I saw a quote this morning that hit home on a subject lately that has caused quite a big uproar in my City of Clearwater.
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”Nelson Mandela
Tonight I will be present at a big deal in our city. A meeting at City Hall in Clearwater to address homeless issues.
I would like to not call it "homeless" issues. Instead, I would like to refer to them as "poverty issues." Because, in another light? We're all poor. And, every American today? Is always one step, one paycheck, one minute away from being homeless.
I would like to go back to my own experience with being homeless. Especially on the streets of Clearwater. I have no shame in telling this story. Because, I learned from it. In many monumental and profound ways. It changed how I live. Forever.
They say God places things in our path to test our faith and patience. I realize not everyone may believe the same way either. So, please however it is you do believe? The same lesson applies.
I was once the girl with everything. Two jobs. I never owned new vehicles, but, we always had a vehicle. My children were always fed. Always with new clothes. Or, we'd all spend a lot of time in thrift stores. They always had a roof over their heads. Everything was always a given that we'd have it.
Until one day I woke up? And, we did not.
I blame myself for a series of poor decision making and not anticipating having back up resources. But, one day? My son and I found ourselves on the streets of Clearwater. Prior to that? We were in a shelter. But, that shelter had a time limit. And, they didn't care if you had someplace to go or not. You were out on time at the end of that period of shelter. I did have a plan B of which I had persistently worked on getting for us prior to that. When we got to that shelter? They had no availability for us. My Plan B failed. I did not anticipate this whatsoever. Now what? My son and I were for the first time? On the streets. With everything we owned. How could I let this happen I wondered?
My family repeatedly told me to seek out the resources in my city. What they and I did not know was that our resources sometimes are over-burdened and always full. Or unavailable.
A year later? We were in our own home. Finally. And, I thank God for the very community I live in for helping us to achieve that, too. Our home is not the grandest mansion in the city, but, it is all ours. Our vehicle is 12 years old but thanks to my oldest daughter it's ours.
We don't shop in the big fancy stores and opt for thrift stores. Still. We have food on the table. And, a pretty steady income to support our family. Which at this point is relatively smaller now than it was years back when I never paid attention to those less fortunate than myself.
Two years ago it was never a crime to be poor. Today? It is now a proposed ordinance sitting on the Mayor's desk to be signed into a city law which makes me reflect back on just how close I came to being charged with the crime of being "poor."
But, today's poor has a brand new definition according to our federal government. I won't go into the details of that, because, I'm pretty sure everyone has been enlightened to the new definition of "poor" and "homeless."
Tonight I will be present at a City Hall meeting. And, I have three minutes to say something profound to convince our city leaders to please have a heart upon our community's "poor" and "homeless."
What could I possibly say that could leave a lasting impression? How could I possibly put three years of experience with homelessness into a three minute statement? I can't. Instead I opted to put it down here. And, I will hopefully come up with something profound enough to touch someone's heart on the issue.
I take nothing for granted now. Not after experiencing homelessness for a year. I remember the nights I cried bundled under four blankets in December on the steps of my very own church.
I remember having to hide my possessions for the sake of my son. I remember having to get on a bike and riding everywhere.
I remember my son, bless his heart, who stuck with me despite it all. He was only 15 at the time.
I remember my daughter Sara, who bought us a phone and paid for its service.
I remember the support of my children as we went through this very difficult time in our lives. I remember them telling me how helpless they felt being so far away from us. I remember the resentment and disappointment my son felt not being able to have a "normal" life. I remember his tears. I remember beating myself up every day for not having done better for my son.
I remember questioning God everyday on HOW this could happen to us. Today I sit here asking God once again? How can I make a difference to those who are going through the same experience I once went through? Tonight I have to say something to drive home how these people feel about a ban on sitting and lying down now being a crime in our city. Tonight I will be with the very community that helped bring my son and I where we are today. We could not have done it without them. Without our family. Without CHIP. Without our church.
Today, I am reminded of all the many sermons my father gave to us about freedom and liberty in this country. And, how to fight to maintain those things. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution tells us that "we have the right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers and affects."
The Fourteenth Amendment tells us that "no state shall make or enforce any laws which shall abridge the privileges of citizens, nor deprive any person of life, liberty, or property."
The City of Clearwater wants to infringe upon those rights presently.
The very population that these new proposed bans are directed at are the very people who helped my son and I two years ago. They are directed at the very people whom protected us. They are against the very people whom gave us a blanket of theirs. Against the very community that stood behind my son and I and cheered us on. Helped encourage us to keep our faith and hope alive. To never give up. To fight to move foreward past a very difficult time. This very community put my son in the air behind the yoke of a plane and let him fly. Taught him how to fly. This very community helped us get our home. This very community helped us travel back home to pick up the vehicle my daughter sold to us. That I still have today.
This very community made sure we were fed and sheltered. This very community helped my son's dreams come true behind the yoke of a plane. I know as he flew above the beautiful beaches of our city for the first time in his life, in the back of his mind he looked down upon the community that helped him learn what hope looked like.
What could I possibly say in three minutes to convince heartless city leaders that hope doesn't come from a piece of paper on a desk? That hope does not come from arresting people for doing something that our very Constitution says we are given the right to do. Anywhere we want to at that.
That hope does not come from a police officer approaching a homeless mother and father with children and telling them that they are commiting a crime. What kind of hope does that give a child? My child used to be one of those children. A police officer did approach us once. But, he never asked us to leave. Instead? He got on his phone and tried to help us. That is hope in action. I guess tonight I will hear what hope sounds like in three minutes from quite a few people in our community.
As for myself? I don't know if I could possibly put into words how I feel about my community in three minutes.
How do you describe hope and faith in three minutes?
How do you prevent mere survival from being a crime?