“Evicted” Book Review

by Stephanie Thomas

Evicted, written by Matthew Desmond, will change your perspective on the causes and result of evictions. In his book, Desmond follows 8 families through the process of being evicted. He spends an enormous amount of time with each family, allowing us to get a close look into their personal lives, revealing the effect evictions has on them.

The eight families featured in the book live in Milwaukee, in what most of us would consider extreme poverty. When they and their families are evicted, they lose more than a place to live. Some of lose all of their possessions. One loses his job. Most lose access to decent neighborhoods. With poorer neighborhoods comes poorer schools, and no chance for the children to get a descent education.

In Milwaukee, people are evicted for a multitude of reasons. One family is evicted after they complain about unsanitary living conditions, another because an ambulance is called for a child with asthma, and still another because the landlord had failed to pay the mortgage on the property.

Another tragedy that befalls families who lose their homes is they frequently have to put their belongings in storage. Once this happens, it is not uncommon for the families to be unable to pay the storage fees. At that point, their possessions are auctioned off and they lose everything including household items, furniture, clothes, the children’s belongings, medicine, and even food. To make things worse, once an eviction is on an individuals record it either forces them into less desirable housing, a homeless shelter, or the street.

Every city is different in the way it handles its poor. Some are worse than others. Greensboro has its own issues, but in spite of the difficulties our poor and homeless face, we are kinder and more generous than some of the larger cities.

If you work with individuals and families living in poverty, struggling to keep a roof over their head, this is a must read.

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A Beggar’s Story “Marsha”

by Stephanie Thomas

I saw her standing on the corner. She was bundled up in a heavy coat, hat and gloves. It was a bitterly cold day. I had seen her a couple of times before but I was always too busy to stop and speak to her. This time wasn’t any different except that I decided that speaking to her was more important than getting my chores done on time.

I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant that was across the street and made my way through the traffic to where she stood. She smiled when she saw me walking toward me.

I introduced myself and asked her about her day. She said she was cold and didn’t feel well.

“I have a lot of health issues,” she said. “My biggest problem is with the arthritis in my knees.”

“You are too young to have arthritis,” I said ,trying make her feel better.

“Thank you but I’m 55 years old.”

“What’s your name?”

“Marsha.”

“Where do you live Marsha?”

“I stay with friends mostly. I used to put homeless on my sign but people gave me a hard time about it. I try not to wear out my welcome. I stay quiet and to myself. I’ve stayed in hotels but I can’t afford to do that right now.”

She waved at a red SUV that passed us.

“That women gave me this hat and these gloves,” she said appreciatively.

“That was nice of her,” I said. “How do people treat you out here?”

“Some people are nice. Sometimes men give me money and then tell me they’ll give me more if I’ll come home with them. I know what that means. I’m not going to sell myself. I always tell them no. I’ve learned not to trust men. I’ve had problems with them. They start out nice but they always end up abusing me. The last man I was with beat me and made me feel terrible about myself. I wanted to leave him but he hid the car keys and took my phone so I couldn’t get away. One day, when he was sleeping, I found my phone and called my girlfriend to come and get me. That was 5 years ago. I’m still not over him.”

“You have had a rough time. I’m sorry you had to go through that. What about family? Is there anyone here who can help you?”

My parents and my brother passed away. I was close to them. It’s really hard for me at Christmas time. I miss them.”

Marsha doesn’t have a job. She was fired from her last job when there was a discrepancy in the cash drawer. That incident and her age make it unlikely that anyone will be willing to hire her. She isn’t old enough to get social security which means disability insurance is her only option, besides begging. She told me she has applied for disability insurance, but it takes at least 3 years to qualify.

There is a system in place to help people like Marsha. Unfortunately, the red tape is difficult  work through, the process can be humiliating, and failure is more common than success. For someone like Marsha, who has been abused and is alone in this world, begging seems easier.

 

Westover Serving at Grace

stephanie-greensboro-voice-photo-website

Continued Series on Volunteerism
by Stephanie Thomas

Between 5:30 and 7:00 pm on the 2nd Wednesday of each month you will find over 20 volunteers from Westover Church serving meals at Grace Community Church. They have come to serve the homeless and the less fortunate, people who are hungry. They serve from the heart. From the youngest volunteer to the oldest, each person happily pitches in.

Before the first volunteer or guest walks through church the door at Grace Community, Brenda Hancock, a member of Westover Church has been working tirelessly for weeks to make sure there will be enough food and volunteers to make the meal go off without a hitch.

