Monday, March 14, 2011

The need to Give...

Editor’s Note: I want to take a moment to apologize upfront for this entry. This post will go all over the place and seem to have no end in sight and will be at times hard to follow, but bear with me. My thoughts on this are just crashing everywhere and I need to get it out.

There have been two times in my life when I could have been (and by all accounts should have been) homeless. And had it not been for the Grace of God, I would have been. The first time was actually many times rolled into one “life experience”. My first marriage was a failure on about 40 different levels. The main one being that my ex-husband resented having to work. However, we had 2 children and not working was really not an option, except that it was --to him.
In the span of roughly 2 years we moved more times than I can remember. The only reason we could move and pay all the deposits and whatnot was because my Mother was paying them. She was not going to allow me and my sons to be homeless. She paid more security deposits, pulled more strings and got me into more rental properties than I care to remember. She was a Real Estate Agent in Charleston, SC and she was able to get us homes our credit score and evictions would not have allowed.
Most people are just not that blessed. Most people lose the ability to rent or buy when they get evicted, especially more than once for non-payment of rent. Most people end up living in their car when something like this happens. Repeatedly.
The second time was not as dramatic, except that it was. In January 2001, one day before my oldest son’s 8th birthday our house caught fire. It was dramatic and traumatic and part of who our family is today. And because we lived 7 miles away from my mother and father in law, and we had amazing home owner’s insurance, we were able to pick up, dust off and move forward. So many people helped us during that time, our families were there immediately with clothes and toys and books. My mother-in-law set us up in her in-law suite and the Catholic School D attended took up a collection of more toys and books and presented us with that and gift cards about 2 weeks later. By the time Boo was born a mere 5 months later we were safely back in our home, with all new stuff and ready for our new son to join the family. The fire was officially part of our family folklore.

On Saturday, March 5, I joined the Associate Pastor of our church, Pastor Amanda, another Sunday School Teacher, Mrs. Donna, another teenager and my teenaged sons and we went to a Homeless Shelter to present a check or the offerings we had collected in Sunday school. The Homeless Shelter is part of a larger organization called the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN).
IHN was started by Karen Olson,

In 1982, Karen Olson was a marketing executive who developed promotional campaigns for consumer products. One morning, on her way to a meeting, she saw a homeless woman, someone she'd seen over and over again on her way to work.
She decided to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked for something else - a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner.
Soon, Karen and her two young sons began frequent trips to New York to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. As she came to know some of the city's homeless people, she began to understand the profound loss and disconnection that homelessness causes. That understanding turned into an enduring commitment.

This history told to me on Saturday by the IHN Executive Director, Geleen Donovan touched me. When she followed it up with the statistics I was floored. Before I throw out those statistics, you have to understand where I live.
I live in Hunterdon County, NJ. This county has been in the top five highest-income counties by median household income since 2000. We are solidly number 1 for counties with a population of less than 250,000. This means we have a lot of money and a lot of space. I live in the midst of excess. This also means we generally value stuff. We value lots of stuff and the best stuff. My township has imposed an 8-acre minimum for housing sites. We don’t have 8-acres, our mere 2.5 acres were grandfathered in, read that again. In New Jersey we live on 2.5 acres and we were grandfathered in, you couldn’t build a home on 2.5 acres today in my township.
In the midst of this excess, people are losing their homes. We have a homeless problem. It’s not big by comparison to our neighboring cities and counties. Now, New York City, they have a homeless problem. Philadelphia, ditto. You don’t think of Hunterdon County, with its horse farms, million dollar homes and luxury cars when you think of homeless problems.
We’re peanuts compared to them, we are the literal drop in the bucket.
  • On January 27, 2010 there were 137 homeless men, women and children counted in Hunterdon County according to the official U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • The actual number of people who are homeless over the course of the year may be between two to
    four times larger than the number counted at one point in time. Using the statistical formula
    developed in the publication "Estimating the Need," it is projected that over the course of a year, 440
    adults and children are homeless in Hunterdon County.
  • Hunterdon County has a population of 128,349 the homeless are a mere .3% less than 1 percent of the population is homeless.
This causes the homeless to feel an even bigger shame. The IHN helps only families. This means children and often teenagers are involved. Being a teenager is hard enough when you live in an affluent area and everyone has the latest coolest and most expensive clothing. Now do that when you are hiding the fact that you don’t have a home. If you just can’t relate, Forgotten: Seventeen and Homeless by Melody Carlson really does a wonderful job illustrating this.
I feel God calling me to help. I’ve felt it for a long time. In the midst of my blessings, I am guilty of excess without grace.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35

No comments:

Post a Comment