All four Gospels report Jesus saying, “The poor you will always have with you…” We may feel that we see the most obvious truth of Jesus’ saying around us every day. Our area knew quite a number of homeless and hungry people, the poorest of the poor in America, even before the recession began. But their numbers are growing and their needs deepening as the recession deepens.
Our church has been helping David off and on for the past several years. David is one of those truly unfortunate people who seem to be trapped in a never-ending cycle of homelessness and hunger. His minimal skills lay in the area of manual labor. We’ve helped him find suitable jobs before and employers praise his work ethic. But he suffers from the effects of injuries sustained in two auto accidents and other physical maladies. He’ll work hard for a month or so, then his health breaks down. His health problems lead to hospitalizations, which lead to too much time out of work, which leads to no money to pay rent, which leads to life back on the streets, which leads to even worse health and so on.
Recently, with the help of a benefactor and of a determined DSHS worker, we were able to house David in inexpensive motels for a few weeks to stabilize his health and then find him work. For a few weeks, he drew $197 per month from DSHS plus $200 per month in food stamps and $63 per month on an ORCA bus card. The job secured through DSHS pays $9.30 per hour and David is scheduled approximately 20 hours per week.
But once David has worked approximately six weeks, the $197 and the food stamps will be withdrawn. That will leave him roughly $700 per month to live on. After an extensive search, we think we have found him a room in a boarding house which is both clean and safe. That will cost $400 per month, leaving David less than $300 per month for groceries, toiletries and to pay the difference in cost for the bus to get him from home (here in Snohomish County) to work (in Bellevue). He’s applied for disability benefits but is always told he needs a lawyer to draw on the system he paid into for all his working life.
When Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always,” he was quoting from a longer passage in an Old Testament book. Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
Jesus knew God’s command and so did his disciples. Yet America’s “social safety net” continues to be withdrawn by our government. As we prepare for elections in the fall, we must consider which candidates are committed to caring for the poor and needy in our land. Who among them is willing to open their hands to ensure that everyone has a safe place to live and enough to eat?
The Rev. M. Christopher Boyer is pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood.