It’s pretty common these days to see men and women standing on traffic islands in busy intersections holding handwritten cardboard signs that announce their homelessness and need for money. Many of these people are indeed homeless, while others are not. What is certain, however, is that there are many more homeless people who are ‘invisible’ to us because they are not standing outside with cardboard signs.
Historically, homelessness has been associated with individuals living on the streets, but families have become the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, comprising nearly 40 percent nationally, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. A Boston Globe article published this past July, reports that “the tally of homeless families in Boston spiked by 25 percent this year, a result of “stagnant wages and increasing costs of housing, child care, and other essentials.... The city’s annual homeless census in February showed there were 1,543 homeless families in the city, an increase of 25% over last year’s census.”
My church is located in Newton, a vibrant neighboring community of Boston with 80,000 residents. The city government website touts the area as “well respected for the quality of education, community life, exceptional homes, and beautiful open spaces” – and yet , Newton is also surrounded by people in need. Unlike Boston, the homeless are not seen on the streets. They are our invisible neighbors. Approximately 66 families are housed in two local motels -- one within three miles of Newton’s border and the other within six miles. These families include 61 moms, 20 dads, and 88 school-age children.
Most of these families do not have cars, and transportation is not conveniently located. Open space and play areas for the children are not within walking distance or easily accessible. These families are isolated from the communities in which they live.
The members of The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC decided to reach out to these families by offering Easter dinner and seasonal cookouts; transportation and activities were also provided. We partnered with other churches and businesses within the community and the cookout participation grew substantially. You can see more details about the events in this spotlight article. The guests were appreciative that a church actually cared enough to do this, and the volunteers asked if they could help plan and participate in additional events.
We hope these events inspire other congregations and serve as a model to do the same. It is only a beginning, but there is no doubt that it has brought a great deal of joy, not only to the families, but to those of us who opened our hearts and doors to them. No family of five should have to live in a single motel room on a busy street, with a tiny refrigerator and microwave, with no place for children to play because there is no affordable housing.
So let’s ask ourselves: What more can we as communities of Christ do to tackle the systemic problems that make this a reality?
Pastor Susan Brecht can be reached at the church office at (617) 244-3639 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page or follow them on twitter. Their website is: http://www.eliotchurch.org/.
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