Forty-five-year-old Lou worked as a handyman until he broke his arm. Without a steady income, he lost his apartment. His savings soon dried up. An eviction followed. He spent a few weeks here and there staying with friends. The cast came off but his arm wasn’t healed. He tried other jobs but with only high school education his options were few. He only knew how to be a handyman. Unable to find a decent paying job, he ended up on the streets.
Maritza, 29 years old and homeless, works as a housekeeper at a hotel. One day, she came home from work to find the apartment nearly empty. Her ex-husband left her a note along with divorce papers. He also emptied their bank account. Although devastated, Maritza tried to fight for what was hers. Unable to afford an attorney, she was left almost penniless. Relatives put her up for a few months offering her rides to work but soon their generosity fell through and she lost her bank job. Proud and determined, Maritza wouldn’t give up. She found a job at a Chandler hotel. Word about the church’s free lodging came from another maid. Maritza now has almost enough money saved for an apartment. Next, she hopes to save for a car. She is thankful for the kindness and mercy of the church.
Now and then, a guest shows up with a dog. Pets are an important part of people’s lives. During hard times, owners are reluctant to give up their beloved pets. The dog doesn’t understand why he lost his cozy place in the living room and his favorite snacks. Now he wanders from place to place, sometimes a flimsy piece of string serving as a leash. His paws may crack from walking for hours on the hot pavement but homeless people love their pets.
Every month, I volunteer with the American Muslim Women’s Association at a church in Chandler where we serve a hot meal to a group of single homeless men and women. I meet diverse homeless people like Lou and Maritza (not their real names). They range in age from early 20s to 60s. Some are veterans. A few are disabled. They arrive with all their belongings in backpacks, shopping bags or small suitcases. Faces are worn and tired. Still, they manage to greet us with smiles.
None of them chose homelessness. Job loss, divorce, fire, illness, car breakdown, bankruptcy, or bad personal choices can lead to homelessness. There is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing so says the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a non-profit group with some areas harder hit than others. Instead of addressing the housing shortage, the current administration proposes drastic cuts to the nation’s safety net.
The nation needs low-wage workers such as maids, cashiers, baby-sitters, and cooks. Our economy cannot function without them. Sometimes people become sick and/or injured and cannot work. It happened to me in a pedestrian car accident. There should be no shame in expecting that our government provide safe, decent and affordable housing. Millions of us cannot afford to pay market-rate rents and never will be able to. If the US government can dole out millions in tax breaks for the affluent then why not help people who are struggling? If the US government can dish out tax cuts for corporations that earn billions in profits then why not give people a break who provide the backbone of the economy? If the US government so shamelessly turns its back on the poor, disabled, and elderly how can they continue to brag about being a Christian nation? Surely, this is not what Jesus would do. Jesus never turned His back on the poor. The Christians I serve with do not turn their back on the poor. As a Muslim, I am proud to serve with my Christian sisters and brothers at the feeding program and in any other capacity in which I am called. Maybe one day the US government will step up and end the war at home against their own citizens. Nearly all homeless people just want a helping hand, not a hand out.