The first most well known cases of the homeless are those of Christ and the Buddha. Upon discovering enlightenment, the following words by the Buddha can be read as the advocating of homelessness.
I wandered through the rounds of countless births,
Seeking but not finding the builder of this house.
Sorrowful indeed is birth again and again.
Oh, house builder! You have now been seen.
You shall build the house no longer.
All your rafters have been broke,
Your ridgepole shattered.
My mind has attained to unconditional freedom.
Achieved is the end of craving.
Similarly, to follow Christ and some Christian saints is to take up a homeless existence. In Matthew (8:18) one of scribes asked Christ, ‘Master, I will follow you wherever you go’. Christ replied, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Another example is Joseph Labre When Benedict Joseph Labre Lay in the streets of Rome Some thought he was a holy man Some thought he was a bum. (James K Baxter).
In certain Buddhist traditions, part of the daily meditative practice involves walking the countryside with begging bowls. Needless to say, this plea for alms by the homeless takes on a very different meaning in a Western context when in our busy lives we are assailed by appeals like, ‘Can you spare me any change?’ or when we encounter a drunken woman sleeping on a street corner.
In the Buddhist context homelessness is a means to an end – the end to the craving for attachment. This relinquishing of attachments through living with a lack leads to a new grammar of thought going beyond the site of representation – what Buddhist teachers refer to as an enlightened state. On the streets of London, however, homelessness often means the end of the road due to psychic fragmentation. The irony here are those cases of those homeless clients who believe they are Christ or the Buddha, which is not ironic, what is that like Christ and Budda they roam the streets looking for signs of care in the community.