Our Eyes Were Opened


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Hidden Voices (#6 in a 6-part series)

One other group of people whose voices are hidden are those who deal with severe mental illness and addiction issues. We’d like for people with mental health issues and severe addictions to stay hidden. They are scary to us. They also are some of the biggest users of community services. They tend to go to the emergency department at the hospital a lot. An average visit costs $2100. They tend to get arrested a lot. The state of South Carolina spends over $19,000 a year to incarcerate someone.  They tend to use agency services a lot. We may only hear their voices of delusion while their voices of truth are often hidden.

Greenville has one Housing First model of shelter and that is Reedy Place, on Hudson Street, right beside new condominiums that are selling for $600,000 to $800,000 depending on the number of bedrooms. The residents of Reedy Place must have severe addiction and/or mental illness. The idea of a Housing First residence is that when someone with a severe addiction or mental illness receives housing first and feels safe and secure, then he or she is more likely to deal with the issues of the mental illness or addiction. Reedy Place has 23 one-bedroom units. The first building had 15 units. Greenville Mental Health staff followed those original 15 people. Last I heard, five are still living there. The second group of five moved to better places, a couple of those were to nursing homes but they could not have gotten in had they not been in Reedy Place. Of the last five, one died and they lost track of the other four. That’s a 66 percent success rate.

There’s a large Housing First shelter in Charlotte. The universities there received permission to pull the medical records of the first year’s shelter residents for the year prior to coming into the shelter. Those residents’ medical bills totaled over $2 million. During the first year of residency, the medical bills of those same people totaled just over $700,000.

The state of Utah decided to go totally housing first and the last official number I saw was that they had reduced their homelessness by 75 percent.

Hearing the voices of our neighbors is challenging but we must if we want to be a community that models the God we worship and the faith we proclaim.  There are others whose voices are hidden. I hope we all will being listening.

 

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Hidden Voices Part 4 in a Series

One way I identify hidden voices is from the comments I receive through my work with Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. I’ve heard: “He committed a crime. Why should I help him?” 

Formerly incarcerated people have a hard time after they have paid their dues for their crime. Landlords often will not rent to them and employers will not hire them.

Reentering society brings real problems for real people. If we as a community do not recognize these issues and find ways to address them, then the likelihood of the ex-offender returning to incarceration is high indeed, as high as 65% within three years.

I have been fortunate to be part of redesigning and then facilitating a ReEntry Simulation. This simulation allows participants to experience the challenges of reentering society after being incarcerated. So far, simulation participants have been probation and parole officers, employers, a few newly released ex-offenders, and agency staff people who work with a high percentage of former convicts. In this simulation, there are challenges of getting and paying the fees for identification papers within the month, of finding a place to live, and of having money for regular, required drug testing, paying child support, and buying food and transportation tickets. Participants also juggle going to AA/NA, employment or the Career Center, and/or Vocational Rehabilitation. The only quick money in the simulation is using the pawn shop or selling one’s plasma.

Being part of this process, I have learned more about how hidden are the voices of people who have as part of their history their criminal record. I have wondered even more deeply why can’t the time in prison be used for constructive, life stabilizing, life re-creating activities and opportunities? Why must the voices of these human beings, these our brothers and sisters, be stifled and thereby limit the God-given potential in each person? Why must their voices for hope for a new life be so hidden?


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Hidden Voices (Part 2 in a series)

One way I identify hidden voices is from the comments I receive through my work with Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. One comment that I hear is: “If they’d just get a job, everything would be okay.”

Maybe we need to listen to why some people do not work. In order to get and keep a job, you have to have transportation, good health, adequate and safe childcare, and good people skills.

In the poverty simulation that I facilitate, I ask during the debriefing session how people who had a job in the simulation would now respond to that comment: “If they’d just get a job, everything would be okay.” The participants report that yes, they had a job but they didn’t earn enough to pay the family’s bills. Yes, they had a job but did not have enough time when they got off work to take care of all the family’s responsibilities or to supervise their children. Yes, they had a job but lost it because they did not have enough bus tickets to get to work. Yes, they had a job but were tardy because of issues out of their control and so their pay was reduced. Their already stressed budget could not absorb the ongoing costs of transportation tickets to continue the job.

The hourly self-sufficiency wage for one adult and one preschooler in 2016 in Greenville, SC, was $15.67/hour. I’ll remind you that minimum wage is $7.25/hour. The annual self-sufficiency wage for two adults with a preschooler and a school age child was $46,030. The self-sufficiency wage includes housing, child care, food, public and/or private transportation, health care (if the employer pays for health insurance), taxes and tax credits, miscellaneous things (figured at 10% of all other expenses), and emergency savings.

