I am struggling with a question, that I hope someone can help me with: why aren’t we passionate about affordable housing as a cause? I know some people are, a small cadre of activists, those who work in social services and community development. But I mean just people – our neighbors, friends, colleagues. Why don’t we donate, raise money, do walks to allow others to live in safe, healthy homes that they can afford? Sometimes it seems we care more about where stray dogs are kenneled than we do about where people in our communities sleep at night (and please don’t misunderstand, I love animals and firmly believe that we should care about both).
I have two reasons why I struggle to understand this lack of public interest: first, so many of us spend a huge amount of time, thought, planning and money making our own homes a comfortable, loving place; and second, without a stable home, how can you expect anyone to have a successful life?
With regard to the passion millions of people have for their own homes, think of the number of magazines, internet sites, stores and professions (architects, builders, inspectors, decorators, etc.) dedicated to helping people create their dream home. It’s a huge industry, and we do love our homes. Just think of the way we talk about what a home can mean: it’s the embodiment of a shared American dream, a foundation, a nest, our home base. It’s a safe place where you can start to decide what you want for the rest of your life. So if we all want this for ourselves and for our families, why aren’t we interested in helping other people achieve this too?
On the second point, I wish everyone would pause to think about what living in the same home over several years means for the other aspects of their lives. What if you had to find a new place to live every six months or year because you didn’t make enough at your job as a teacher or fireman or waitress to keep paying the rent where you are. Can you find another place close enough to your current job(s) or will you have to find a new one? Can you find an apartment in the same school district or do you need to transfer your kids to a new school? You’re already having trouble paying your bills, so how can you afford to move, with all of the transportation costs and security deposits? Forget about the money for a minute, how much stress is it causing to be moving or worrying about whether you are going to have to move? And if all of this is going on, how do you have time to help your kids with their homework or ask them how their day was?
All of this really hit home with me this week while I was visiting a neighborhood in Chicago. This community has a network of strong nonprofits that are providing job training, health care and tutoring to families in the area. They are also rehabbing homes that have fallen into foreclosure to resell them and building new homes as well. They’ve worked with their city councilman to build new schools and create new parks. This is a tough place, but one where progress is being made even in this economy. As we walked down the street, I was distracted by two signs I kept seeing in the windows. One said “We Call Police,” meaning we are paying attention and call for help if we see bad things going on – we aren’t going to have our neighborhood taken away from us. The other sign actually gave me a chill; it read “Don’t Shoot, I Want to Grow up.”
Would you allow your child to wait for the bus or play outside in a place where you would hang that sign? How can we allow any child to live there? What can we expect from a boy or girl who calls that home? And how would you feel if that’s the only home you could afford to provide for your child? Shouldn’t we all care about helping each other change that situation?
I’m having a hard time understanding how anyone couldn’t.