here for images from the RI Press Conference on homelessness, including photos of Harrington Hall.)
And Congress sits on its hands about continuing to offer long term
assistance (instead of just 26 weeks) to people who are unemployed. If
they fail, thousands of people in MA and RI will lose what little income
they have and be even more at risk of homelessness.
There is political will (appropriately) to respond to the devastation
wrought by Hurricane Sandy – yet little or no political will to respond
to the disaster of thousands of people, including children, homeless in
the winter in RI and MA.
And Congress dithers over the so called “fiscal cliff”, putting funding for homelessness and affordable housing
in jeopardy instead of showing a small bit of courage to slash funding
for the boondoggle F-35 plane (that flies so badly some pilots refuse to
fly it, is way over budget and willcost over $1 trillion dollars over the next 10 years) .
Nor do they seem to find the will to return tax levels to what they
were a few years ago (still way lower than what they were 30 years ago)
so that the wealthiest can help alleviate the suffering we see all
around us in our communities.
We were all painfully reminded of the fragility of life with the
shootings in Newtown last week. We could so easily place ourselves in
the shoes of the people of that community. We are asking important
questions about gun control but also about mental health care in this country. I am grateful at that new energy and you will hear more on this in coming weeks.
But tonight it is homelessness that tugs on my heart. Until
homelessness and/or mental illness touches your family, the urgency of
addressing the utter inadequacy of mental health care and assistance for
those who are most in need in this country remains just an
abstraction. But standing in an old gymnasium with row upon row of metal bunk beds
housing about 100 men every night breaks my heart every bit as much as
the tragedy in Newtown and carries its own urgency. With both
situations, the tragedy is felt more acutely because we know that it
doesn’t have to be this way. We know how to fix these problems.
Our task is to use our voices to insist that the manufacturers of
tools of death and war are put in their place and the resources shifted
to support life and true security.
Here are some ways you can do that:
· Call your congressman or senator and insist that they stop
dithering and put people before the profits of the weapons (from guns to
F-35s to nuclear weapons)makers and fund our communities not war and
guns. Or use the AFSC action page for this.
· Sign petitions in support of tax increases for the
wealthiest, cuts in military spending, gun control, funding for mental
health care, etc.. Any one of these may not mean much, but together
they are creating public noise that is getting harder for Congress to
· Donate to your local shelter or food pantry or food bank.
Some places look for volunteers, others just need money to keep the
· Donate to AFSC-SENE so that we can work with you to change our country’s priorities.
I want to end with a story. During the press conference today I was
handed a brochure that had the photo of a man who died this past year
when his camping lantern caught the tent he lived in on fire. Tears
unexpectedly welled up in my eyes as I thought of all the homeless men
and women in NH whose funerals I had presided over. A man standing near
me gently touched my arm. He had been friends with the man and told me
about him. He always worked, just never had enough to rent an
apartment. He never asked for help – he was proud. And he was ashamed
of the fact he couldn’t read, so he just did the best he could. As for
himself, he had finally accepted shelter. He said he is clean and
sober. Just couldn’t find work. When he lost his job several years ago
in the recession, and his marriage fell apart, he left his wife with
the house. “I got sisters. I wanted her safe.” He said that staying
there was hard (imagine trying to sleep in a big open room with 100
other people!) but he was grateful for it. And trying to keep hope
alive that he can put his life back together.
Please do what you can to help. Thank you. And may your holidays hold fellowship and renewal.