Guest Opinion: To my family

  • by Kenneth G. Hodder
  • Wednesday December 4, 2019
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Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder. Photo: Courtesy The Salvation Army
Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder. Photo: Courtesy The Salvation Army

I love my family. I'd do anything for them. So it breaks my heart to know that literally thousands of them are living on the street.

We are all part of this family called humanity, and though the circumstances of our lives vary, there are some things that we all share. We all have hopes and dreams. We all seek a better life for ourselves and those around us. And we all want to be loved.

That's why my family's predicament is so painful. Clinging to the base of many of the Bay Area's most magnificent buildings, my family is huddled in pup tents. Hidden away in isolated urban pockets, they form desperate little communities built with cardboard boxes and a sea of blue tarps. In downtown areas and suburbs alike, they're living in cars. Every night, the little ones at their feet sit bewildered and afraid. Members of my own family, of every age and description, are crying out in pain.

This hurts so much. I know God loves them. He loves all of us. But I'll never convince them of that when they're cold, and hungry, and homeless.

And today, I'm particularly concerned about my family members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. They face so many additional challenges. If I and those with whom I work don't respond to their needs, it will be as if we're denying their place in our family. They'll have every reason to flee from us, and we won't be living up to the high calling to which God has brought us.

That simply can't happen. In fact, we won't let it.

Since its founding in 1865, The Salvation Army has always fought against the scourge of homelessness. We know this work. It's in our blood. And thanks to the blessing of God and the generosity of the American public, we are now able to help more than 23 million people in this country every year. In fact, there is no other private organization with the heritage, experience, geographic reach, organizational infrastructure, or trained personnel to address homelessness like The Salvation Army. Not one.

But the times now call for more. Our family — every part of our family — needs more.

So beginning immediately, The Salvation Army in the western United States is committing itself to a big goal: Within the next five years, we intend to double our impact on homelessness, and one of our first targets will be the Bay Area. Whether it's developing preventive programs, opening emergency shelters, expanding addiction services, establishing new transitional facilities, or building permanent supportive housing, we are determined to give greater expression to our conviction that everyone deserves the love of God. Everyone. As we have always done, we are resolved to show this generation, both here and across the West, that there is a way out of homelessness.

That includes people of every sexual orientation and gender identity. As our national commander recently noted in USA Today, The Salvation Army is already the world's largest nongovernmental provider of poverty relief to LGBTQ individuals. But if anyone still thinks they are beyond the scope of The Salvation Army's concern, then we need to say it again: No one is outside our family.

Of course, despite all its strengths, The Salvation Army is no silver bullet. Eradicating homelessness will require the ongoing coordination of government, corporate, foundation, and nonprofit expertise and resources. And we need to focus on what we have in common, not what sets us apart. Supportive families focus on what brings them together, and that means people with differing positions on a whole range of issues will need to decide that when it comes to this epidemic, they are going to work together.

We must join hands. This is too important to do otherwise. That's why The Salvation Army, already composed of individuals from every segment of society, is ready to work side by side with anyone — regardless of party, race, faith, orientation, or gender — if it will get just one more person off the street.

We'll never ask why someone is in need. We won't make demands. All we want to do is help.

The Salvation Army is committed simply to do what Jesus asked of us: to love one another. That's what family does. And for that reason, we'll never stop doing everything we can to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and offer hope to those in despair. That's why the only qualifications to receive Salvation Army services are a genuine need and our capacity to help. It's always been that way, and it always will be.

So if you need a hand up, we're here for you. And if you're working on solutions, let's work together. For Heaven's sake, and for the sake of everyone sleeping outside tonight, let's do something. After all, we're family.

Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder is the territorial commander for The Salvation Army, USA Western Territory. For more about services in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit