This blog post is in response to Charles Blow’s August 9, 2013 New York Times op-ed piece, “A Town Without Pity,” which was about America’s attitude toward the poor and homeless. Blow’s article is a must read for all who are concerned about the poor and disenfranchised. As Blow comments in his article, we were once the land of liberty that welcomed the world’s poor and homeless.
Yet today, many in America seem to have nothing but disdain for the poor. Only last week, I wrote about the vengeance being unleashed in the House of Representatives against safety net programs for the poor. They propose massive cuts in these programs often wrapped in language of contempt for those in poverty. As one who has been involved for 40 years with my congregation, Luther Place Memorial Church in D.C., serving homeless women at N Street Village, I want to offer a different perspective on the issues of poverty and homelessness in America then the one so prevalent in America today including in the chambers of our Congress.
My pastor of 27 years, John Steinbruck, gradually helped open our congregation’s eyes to the social justice message of the biblical texts, and he guided us in how to be good stewards of our church property and resources. N Street Village, a continuum of services for homeless and very low-income women, grew out of some old, run-down townhouses and a parking lot owned by the church. N Street Village supporters from multiple faith traditions helped build this amazing place of healing.
We discovered through working with the homeless women who came through our doors that they were not lazy freeloaders seeking to get a handout as often is the claim by those who want to cut safety net programs. These women were desperately seeking help for lives that had seen abuse, abandonment, mental illness, addictions, loss of jobs and housing, and more. We have witnessed so many wonderful transformations on our block through our customized safety net programs for the homeless. N Street Village now serves more than 60 percent of the population of homeless women in DC and is one of the premier programs in the nation offering a complete continuum of services to women seeking to reestablish wholeness of life. Government support, along with private charity, and private participation were all instrumental in achieving our success.
Religious historian Karen Armstrong identifies compassion as the most important and common tenet among the world’s major religions and the Dalai Lama (who visited N Street Village in 2007) similarly says that compassion and social justice is the common message of all the world’s major religions. I end with words of Karen Armstrong who says: “We can either empathize with those aspects of our traditions, religious or secular, that speak of hatred, exclusion, and suspicion, or work with those that stress the interdependence and equality of all human beings.” The choice belongs to each of us.
By Gary Maring – Gary is a member of Luther Place Membership Church and one of the founders of N Street Village. He continues his commitment to N Street Village through membership on the Board of Directors and volunteer service. Out of his 40 years of experience serving at Luther Place and N Street Village, he was moved to publish “Faith, Social Justice, and Public Policy.” He also authors a blog, which focuses “Faith, Social Justice, and Public Policy.”