I ran across an interesting (to me) journal in my file search. I had already written 4 times as much about my homeless experiences than I had anything else. I need to finish this, too. It was originally written in 2016.
Most of my life I have been a sort of Christian Anarchist. I remember when I was six and I gave my shoes on a cold and snowy day to another child my size that really needed the shoes. Hers were full of holes in the soles and the seams were coming apart. I walked home barefoot. I’d like to say it wasn’t a long way home, but it kind of was. Without shoes, six blocks is a long, long way. My mother was livid. I have to be honest; she had every right to be. I, on the other hand, was just glad that there were shoes for another kid that winter. I had more shoes in my closet. This girl didn’t.
Even in a small town of 1,500 souls, poverty in the 1950s was very apparent. Besides, I had on two pair of socks. It could have been worse. It was just a long way home. My mother was not unsympathetic. She understood my young and direct solution to the problem, but she was a realist. Her child should have called her, and she would have brought shoes to school for this girl. Knowing Mom, she would have just bought the girl her own shoes.
When I was in high school, I did something similar. A girl in my class came to school in a hoodie made for the warmer spring, no coat, and it was 20 degrees outside, preparing for winter. I racked my brain. I was SURE I had another coat in my closet at home. At that time, we didn’t even live three blocks from the school. It wouldn’t kill me to RUN home and get that other coat. I did just that. Not to make a big deal of it, because I didn’t want to embarrass her, I met her at her locker and just kind of hung it on the hook in there. She looked at me funny. I said, “I found this. It’s yours, isn’t it?” Mom either didn’t know I was missing a coat or just didn’t say a word because she knew my penchant for helping others. I’d like to say she didn’t say anything because she approved of my actions. I’ll never know.
That spring, I was a huge contributor to a walkout at the high school. A good half of the school walked out in protest over changes that were being made that weren’t an advantage to the students in any way. In fact, they put us at a disadvantage as far as our ability to perform well was concerned. In that day and age, that was a big deal. Parents wanted students to perform. Students like me, way beyond Gifted and Talented programs and desperate for time to study on our own with teachers who understood us, were given no chance with these changes. I can’t say that we were able to advance much in the way of change, but we made a statement. I continued in that way well into college. Today, I call it my Presbyterian spirit.
The work I did in the Balkans was not at all the same, but the point was similar. This had nothing much to do with a decline in the economy, but it was devastating nonetheless. Any way you look at it, people all over the world need each other more so than they need their respective governments.
The problem we have today has a great deal to do with technology. In the 1930s, we helped each other. In the 1950s, we helped each other. In the 1970s, we helped each other a little less. In the 1990s, “Katie, bar the door” – we were careening toward selfishness in hardcore ways. In the 2010s First World Countries almost without an exception live in a “Me First” world.
I lived in the center of the largest homeless and poverty-stricken area in eastern Iowa from 2011 to 2016. I ran a homeless shelter within the auspices of an almost-perfect ministry here. What made it so close to perfect? The government did not have a finger in the pie, so to speak. They couldn’t tell us we had to take Christ out of the mix. He and God are very much a part of the mix. These days, it’s a very noticeable contradiction to me that everyone is screaming “THE U.S. IS GOD’S COUNTRY!” when it clearly isn’t. What happened to the Geneva Bible’s take on caring for the homeless and those at the poverty level?
Obviously the government doesn’t care anymore. The funds dwindle in programs originally designed to help those in need. They call that making themselves financially sound. We won’t go into that, but it’s clear where the US government’s priorities lie.
As of 2015, they had cut $5 billion to the food stamps program nationwide while they’ve added over $80 billion in defense funding, not for jobs, but for parts and equipment. To me, that’s a problem. Their concept is “Make war, not love (for their fellow man.)
I used to be in that camp until the day I was struck down with homelessness, myself. It’s true that we are, for the most part, one paycheck away from being homeless, almost all of us. We have had many stock market crshes, and for people like me, they haven’t affected me, but when someone yanks any funds you’ve ever had, takes the bank account, and walks away leaving you holding the bag, you find yourself on a friend’s couch, in a psych ward at the hospital on suicide watch, and then in a homeless shelter. From there, you put one foot in front of the other.
When a friend asks if you want a job that pays well or a job that will fulfill you in other ways, sometimes you can’t say, “Both,” because such a thing is uncommonly rare. Besides that, for me to feel complete and whole, it needs to come from the inside. At the time, what came from the inside was the work I was doing preparing to operate a homeless shelter for mothers and children. Holy cow, did that take some mental preparation, as well as flying by the seat of one’s pants through the first year.
I was offered a job with a university that would have paid 10 times what I was making per month running this shelter. It had no real appeal. Why? I’d have to leave what I was doing, and in my soul, there would have been a massive hole. Remarkably, I have learned a great deal outside of working with these moms and their kids. I’ve learned how to budget, which especially comes with making very little; I’ve learned how government assistance works for the poor (because I am considered poor by US standards); and I’ve learned that no matter how hard you try, you are considered the scum of the earth by those “up the hill”. There’s no way to combat this, so you carry on with a smile on your face, primarily because you are loved by others, as well as by God, and what you are doing fills you in ways you could never have been filled by other things in your past life, and in your life now.
They call that The Holy Spirit, I do believe.
This story revolves around a single fictional character, not just me, because I know many who have followed the same path. It is an amalgamation of a group of us in one person. We all have dealt with the issues and have done our best to help. Failures and successes abound.
I can’t help but be who I am. I can’t help it if the group of us just isn’t everyone’s Starbuck’s latte. And I can’t help it if the local government wants us shut down so that they can ignore the obvious issue.
I can help that people around me know, and this is the best way to set it out there.