Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty: Where is the Faith Community ?

Today, I went to a a meeting on homelessness. The meeting was entitled: Homelessness: It is here too!

For those of you who do not know me or my "home situation", I live in Wayne County, Ohio. We are a "small" county of about 125,000 and we are in the middle of "Amish Country". Our county is "very white", we are not diverse. 96.5% of our county are white.

Overall, individuals believe that with our median family income of $ 50,000 that we are a wealthy community that does not struggle with poverty and homelessness. Part of the deception is that the "homeless" in our county really do not have a face. They are "hidden" and not out in the opening.

This meeting was an eye opener for me. Here are some highlights and at the end, I will highlight why I asked the question and attempt to answer the question.

In Ohio

- 147,000 annually are homeless
- Rural Ohio has seen an increase of 300% since 1995
- $ 10.81 an hour is what is needed to have basic needs met
- 30% of homeless in Ohio have a mental illness
- 14.6% of homeless live in cars / abandoned buildings
- Younger women with education are the highest growing % of homeless

In our county, we only have 26 individual beds and 18 family units. There is a continuous waiting list to try to get people away from homelessness. Our metro housing has a waiting list of 700 !!!

The Wayne Metropolitan Housing Authority has 224 units of housing in eight different projects that were developed with funds provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Included in these projects are 120 units of housing designated for the elderly and/or disabled in high-rise buildings. Our family housing exhibits many of the features that new non-subsidized apartments have. Many of our public housing units have extra design features that make them most desirable.

The 'typical' wait could be over 18 months .......

Our town and county is experiencing "tent living". More and more individuals are pitching tents for their housing arrangements. The other area is community living where 10-15 individuals will be living in an apt. or small house.

Our children service folks were there and they shared their concern with their continue hardship on what the teens are doing when they reach the age of 18. A few individuals shared even a greater concern with the 14-18 year old population that is technically homeless ( no where to go - permanent home ).

After some speakers spoke on the issue, we got to listen to a forum from the following individuals: adult parole board, chief of police, inter-faith housing, every woman's house and the salvation army.

Each one of them gave statistics and stories that ripped my heart out. We, as a community, are failing in so many areas.

Switching Gears

In my opinion, noticeably missing from the 70+ individuals that were at the meeting was the faith community. Where were they ? Why were they not part of this conversation ? What was more important on their schedule then our county coming together to discuss poverty / homelessness in our community ?

I am not sure, but they were not at the meeting. A few of the churches were there and the ones that were there and represented were the "staples". Thank God for them.

One of our community speakers left us with a thought: the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train charging at us, it is instead, a light of hope.

We, as a community, can make a difference. We can solve the problem. We can end this vicious cycle of poverty and homelessness, but it will take all of us.

It was great to see some familiar faces today:

- people to people
- salvation army
- viola free medical clinic
- child services
- justice department
- interfaith housing community
- etc .....

What would have been nice was to see was the faith community. In a sense, it really saddens me. We, as churches, can easily combine our resources and knock this one out of the ballpark. It is not just about throwing money to them.

It is about spending time with them, it is about mentoring them, it is about listening to their stories, it is about providing life coping skills, it is about helping them navigate the muddy waters of the systems that are out there.

I think this is why I am excited about the Circles Initiative that is coming our way. It will be a partnership to help those on the fringes.

Then, as a big challenge .... if we (each church in the county) adopted one homeless family, there would currently be no homelessness in our community.

To those in the community that are providing free medical care, free counseling, free job skills, providing transportation for them to get to work, providing transitional housing and more .... THANK YOU.

To us in the churches, let us do something. Let's get off our butts and make a difference in our community. Maybe we can get together and have a meeting about how we are going to help the faithful rentals who are getting evicted because their landlords are going in foreclosure instead of deciding how we are going to spend $ 5 million dollars on new buildings ......

I am out


Anonymous said...

Good post. I was once homeless and one thing that caught my attention that you wrote was this:

"It is not just about throwing money to them.

It is about spending time with them, it is about mentoring them, it is about listening to their stories, it is about providing life coping skills, it is about helping them navigate the muddy waters of the systems that are out there."

I was once caught up in a cycle of poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, and how I wish someone would have spent some time with me. Someone to talk to who would listen without judging me. I don't know how many times I heard; "Don't you have family that can help." That hurt because I didn't have family that could help, if I did, I would not have been homeless. My family broke apart when I was a teen and so I didn't have the family I needed.
If someone where to ask what would have made the difference for me I would have said your love and your time. I think people don't realize how important their friendship and encouragement can be to someone who is struggling. And it just seemed like I was always kept at a distance and I wrote a few thoughts about that.

I was so lonely and needed your friendship
I really wanted to talk with you
But you didn't have the time
You always kept me at a distance
You were eager to give me food
But you would not sit with me at a meal
You did not want to sit with me for a while
You always kept me at a distance
You spoke about the love of Jesus
but your actions spoke something else
Because the love of Jesus I know
Would not have kept me at a distance


Mork said...

Seems the church is missing from a lot of things when it's time to roll up the sleeves.

The parnership does indeed look very exciting.

Jeff Greathouse said...


Thanks for the comments. Your story is one of the ones that were hioghlighted. How much "rougher" it is for the homeless that have no family here (have moved in) or have "burned" bridges with them (jail) and how we as a community really need to be the support system.


I am very close to copy/pating your comment and printing it out and putting it on the church door.

Mork said...

I have cut and pasted anon's poem to my site - it moved deeply.