I hear from many families that are right on the edge. Usually they are families on the wrong side of that edge. They are families that are trying to do the right thing, but are just shy of making it. In the last week, I’ve heard from several families who are on the edge of being homeless. They are the families that live in the motels along the Carlisle Pike. They pay a ridiculous weekly rate for a crappy motel room. What they pay has been climbing more and more – some as high as $400 a week. That’s more than many mortgages in this area. And for what?
I spoke with one family yesterday on the phone – and the phone call lasted about an hour. They told me they were looking for help with paying the rent for the motel room they are in. The woman starts a new job today, but won’t be paid until next week. The guy has an application in with the company who owns the motel – for a position at another motel that is owned by the same family. He said he felt pretty good about his chances. He wants to work.
They are on the list with the county homeless assistance program – #2 on the list in fact. They have been working with a plethora of agencies over the last 10 weeks and the follow-up has been slow. Mostly because there just isn’t much available to help people like this family. Apparently a roaring economy doesn’t trickle its way down this far.
And this family is not alone. If I had to guess, I would say there are a couple hundred similar families with similar stories along the Carlisle Pike, in the dozen or so motels. This is not an exaggeration. Each of these families are in similar situations – They are right on the edge. They are one medical bill or auto repair bill away from true homelessness. They have enough to pay the exorbitant weekly rent for their room, but don’t have enough to save up for a security deposit and first month rent, which would be cheaper and better in the long run. They are trapped in a vicious cycle.
When I spoke with this family, the guy told me they were originally number 842 on the list to receive help for housing. 842. That’s a long list. That’s a serious problem. And that’s just one county in Pennsylvania. Multiply that across the country and you start to get a sense of how bad the situation is. The economy might be roaring for some, but it is failing for so many more.
What is the Christian thing to do? I think it is to ask the dangerous question – why is this happening? Blaming all these families as the sole cause of the problem is a cop-out. It is an answer that swears off a responsibility from the rest of society to respond and offer a correction. The Christian response certainly isn’t to say that only the strong survive and that the ends justify the means. That is the heartless answer, but one that some in positions of power seem to believe in.
We are limited in what we can do. There are only so many people we can work with – we are already stretched thin. There is only so much money that we have access to. Yet the need far exceeds what we are capable of. And saying no to someone who is just on the edge is difficult. And it sucks. But sometimes, it’s all you have because of the limitations. We can’t help everyone. But in those times, I can at least spend an hour listening to someone. I can ask questions. I can treat a person with respect. I can believe them.
At the end of the phone call, the guy thanked me for listening and for any help that we might be able to offer. The women thanked me as well. I wasn’t able to offer anything materially. But I offered what I had – a listening ear, encouragement. What do you have to offer?