My mother recalls when she was a very little girl, she lived in her uncle’s house as part of an extended household that included her aunt, uncle and cousins, an elderly grandmother as well as my mom and her parents. (The house pictured below shows a similar home, but it’s not the home in which my mom lived before being sent to boarding school … mentioned in my previous post.)
This would have been the late 1920s and early 1930s, a time when some Americans enjoyed prosperity but many others suffered pressing economic challenges. Jobs were scarce and extended family households weren’t unusual.
Mom remembers her parents emphasizing that, no matter how vexing the challenges they faced, others were worse off. This fact was underscored numerous times when came an unexpected knock at the back door. An adult would open the kitchen door leading outside and at least one homeless man (sometimes several), oftentimes dirty and disheveled, would be standing there in the yard below.
(Whenever there were men in the back yard, my mom was hastily shooed upstairs or to another part of the house where she wouldn’t be tempted to chat with the men nor to have even casual contact with them.)
The beggars’ mission was always the same: they hoped to receive food in exchange for doing some household chores or other physical labor. Once fed, they’d move along elsewhere.
The family lore says these poor and homeless men, many of whom had come from the nearby railroad yard, had a code they’d use, marking those houses where they’d been successful at finding work and being fed. My aunt and others along the marked route felt it was their Christian duty to help needy individuals, but they also held the firm conviction that no meals would be provided until these beggars had completed some necessary task.
We don’t often link that long-ago era with our current time, but figures from 2012 reflect about 635,000 homeless people in the United States. Though I can’t speak knowledgeably to the accuracy of that figure, I know there are homeless people in my community. I have also come to believe whatever code was utilized in the 1920s and 1930s, people in 2014 have learned its usefulness.
My Beloved is a tenderhearted man. At least once a month, someone enters his shop looking for work. Invariably, these individuals (sometimes families) are homeless. Some of them are shiftless types, people accustomed to receiving no-strings-attached handouts. Other times, they have an apparently genuine need and prove to be hard working people who happen to be down on their luck.
Yesterday, a couple (with two dogs and two cats) connected with my Beloved. (I wouldn’t have known about it except the man called our home phone today asking to speak with “Mr. D___.“) When I queried my Beloved, he eventually told me he’d paid for their room last night at a nearby motel. Today, the man phoned, halfway hoping my Beloved would spring for a second night.
Saturday afternoon is not a great time to track down a temporary living arrangement. This couple’s four-legged companions were complicating matters … Salvation Army doesn’t take pets and most motels charge extra for them. After numerous phone calls, my Beloved was able to track down a place that charged reasonable rental for the week.
This isn’t a story I share to heap praise and acclaim on my Beloved (though I think his generosity is praiseworthy). Both he and I have been discussing the economic drift our country is experiencing and considering the potential that today’s economic drift may worsen into serious economic hardship and even crisis over the next couple years (not unlike the Depression era of the last century). As our government continues to spend our children and grandchildren into oblivion, it seems there will be a point (throughout history, there always has been) when this house of cards comes crashing down.
As we continue to see more people living from hand-to-mouth, unable to afford either food or shelter, my Beloved and I are looking for solutions to minister to these immediate needs. From what we’ve seen and heard locally, churches and organizations like the Salvation Army operate at near-capacity.
It’s remarkable (to me) that my household in 2014 already resembles the household where my mom spent her early years. Currently, we have three generations living under one roof. Not long ago, one of my Beloved’s siblings also lived with us. Naturally, I can’t deny I’m curious what changes will happen over the next decade.
So, I throw out a couple questions: do you see an up-tick in homelessness, and if so, how is your community addressing it? Are there measures you’re taking (individually or as a family) to help those in need? In this land of the free and home of the brave, what solutions are there that you see will minister grace in time of need? Will the homeless individuals have marked your back door with a code that signifies “thumbs-up” because of the Christian charity you’ve shown?