“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” – Elie Wiesel (thank-you LarryPaulBrown for reminding me of these wonderful words)
Ricky is from New York. He has been in Greenville about three years. He lived in Charleston, working in different restaurants for over ten years but “ran into some trouble” as he explained and came here to see if he could get a fresh start. I asked him did he have any family or friends living in the area, thinking that maybe that’s why he choose to head north on I-26. Not a soul was his reply.
I didn’t have to ask Ricky if he was homeless, he had all the tools of the trade scattered around him on pew next to me including wearing too many layers of clothes. An elementary school kids knapsack sat next to him, and two plastic bags from Family Dollar stuffed with clothes and blankets were at his feet. I had never seen him in church before but that didn’t mean anything, its easy to overlook the homeless particularly by us city dwellers.
In some sections of our city the homeless simply blend in, become part of the landscape like so many street lights, speed limit signs and pigeons. I know that sounds cold and heartless but when you are flying down the road, doing 45 in a 35, late for some “very important” meeting what do you really pay attention too? Street lights? Speed limit signs? Pigeons? Certainly not the homeless guy sleeping on the bus stop bench.
We have an area in our county, right on the fringe of the city limits and off the interstate, occupied by a half-dozen old motels. In another era this was the premier spot to stay when visiting our community. This little triangle of space was once dominated by brand names like Ramada, Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson and Best Western. Now words like economy, cheap, dirty, daily, weekly, and unsafe are used to describe what were once places families pulled off the highway, hung out by the pool and rested for the night.
These motels no longer provide travelers with overnight lodging, these motels are now homes for people, including children, living on the edge of homelessness. Last night one of these motels was condemned by the county, and last night entire families found themselves out on the street without a roof over their head, without a home.
There are a multitude of reasons why people find themselves living in barely habitable places like these motels; drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, health reasons, bad luck or as Ricky told me Sunday just “ran into some trouble”. But whatever the reasons are, no one, NO ONE in this country of wealth and waste should be forced to live, or in the case of children, grow-up in an environment we wouldn’t even let our precious pets sniff let alone live in.
“Sometimes we must interfere.” For too many of us our senses have become dulled by the bright lights and busyness of simply living. We miss opportunities to help people because we just aren’t looking for them. We have our own lives, our own problems, our own edges we are trying to keep our toes on. As I wrote in my post, What is a Christian, people living in these motels “aren’t worried about Donald Trump, or healthcare, or tax cuts. They don’t care if someone says “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” to them. They can’t imagine the kind of opulent wealth our President touts and displays as a sign of his superiority. They aren’t “of the world” they are in it, and hanging on by their fingernails.”
It is well past the time to interfere, well past the time for all of us interfere. My city has an abundance of resources and spends millions of dollars each year on parks, grass and trees, trying to create some sort of enchanted utopia worthy of the cover of Southern Living Magazine. But bike paths and green grass are not everyone’s idea of utopia, for some, paradise simply includes heat and running water.
How can you interfere? It’s okay to start a little bit at a time, the key is simply to start. You have an organization in your community that helps the homeless and that group has a website and on that website is a Wish List button with a list of items that groups needs. Email, or text that list to yourself and the next time you go to the grocery store buy two peanut butters instead of one, some extra toothpaste and deodorant and take them to the organization.
Now here is the important part, rather than just dropping the supplies in their donation box and running out, stop, look around and absorb what is going on. Let what is happening assault your senses. Look at the faces, say hello, shake a hand, smile and understand that homelessness affects all of us. It affects our community, for some our families, and certainly our future, just ask the mothers and fathers who lost their home last night when the motel was closed. Ask the children.