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Homelessness is not a “thing” for us to deal with. It is about helping people – our fellow travelers on the road of life. Just as a discussion on education should begin by acknowledging each child as a unique individual with unique needs – our conversation about homelessness must also begin with a focus on the plight of the person on the street. Which means we shouldn’t look to Washington for the solution – we should look within ourselves and our community. After all, those on the street are not the government’s brothers and sisters – they are ours.

There has been a great deal of discussion of late about where the homeless should be served. There is no safety and no certainty of success found in geography. So rather than starting with the “where,” our conversations regarding the homeless should always begin with a focus on the “what, why and how.”

People in poverty or dealing with homelessness are not necessarily in that situation because they don’t have access to money; it is often because they don’t have access to opportunity.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln told Congress that the “leading object” of American government was: “to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life.” In that single sentence, Lincoln provides a pattern for government, for communities and individual citizens to help those in need.

If we are serious about the charge to lift artificial weights from all shoulders and provide all with a fair chance, we need a unified “poverty to prosperity” program – that includes access to proper mental and physical health care, education and training along with a path forward. Its organizing principle should be to make homelessness and poverty temporary instead of just tolerable.

We must replace programs that treat the homeless and people in poverty like liabilities to be managed with a program that treats them like unique individuals – human assets, with unlimited potential to be developed.

This week the Christian world celebrates the life, ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ – who happened to begin His mortal life not in a home, but in a stable. His teachings on caring for the poor, the needy and the homeless have echoed down through the ages.

The resolution to homelessness begins when we recognize the homelessness within ourselves – the ways in which each of us lack something of human necessity, which we can only obtain through the intervention of another. When we see that we really are fellow travelers with those whose homelessness just happens to be defined by the lack of a physical living space to call their own – we can actually open the doors of opportunity and a provide a path that can lead those living on the street to a place they can call home.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

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