I was at a county housing meeting yesterday morning. There was a lot of discussion about all the efforts to get as many people as possible out of homelessness and into housing. The county has a Local Housing Options Team, which brings together a variety of agencies and interested parties to find solutions to homelessness.
During this meeting, there were several mentions of funding cuts – proposed and actual cuts in funding for housing programs.
Speaking about funding cuts in the abstract is easy. It becomes a theoretical discussion on the role of government. Funding discussions at this level are just numbers.
And then there’s the real life implications of funding cuts. As a result of cuts to two specific programs, 25 households will be affected. Their lives will be changed as a result. There is hope that all 25 households will be moved to other housing, but there is no guarantee of course.
This is no different from the President’s proposed budget for 2020 – including a 16% funding cut in HUD funding. This will impact many programs. And that’s easy to say on the surface because we can ignore the reality of what that means. Programs = lives. Programs are not some government spending program created just to get more government employees. These programs exist to assist and help the poorest among us, the outcasts in our midst, those with mental health challenges, those who can’t work for a variety of reasons, etc. Government programs exist to do things that we as individuals and churches and communities cannot and probably should not do. These are the people who will be affected by such cuts if that budget is passed as is. They all have names, families, stories. It’s easy to ignore this reality.
Speaking as a pastor, it drives me crazy when I hear people say that churches should pick up the burden of the poor. Here’s the reality – Churches can’t do this on their own. Pastors and their small and often non-existent staff, are not trained in this. And churches are not social service agencies either. Churches don’t have the capacity to do ongoing client management. Churches don’t have the financial resources. Churches don’t have the energy level necessary to do all of it. Churches have a role to play, but it is not to take it all on and run everything. That’s not even close to being realistic. That’s a recipe for disaster.
To often, many people – especially the middle and upper class economically, are blind and deaf to the needs that exists of the poor. It’s not totally their fault – I’m not blaming the middle and upper classes here. If you are middle class or higher, how often do you come across someone who is poor, has mental health challenges, etc.? Probably not that often. How many poor people are saved on your cell phone and that you talk too regularly, know their stories, and their challenges? You are even less likely to know someone who is poor or facing these challenges the higher your economic status. That’s just reality.
So it’s easy to ignore the need that exists – you probably don’t know that it exists. That doesn’t make you a bad person. Your life if just different and far removed from the poor and homeless. Everyone around you is probably in a home, has a job or can get a job, has a nice vehicle (or at least a vehicle that works pretty good and when it doesn’t you can afford to get it fixed), has kids looking at college (Or maybe not, but college is a real possibility and option), etc. It’s easy to ignore poverty because in your world, the problems of homelessness and poverty don’t affect you or anyone you know. So they must not be “real” or all that difficult to solve. Or the simple clichés must be true – if they only worked harder or got a job, they’d be able to pay for housing. As if homelessness were a one problem situation.
By cutting these programs, do we really believe that the problems will just go away magically? Of course they won’t because that’s not how people’s lives work. Every time a housing program is cut, someone has to leave housing – sometimes there is something to fall back on (maybe another program). Other times, people end up homeless because there isn’t another option. Homelessness and poverty compound problems. If you have no place to call home, I’m willing to bet that you have health challenges that are made worse. I’m willing to bet that you have a challenge in getting a job or keeping a job. I’m willing to bet your transportation is not reliable. I’m willing to bet you spend a great deal of time trying to secure food. I’m willing to bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the last couple of years, there have been an increase in homelessness among those with disabilities and those that are elderly. It should come as no surprise when we have an administration that supports and pushes policies that are based on Social Darwinism ideology – a belief that only the strong should survive. These policies carry out this ideology with a vengeance on those who are considered “weak” in society – those with disabilities and the elderly.
They aren’t going away. The problems are getting worse. And the ironic thing about all of this is that the very reason to push these cuts is to save money. The reality is that because we willingly ignore the challenges that the poor and disabled face in our country, it costs us much more than if we just helped these people out. Homelessness works just like compound interest – it grows bigger the longer it goes on. It gets more expensive too – for everyone.
Cutting funding doesn’t solve the problems and challenges that we face, it just makes it worse and ends up costing us far more. The difference though is that when we actually fund programs that assist the poor and homeless, we are faced with the uncomfortable reality of the challenges we face – often challenges that have no easy answers and in some cases, people who will never “get better.” Should we just cut these people off? Should we let them starve to death, or live on the streets where they can freeze or have increased health problems? That’s a real possibility when we cut these programs – not hyperbole. That would be the Social Darwin answer. It certainly isn’t the Christian answer.