After we'd lived in the community for about a year, I was told about a job opening for a low-income housing ministry whose office was 2 buildings down from our home. I nearly didn't apply because I wasn't sure that I had anything to offer, but after much convincing -- I tossed in my application. As I spoke with the board during the interview process I was able to articulate that I really knew nothing about the practical side of running a housing ministry -- I was handy-ish, but not exactly Bob Vila and my major was history. And, while I was excited at the thought of bringing restoration to some of these turn of the century homes, I was mostly excited because 80% of their tenants had become my actual neighbors. For several months, we had been walking with a young tenant next door to us who moved out of an abusive situation and had almost no belongings. We worked with our church to get her some basic furniture and gave her our microwave so that she could cook some food. I helped her hang some curtains and will never forget how excited she was about red, velour curtains that were 2 sizes too big for her windows. From there, "E" pretty much became a part of our extended family -- we let her do laundry in our home so we could sit and chat together. Through these laundry sessions, we got to know her and her story. She had a job that the bus line didn't run to, so she had purchased a car through a sleazy car dealership. Almost immediately it needed major repairs that she couldn't afford, so to be able to afford to fix her car she sold the title to a Title Loan place who charged her almost 200% interest! What I found out really quickly was that while housing was an incredible opportunity to meet a basic need, perhaps the real opportunity came as we established a relationship of trust from which to speak into and walk with people in the various realms of injustice that often entangle the poor.
In "E's" case, it meant the opportunity to connect her with the deacons at our church and an attorney from our church who volunteered his time to go with her to sign over her car and get out from under the oppressive title loan. For another woman, "G" it meant seeing individuals from another church each personally donate a portion of her security deposit so that she could get out of a shelter with the grandchildren she is raising. For "T" and his family, it has meant watching a former tenant turned police officer see a homeless family at a bus stop and refer them to us while other officers took it upon themselves to raise the money needed to cover their deposit and first month's rent and help them to find a job.
So, as I took the job and began the massive learning curve [building codes, rehab 101, volunteer management, board relations, and perhaps most importantly toilet repair...a lot of toilet repair], what I have mostly learned is how deeply we need each other. I am daily amazed at the opportunities I get to witness where the people of God from all over the city get to meet these beautiful friends and use their God-given gifts to do mercy and seek justice alongside them. To those of us that are used to having resources and cultural power, a few legal volunteer hours or a $100 investment probably seems like a small thing. But to "E" or "T" or "G" it means having a home, freedom from debt, having their kids off the street in time for winter -- and most importantly it means belonging to a bigger "family" to whom they belong and matter.