I recently wrote to you about a couple and their infant child that we helped get into an apartment: Greg, Kim and little Jeremiah. They were the victims of downsizing and that is what started their difficulties. A long story short, after many struggles, they ended up living in a shady, cheap hotel and that is where we met them. They are both educated and both had secured work, but they weren’t in a position to save enough money for a security deposit. That’s where we were able to intervene and offer them assistance. With the help of some of our partners we paid their sucurity deposit and helped them to move into their apartment. This is where you would think that things would quickly improve, but not so with this family.
Kim’s job, although a job of incredible promise, is a new job based on commission. It takes some time to build up a client base so it doesn’t pay quick dividends. In other words, she puts in more hours than she gets paid. She is looking for another part time job, but no doubt that will press her in the direction of low wage work with no promise of gain and take time away from the job with great promise but no instant gratification.
Greg’s job was with a company that transports elderly, disabled and poor patients to doctor appointments. The job came into jeopardy when they moved into their new apartment. They had no automobile and public transport would not reach the destination. In fits of panic Greg began searching for a car. No luck. When the company found out that Greg did not have the transportation they told him he could not have the job, but that they would recommend him to this other “Christian” company that did the same type of work. At first the company was reluctant to hire someone with no personal transportation but then they called him and explained that they had an extra car that he could use. They put him on their insurance and Greg started work with a company car. What they didn’t tell him was that he would actually work from 4am until 11pm. But the job was going to pay the bills, so he stuck with it for a week. At the end of the week the police pulled him over on a routine traffic stop. It turns out the tags on the car belong to a different car and the car he was driving has no registration at all. Greg was ticketed. When he called the owners of the company to tell them what happened they said he would have to pay the tickets. He doesn’t have the money to pay them, and he shouldn’t have to pay them anyway. These lovely Christian business people then threatened him with physical violence. It’s not as if they don’t know they are wrong and how ridiculous this is, but when you are powerless and desperate people will take advantage of you. I told Greg if they try to make him pay then I will go personally with him and deal with them. Of course, they fired him. Now he has no work and they have fallen behind in their rent. He’s applied for a security job and is waiting to hear back.
They found an organization that provides rental assistance. This was an answer to prayer for Greg and Kim. It would provide them a bit more breathing room while they tried to find work. But when they found out that Greg had lost his job they said they wouldn’t help them. “All adults in the apartment must have jobs to be eligible for assistance.”
Marriage is an ongoing negotiation that takes work. It is at the same time beautiful and challenging. But add into the mix the real fear of being tossed out onto the streets with your wife and child; not being able to find adequate work to pay your already subsidized housing and take care of your family; a fading hope that you can get out of this mess; and the nagging feeling that you are not a real man because you are a failure in all the categories that you have been taught make up a man, and the stress can push you to the edge of sanity and salvation. It is in these difficulties that Greg and Kim need each other the most, but the reality of our humanity gets in the way. On top of just trying to find some breathing room, Greg and Kim are having to fight for their marriage’s survival as well.
Many of the details and struggles have been left out of Kim and Greg’s story. I just wanted to give you a feel for what life at the bottom is like. It’s called the bottom for a reason, the world is stacked against you. And this is true even of Kim and Greg who are hard workers, educated, honest, and drug free. Poverty has a way of sucking you in, holding you down and sinking you deeper. This is why the pithy slogans and catch phrases about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and “if you just work hard in America you can do anything” just don’t resonate with my experience. Life is just more messy and complicated than they allow. No doubt Kim and Greg may eventually “make it,” but it will only happen by adding to their already stellar personal attributes happenstance or serendipitous encounters where someone is able to give them the help and support they need at just the right time.
Like it or not, we are all in this together. But the work of sin is to pull us apart. Along with experience, this is why I know that weak and vulnerable persons will always get the short end of the stick. Sin wills it so. Even from the best of us, the weak get taken advantage of. And those of us who realize something is wrong with that are usually creative enough to come up with some excuse or reason as to why it happened. We need others, personally and institutionally, to help us be our better selves. If we leave it up to ourselves to simply do the right thing in every circumstance then we and the world are in for a lot more hurt. Kim, Greg and Jeremiah, and a million more just like them, need us to be on their side. We need to be on their side not just in word, but in deed. Enough of the meta-slogans. We need to get our hands dirty in the real lives of people who are in desperate need. Like it or not, we are all in this together.