Our Advent 2011 paper is now online. Be sure to read it and let us know what you think.
Occasionally we are asked, “How successful is your work at Cherith Brook? Are you able to get the homeless off the streets?
For one, we are rarely the reason folks get off the streets. We aren’t lawyers or social workers, we are unqualified to process them through housing programs. We aren’t employment programs, teaching new skills where needed or pointing the unemployed toward jobs. We really value those who have these skills and expertise. And we know it would be wrong to give ourselves much, if any credit for the legal, financial and programmatic resources it takes to secure housing when you have nothing.
Besides, success is a word we don’t use much. It sends the wrong message. For one thing, while some of our friends are able to get housing, few of them escape the precarity of poverty. Consider, for example, those who “live off the government”. The typical Social Security Disability check is somewhere around $650 a month. Food stamps aside, that’s for everything. And then there is the struggle to find affordable housing. There is no wiggle room for what life often throws at us. Give it a try sometime.
Also, we don’t want to contribute to the middle class myth of independence. Such a myth does not take into account that while some start at the bottom, a few start at the top and some of us started somewhere in the middle with family resources and support abounding. Success talk allows us to buy into the idol of autonomy. Not much credit is given to the reality that we all depend on others for something. If we are honest with ourselves, interdependence is more true to human experience and to our call as Christians.
Most important, the Gospels give more value to living truthful, faithful lives than being successful in our efforts. When it comes to being with those in poverty, the story is about companionship with those who live a daily struggle. Yes, we are somewhat hesitant to talk of success.
On the other hand we have had plenty to celebrate. And, it hits me on occasion that we don’t do enough celebrating.
We’ve had plenty partying going on here as of late. Mike Turner, who has lived with us on and off since 2008, was awarded Social Security Disability last month. It was surreal. He applied for disability in April 2010. And then he waited and waited, received an occasional phone call from lawyers, filled out forms, went to appointments, then waited some more. Hurry up and wait. When we went to court on a Friday morning I expected more waiting. But as he came out of the courtroom, I could tell by his smile that the waiting was over.
What did Jesus mean when he said “The poor will always be with you?" I’ll get back to you on that one. But what I do know is that Mike Turner went from the streets to our community and is now living in a house with friends. He will have trying times ahead as he learns to make the $650 stretch over the month. But after three years Mike knows we are in it together.
One of our favorite practices is to visit the houses of these friends for a blessing. Faces glow and eyes water up as we move from living room to bedroom and kitchen (yes, even the bathroom) to bless each space and giving thanks to God in Jesus Christ, who did some time in a stable on the streets and under the stars after all.
Mike is just one of several stories we have celebrated this past year. I’m learning what will power, patience, persistence, humility and faith it takes to transition from homelessness to stability of some kind. We have learned much by traveling this difficult road with friends. And much more to learn and much more to celebrate!