How About Some Common Decency?

Last week I really found out just how difficult the world has become. How a couple of bad choices can change one’s life forever. How being in the wrong place at the wrong time can make it damn near impossible to get a job or find housing.

We had a young man show up at the church looking for help. For the sake of privacy we will call him Tad. At the time he came to the church I was out on a hospital call and the church secretary was the one who heard his story first.

Now under normal circumstances the secretary would have given Tad some food, maybe a marta pass and let him use the phone to make whatever contacts he needed to make and sent him on his way.

However, today was different and by the time Tad had told his story the secretary really didn’t know what to do. She did know that our church and I in particular work with the really complicated stuff…so she called me to tell me Tad’s story.

The long and short of the story was that Tad had just found out he was HIV positive and when he told his roommates they threw him out. He had spent the night before sleeping in the woods and trying to stay out of the way of the police. By the time he had gotten to the church he was cold and hungry and extremely tired. He also added that this was the first place he had been to where anybody would even listen to his plight.

I gave the secretary a couple of referrals that specialize with HIV positive men. She had given him the number for a local shelter and he was heading that way. I was concerned how this particular shelter would react to him and his story should he decide to tell them. So, I indicated if that fell through to call me on my cell and I would talk to him and try to set up a time to get together and see if we could begin stabilizing the situation.

God’s humor and timing is pretty awesome and when I got back to the office, there was Tad and his emotional state now in addition to being tired, scared, and cold was now angry.

When Tad got in touch with the shelter and they told him to come on down, he had gone back to where he had been living to gather his belongings. Upon arriving he found his bed cloths, coats, underwear and socks and some other personal stuff had been burned. What had not been burned had been piled up in the back yard and bleach poured all over it.

So now it is time to take a deep breath, sit done with a cup of coffee and walk through this. So here is a very brief description of the last year for Tad.
He has been married for 5 years.

He has been in recovery from drug use for 3 years.

About a year or so ago he got laid off from his job, and in an effort to get money for food he passed a bad check (bad choice #1). Got caught and spent time in jail.

While in jail he lost the job he had just gotten when he had to go to court and face the bad check charges.

A few days after getting out jail he is out and about looking for work when Atlanta’s finest stop him on the street and begin to question him. (Wrong place, wrong time)

They question him about drug use, where he lives, check his ID and pat him down. One of the officers walks up the street about 20 yards of so and discovers a bag of crack. So now he is arrested for possession of something which clearly was not his since in his movement had not gotten to where the officer found the bag.

The case goes to court and is dismissed out of hand by the judge who says this should have never happened.

In the meantime he and his wife need to move from one housing unit to the next.
In the process of the move a background check is done on Tad, the drug arrest is discovered. Tad is told he can not live at the complex with his wife because of HUD drug arrest rules. So now, he is homeless.

In an effort to stay out of the police’s way he goes from friend to friend. He finally hooks up with some old college buddies. Some sexual experimentation goes on. The experimentation is anything but safe (Bad choice number 2).

Through the church he and his wife had attended they find a place with some church members he can live until he can get some legal help to be able to move back in with his wife. Yup you guessed it, this where his stuff was burned, bleached and he was told never to come back.

I can not begin to tell folks how many ways this is so wrong, without compassion, without reconciliation, without justice and not a shred of common decency.

Tad has family in the area so we contact them to try to arrange a place to stay. Quote: “I got kids you ain’t bringing no AIDS here!”

In the meantime we have found housing but there will not be an open bed for 5 days. So Tad and I are off to the shelter downtown. By the time we got there no more emergency bedding was available. They had a transitional housing program but that would cost $10.00 a day. Before readers shake heads and roll eyes, please bear in mind the old saying; “If something costs a quarter and you ain’t got a quarter it is too expensive.”

$50.00 for a homeless person? Yea, just chew on that for a while and think about the insurance CEO knocking down 3 or 4 million a year.

A few phone calls are made and a couple of members of the church commit to covering the cost. Wow! Praise God! For a church that has less than $2,000.00 a month to work with, this was an impressive act of compassion. We get him back to his room, ugh, no, not a room but rather a dormitory with 30 other men and come to find out infested with “bed bugs”.

Well, today as I write we are past the crisis. Tad has housing and we are working at getting the proper coping mechanisms back in place. So why write about this?

Simply, Tad’s story could be our story. A couple of bad choices, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and wham we too could be the scourge of society, the one for whom legislatures pass laws to protect the common good. A little common decency, a little compassion a little unconditional love could have prevented this story.

Tad’s story is not singular but rather community. Of the 11,000 homeless in Metro Atlanta one will hear the same type of story again and again. Their plights are justified by those with power in government and the more powerful churches by pointing out their perceived short comings, their perceived sins. They are labeled as drug users, drunks, homosexuals, Gender confused, prostitutes, illegal’s, crazy people, and just plain bad people. A little common decency, a little compassion a little unconditional love could have changed these perceived sins to blessings.

Yet, sad to say we the people contribute to making the homeless criminals because we demand law and order rather than common decency, compassion and not being so judgmental about how people get where they are.

For instance, there are no public restrooms through out the city. So if one urinates outside and gets caught they can be given a ticket for public urination a misdemeanor, or if they cross some imaginary line with law enforcement they can be charged with exposure, a crime that will land them on the sexual offenders list. That is a place in the State of Georgia no wants to be if they want to have a roof over their head.

Maybe somebody could tell me where the common decency is in dropping charges against a homeless person but making them pay a fine. Did it ever dawn on our brilliant officials if they had money to pay the fine, they might not be on the street to begin with? Dear reader, don’t roll your eyes because there are some who are simply one traffic ticket fine from not paying the rent or mortgage.

People often ask me why are things going the way they are, how did we get to this point, how did we become so polarized? Simple, as was said earlier we as a society and a people have lost our common decency. Why? In my not so humble opinion since 9-11 we live in fear. We fear everything and everybody. The list of fears are too many to list here, but it is fear that causes people to make more and more laws, get less and less compassionate and understanding.

So the next time you see someone sleeping under a bridge, walking the street, sleeping in a door way, remember they have a story too and their story all too easily could be our story with a wrong choice, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I think my wish for this Christmas, my prayer in this holiday season will be simply this, Dear God fill our land, our homes, our jobs, our churches our families with decency and the strength to do justice, act mercifully and walk humble with You…and so it is.

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at -- and which now resides at

3 thoughts on “How About Some Common Decency?”

  1. The stories matter- but I have found that most folks want to here a Dick , Jane and Sally and when they hear Dr Jekell and Mr Hyde the are ill prepared to move beyond the story. This time of year and this year when the roads are full of stories people are stress with stories and only want to hear the end of the Bethlehem story – never the beginning
    and never the story of the Samaritan.

    Thank you for being willing to listen to both.

  2. I am not sure what the real raw numbers are…for example if the 11,000 homeless include those who are going from friend to friend or those in “no tell motels”. But if I were to hazard an educated guess probably on average 1 per hour…which ought to stagger our minds and tell us we don’t need to look far to see why this country is not an economic giant anymore.

  3. Well said, my friend, well said. And the saddest thing is how many times daily what you described with “Tad” is repeated.

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