I’ll expand just a bit about transportation. Greenville pays $3.76 per capita for its public transportation system whereas Charleston pays $17.79 and Greensboro pays $40.70. Our low per capita expenditure is not a fact to be proud of. Transportation is a huge hurdle for employment.

Many people want to work but the required infrastructure to get and keep a job is just not there.


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Hidden Voices

We will not, do not, or cannot hear the voices that are hidden in our community.

We will not…hear hidden voices

We stay within the confines of people more or less like us. We live in neighborhoods with people who are more or less like us. We work with people who think more or less like we do. We worship with people who are educated more or less like we are. Our income levels are more or less alike.

We tend to remain with people whose fund of knowledge is similar to ours. Our fund of knowledge grows from our gender, our age, our socieoeconomic status, our education level, our experiences of the broader world, our race, our faith perspective and a host of other things. We often believe that our fund of knowledge is the only one that’s valid.  We will not hear hidden voices.

We do not… hear hidden voices.

We do not want to hear hidden voices. We are busy enough with career or retirement, caring for kids, grandchildren, or ailing parents. We struggle with our own limited world of influence and certainly do not want to be disturbed by issues beyond our control. We want to remain in our own bubble. We like our blinders of our skin color, our privilege of power or prestige, or our position in society. We prefer that hidden voices remain hidden. Otherwise we might feel uncomfortable and we do not want that! We do not hear hidden voices.

We cannothear hidden voices.

We are stressed already with the problems of the world. We are overwhelmed with all our responsibilities in our home, our community, our church, our work, or our neighborhood. We may be going through a divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one, struggling with health issues, or facing financial challenges ourselves. We do good to crawl out of bed in the morning and plow through the day. We simply cannot take on any more. Our bandwidth is taxed heavily right now. We cannot hear hidden voices.

But there are hidden voices in our community. During my next few posts, I’ll share some of those.


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Hawks and Doves

Hawks and Doves

This week, a parable took place right in front of me with a hawk and a dove. I’m talking real birds here, not symbols.  It seems timely since it happened the week leading up to the celebration of Independence Day.

We’ve had a dove couple nesting in the upper corner of our front porch. One of the birds, we assume the mother, is always on the nest, sitting very calmly. She looks at us when we come and go. We greet her. She does not blink, just notices that the people who live near her nest accept her chosen birthing place.

We did not realize when the babies hatched because they, too, were very quiet. Eventually, we could see them peering over the nest, surveying this world into which they were born. Of course, the world they saw involved four porch chairs, some plants, and a Carolina wren appearing every so often. We never heard a peep.

Occasionally, we’d see a gathering of dove friends in our front yard. They might chat with each other a bit but were not as comfortable with our intrusion as our resident couple was. But we’d hear the coo-coo sounds of the doves’ conversation.

As I took the garbage to put in the can that I’d already pulled to the street for the City sanitation staff to empty, I heard THUD!!! I wasn’t sure what the noise so I turned to see what caused the sound.

I saw a large hawk swooping across my porch. It paused briefly on the empty window frame that defines the border of the porch nearest our neighbor, and flew away. I stood there with my mouth open. After noticing a bloody splat on the outside of my storm door, I immediately went into the house and told my husband that he would not believe what had just happened. I went back outside. That’s when I saw it.

A baby dove that was just getting its feathers was lying on the porch floor with the back half of its little body ripped off.

The doves had lived peacefully for several weeks on our porch. They asked nothing of us and did not make a mess. The bird couple occasionally sat together on the edge of the nest minding their tiny family. And then, with absolutely no warning, a powerful bird decided that it would take life so it could have a meal. But the hawk flew off, having mutilated a family, without even eating the baby. It had killed for nothing.  The dove family is now gone. I don’t know what happened, if they left of their own accord or were driven away by power and death.

Our country is living in a time of hawks and doves. Some take and possibly destroy while others go about life, trying to take care of themselves and their families.

Is a country of hawks and doves really the country we want to celebrate?

 


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Gentrifying vs. Gentle-fying

Gentrifying: House is purchased for income building
Gentle-fying: House is purchased for neighborhood building
Gentrifying: Security is based on locks, gates, and systems
Gentle-fying: Security is based on friendships and watching out for each other
Gentrifying: Long-time residents may not be welcome
Gentle-fying: Long-time residents are cherished
Gentrifying: Diversity is threatening
Gentle-fying: Diversity is cherished
Gentrifying: My way is the right way
Gentle-fying: Our way is the right way
Gentrifying: The past is obscured as not important
Gentle-fying: The past is celebrated as part of the heritage
Gentrifying: Us vs. Them
Gentle-fying: It’s all Us