are, at the same time, incapable of self-criticism. “It is not my fault that some people are having a hard time. Maybe if they would clean up and get a job (like me!) things would go better for them.” Around these parts, we prefer to never look at the homeless and there is certainly no place for them anyplace worthwhile people might visit.

It was on one of those untypically bitter cold nights that I spent a little time down at the Arkansas Dream Center near downtown Little Rock. Around one-hundred people were able to enjoy a hot meal, take a shower, get some warm clothing, do some laundry, watch a movie and spend the night in a warm safe place. We take a lot for granted. We expect the closets to be full of perfectly fitting  clothes, the furnace pumping out warm air all the day and night. Did I mention the refrigerator? There is another nicety the homeless cannot even imagine. Some of the individuals so easily tossed aside are children. They should find jobs, I guess. Most of us would lose our minds by the second day of doing without, but things run smoothly where the poorest come together.

There was an elderly black man spending this particular night indoors. Well spoken and accustomed to work, he related the story of a recent eviction. It was a mistake, a miscalculation. Too many months behind on rent, and there will be consequences. This gentleman gave his age as 72 and recounted some of the small jobs recently held. Blame? This worn out man put it all on himself. It was a mistake. It was the kind of thing that, for most of my friends, would be quickly corrected by a few strokes of a pen or keystrokes on a computer. A little carelessness can be a death sentence if you are extremely poor, so be careful.

Imagine being in your early 70s, and still looking for little jobs to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head. The gentleman did not complain. Mistakes are made and those little errors have consequences. He should have planned better, no doubt. This fellow probably has another job by now and maybe even some sort of cheap set of rooms. Many of the homeless people have jobs, but struggle with medical bills and the needs of small children. Yes, they should have planned better. Not everyone is as intelligent or doggedly ambitious as the self-made individuals who run this world.

During the recent cold, a man froze to death under one of the bridges, but it is said that many of the homeless like living that way. Who could possibly deny such worldly understanding? Dennis Beavers, from an unworldly perspective, gave of the most precious things he possessed in service of a class of people generally considered to be despicable. He gave his own life energy and personal devotion, always seeing the divine image in every human being. To say that he will be missed would be a cruel and meaningless cliche.

Even though Dennis tried, no one person can do it all. He leaves so many gaps to be filled, but it may be that this need is his bequest to those who knew him well and those who admired his tenacity from a safer distance.

   May thy rest be this day in peace, and thy dwellingplace in the Paradise of God. (1928 BCP, 319)

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