Our church is right in the heart of the city and as such, many who make their home outside find their way into our worship services on Sunday and throughout the week for various reasons. The first year Amy and I were here, we made a concerted effort to allow people to sleep on the steps and in the courtyard of the church if they so chose, as it seemed to be the bare minimum offering of hospitality required of us.
In the past few months, however, things have gotten a lot more complicated. Several fights have broken out over turf, a couple of people have fallen and lost teeth or broken ribs, and at least three times, people have broken into the boiler room to sleep. At least once or twice a week, we catch a group of younger folks shooting up heroin in the courtyard, their needles scattered about in the midst of the greenery. We have found every kind of bodily waste one cares to imagine in the common area, and this Sunday during our annual church cookout, I had to escort one man out of the restroom for masturbating to pornography in one of the bathroom stalls.
There comes a point when the hospitality afforded to those we are trying to welcome in has to be weighed against the safety of those already present in the community. Although the sanitation issues and the vandalism were less than pleasant, the violence, drug use, and sexual indiscretions finally pushed us over the line. We met with the Portland police and had a notice posted that said any loiterers who refused to leave upon request would be arrested.
Sen. Jim DeMint recently released a plan to cut the federal deficit with $4.2 trillion in spending cuts. And guess what he wants to cut?
Seventy percent of the cuts would come from safety net programs that assist low-income people, including eliminating the earned income-tax credit and child tax credit.
Even an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute objected, saying, "It's comprised completely of spending cuts and no tax increases, but then targets the lower-income programs while sparing the big middle-class programs. They could have designed a spending-cut program that was more balanced …”
The news brought to mind a parable from the mid-1800s.
In the opening scene of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by two earnest gentlemen. "At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,'' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ``it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.''
Do we want to be the kind of America that faces an historic deficit and chooses to extend $690 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of our citizens while cutting $650 billion in aid to children who need special education, student aid, and additional resources for low-income schools?
Do we want to be the kind of America that protects $44 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies while cutting $47 billion in energy grants to help poor families heat their homes in the winter?
Right now the wealthiest Americans are wealthier than they’ve ever been and people living beneath the poverty line make up a larger slice of the American pie than they have since the Great Depression.
Is that really what we want? Really?
“The problems of homelessness and poverty are not self-inflicted, they are the result of priorities of our society and those priorities are not centered on people but on gathering more wealth for a small number of people. Many of us [homeless people] – despite the stereotypes – drew deeply on our faith and the fact that we’re all children of God and organized ourselves. We’re homeless, not helpless. That’s why our call is to work with us and not for us.”
— Willie Baptist, Scholar-in-Residence The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary
On November 23, the Congressional Super Committee appointed to reduce the national deficit must decide where to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget.
Many of their proposed cuts the Super Committee is contemplating strike fear in my soul -- a visceral forboding of injustice.
That's because the proposed billion-dollar cuts will affect after school tutoring programs, job training for unemployed adults, Head Start and child care programs, energy grants that help low-income families afford heat and many other programs that benefit the least of those among us.
It is for this reason that many organizers, parents, students, community leaders and people of faith will assemble across the nation at noon (in every time zone) on November 16 to form human circles of protection around the buildings of organizations and agencies that have dedicated their lives to helping the poor and are in jeopardy of losing essential funding from the federal government.