**I wrote this article for RELEVANTmagazine.com (published on September 14, 2020).
As Harold put away the groceries he received from his church’s food pantry, he found himself treating his cabinets and kitchen appliances with more care, the way people do when they are guests in an acquaintances home. He knew that soon a stranger would occupy his apartment.
Unsure of where he and his sons would land come January, Harold fought against the anxiety and impending doom that 2020 carried in all its unprecedented glory. He could almost hear the proverbial clock ticking.
December 31, 2020 was just over three months away.
After losing his job in May at the local factory due to COVID-19, Harold began to panic. He was living paycheck to paycheck from temporary jobs and just scraping by as a single father of three teenage boys, who could probably eat a whole church’s food pantry contents in one afternoon.
Devastated by the loss of his job, uncertain of how he would pay rent, and with eviction looming, Harold began praying for a miracle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the authority to place a moratorium on evictions when they believe it is in the best interest of public health. The CDC took this action on September 4, 2020 when they announced the issuance of an order to temporarily halt residential evictions until December 31, 2020 to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The CDC’s announcement included a clarifying line that has rocked Harold and many others across the country: “This order does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent.”
Harold heard the news and found himself grateful that he wasn’t under the immediate threat of losing their two-bedroom apartment just west of Uptown Charlotte. However, he knew the details of the moratorium. The rent was still going to come due. He ran the numbers every day multiple times in his mind.
Seven months rent times $695.
Harold and his boys were not under the immediate threat of being on the street today, but that bill was still going to come due.
He could feel the anxiety building in his chest.
Making a Change
In my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, there is a shortage of 30,000+ affordable housing units. The threshold for qualifying for affordable housing is different across the country, but the basic premise is that if a person is making less than the median income in their city, they may qualify for a housing subsidy.
The fact is that profit is taking precedence over people in need in my community and countless communities across the country. Low-income families are struggling to make ends meet, and corporations and city builders exploit this reality through gentrification.
Research has shown that in order for a family to break the cycle of generational poverty, they need access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. During 2020, these pillars of financial freedom were robbed from many families. Schools, which doubled as childcare for many families, were shut down and parents became responsible for their kids’ quality of education. Millions of people were fired from their jobs, which were also their only ticket to healthcare. And rent payments stayed the same despite the economic turmoil the majority of families across the country were experiencing.
Even if you weren’t personally adversely affected, odds are you know someone who was.
As the Church, what should we do about these realities? And what can we do about them? One church was never intended to meet every need of its community on its own. Many churches have mastered the art of the food pantry; Harold and so many others are grateful for that reality. But in order to see to all the needs of our respective communities, we need to learn how to open the door and courageously cross dividing lines.
Substantial improvement begins with collective impact. Collective impact is the phenomenon that happens when cross-sector organizations come together to work toward a common agenda. It is time for the Church to start thinking more strategically about our outreach programs and service to the community.
One practical way to explore how to holistically care for Harold – and thousands like him in your community – is to create an asset map of the people, organizations and resources in your neighborhood or adjacent neighborhoods that provide people with the tools they need to break generational poverty.
- What organizations are already addressing areas that your church is not?
- What programs are already in place that you do not need to start but simply foster or support?
- What relationships do you need to build and what resources do you need to gather in order to point people in need in the right direction?
Local churches have the opportunity to pool the financial and human resources of their congregation to help families that are in need. However, it is going to take a unified effort to address a problem that has been delayed by the eviction moratorium. While the looming housing crisis for neighbors in our communities presents a unique opportunity for the body of Christ to come together, we cannot do this alone. We are going to need creativity and wisdom from God and the commitment to build relationships with people impacted by these realities.
The Church can lead the way in strategically organizing resources and organizations that listen to the voices of the residents and bring practical and sustainable help to families in need.
Is your church engaged in holistically and strategically engaging families like Harold’s with grace, creativity, and courage?