Monday, October 12, 2009

When The Need Exceeds The Means

I guess they should just beg a charity or something:
Desperation Reigns In Detroit

You may have heard by now of the crush of Detroiters who descended on Cobo Hall this week to apply for homelessness prevention assistance.  50,000 - 60,000 residents have received applications for 3,400 packages of up to $3,000 to cover utility bills and fees associated with keeping one's home or moving into a new one.

The Detroit Free Press Editorial team beat me to the Katrina metaphors, and even threw in "tsunami" for good measure to describe Detroit's economic disaster.

It’s not just Detroit. The tsunami that is our economic collapse has created a tremendous demand for assistance all around the country, even here in Nashville.

Here’s a little secret: in Nashville, we’ve been seeing signs of economic hardship for the past five years. Even before the total collapse of September 2008, a whole class of people were left out of the “Bush boom”: people who worked two and even three jobs, single mothers, people without health insurance.

The people our last president described as "uniquely American” with neither shame nor irony.

These were people that the Republicans, when they held the seat of power in Washington, did absolutely nothing to help. It took a Democratic congress in 2006 to pass an increase in the minimum wage bill for the first time in 12 years.

Here in Nashville I am involved with an organization that provides homelessness prevention assistance to the working poor. It’s a faith-based group, started in 2005 when Nashville churches first began seeing a surge of requests for financial help. Let me tell you, the past year has been hard. The number of clients seeking assistance has exploded. Donations from member congregations have held steady, but several of the foundations where non-profits traditionally apply for grant money were affected by the Bernie Madoff scandal and the decline in the stock market.

Fortunately, the government’s economic stimulus has stepped in to make up some of the shortfall. But there isn’t enough to go around. There never is, but this year is worse than ever. Imagine, 60,000 people showing up for only 3,400 assistance packages! That’s a crisis. That’s a freaking disaster. And no one is talking about it.

Our economy has been in a hole long before it was fashionable for folks in the media to talk about it. Anyone who works with the poor in their community knows this. So many of the clients helped by the group I work with are single mothers, and that's just heartbreaking. Kids thrown out of their home because mom’s hours got cut back at Dell and now she’s behind on the rent don’t tend to do well in school.

These stories can be found in cities all around the country right now. Call any non-profit or downtown area church and you will hear them. And I hope you will do that and I hope you will offer to help with your time or your money because our communities really need it.

And to you people who keep saying, “I don’t want my money going to X, Y, Z,” I have just three words: Yes, I know.

Yes, I know. That is abundantly clear. And because you “don’t want your money going to” X, Y, Z, you haven’t given it. And we have a tsunami of suffering in our communities as a result.

So either step up to the plate and give more on your own, or the government is going to have to do it with taxes, because we’ve reached a breaking point. You can't have 60,000 people show up for help and only enough funds to help 3,400 of them. That's not workable and those chicken will come home to roost.