It’s 5:30 and mostly quiet as the volunteers and the food begins to come in through the side door. The tables for around 250 dinner guests and the preparation tables are already set up. The volunteers greet each other and do a bit of catching up. Then everyone goes into the dinning room to bless the food and pray for the guests who are at that point lining up at the front door. Inspirational music plays in the background as the volunteers respectfully move around the room stopping to pray at each table for the guests who will be sitting there. Next the group of volunteers gathers for directions, one more prayer is said, and just before the guests are allowed in, the volunteers retreat to a large hall adjacent to the dinning room.

This is when the excitement begins. There are four stations set up in the hall with 4 people at each station. In assembly line fashion they fill the plates with chicken, mashed potatoes, bread and green beans. Then there are other volunteers who take the filled trays and place them on a long table in preparation for serving, plus there are those who clean up spills, fill drinks, and put peach cobbler in the desert bowels.

The guests participate in a short service in the dinning area before the meal is served which includes gospel music, a message and a prayer.

Once the service is over the food is served. Each volunteer takes their responsibility seriously, carrying trays, pouring drinks, passing out food, cleaning, and taking care of issues that might come up like someone missing a fork or a special plate needed for a child. And Brenda is there giving direction and making sure all is running smoothly.

As soon as the meal is served, the desert comes out, people finish eating, and then in a flash the cleaning begins. Everyone helps out, clearing plates, washing tables, putting away the chairs and tables, throwing away the trash and taking it out, and making food bags for the little ones. Within an hours time 250 men, women and children are fed, everything is cleaned up, and at 7:00 pm you’d never know anyone was there. It’s pretty amazing.

Why do these volunteers come back month after month after month to help people they don’t know and in some cases won’t see again? Some have told me they come because they want to live as they believe Christ would have them live, others feeling blessed by God simply want to give back, and one young man told me he came because he knew if he didn’t have the love and support of his family he might have found himself in this kind of need.

It was a joy to serve with these caring and generous individuals.

Please consider volunteering in your community to help the homeless and those in need. Together we can make a real difference in people’s lives. To volunteer for serving meals at Grace Community Church contact Virginia Cornell at the church email address: thecity@gracegso.org.

“Working with Meals at Grace is always a humbling reminder that any one of us could lose a job and lose a place to live,” continued Brenda Hancock. “Even though some weeks are more difficult than others to serve in this ministry, it is important to me to extend God’s grace and love to a group of people in our community who really need it.”

The Gardens at the IRC

by Stephanie Thomas

Frequently, the “outside” of a homeless shelters is stark, but the Interactive Resource Center (IRC ) at 407 East Washington Street in Greensboro NC is an exception to the rule. The IRC is landscaped with gardens and trees. What’s even more remarkable is that the gardens and trees produce food including vegetables, herbs, strawberries, black berries, and blue berries, plus 12 different types of trees including apricot, pear, plum and fig. When the gardens were first created, 4 1/2 years ago, they were primarily vegetable gardens. Over time, there was a realization that vegetables not only required high maintenance, and needed excessive amounts of watering, but they were not as useful to people with no means to cook or store them.

I dropped by the IRC one Friday morning to meet with Charlie Headington, the head of the Greensboro Permaculture Guild.  When I arrived, Charlie and his fellow volunteers, Robb Pritchett and Audrey Waggoner, were busy pulling weeds. It was only 11:00 am but hot and everyone had already built up a sweat.

Charlie showed me around the gardens, pointing out particular plants, and explaining what they were. I recognized the fruit bearing plants of course, but many of the plants which looked like weeds to me were in fact there for a particular purpose. The gardens are all natural and rather than using pesticides, they use particular plants and even certain bugs to help keep the gardens healthy.

Not only do folks, like those at the IRC shelter who are without homes, need fresh food, but many of Greensboro’s residents live in food deserts and would benefit greatly from these public gardens. (A food desert is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food).

The Greensboro Permaculture Guild has a number of public gardens in Greensboro, maintained by their 25 active members. They have gardens at St. Elsewhere, The Children’s Museum, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church and the public orchard on Church Street, just to name a few.

As I watched the volunteers hard at work, I wondered if the IRC guests knew why these gardeners were there or if they appreciated the work. There were a number of individuals sitting outside so I walked over and asked one of the gentlemen what he knew about the gardens. He answered my question when with enthusiasm and pointed out many of the plants and trees, showing a particular fondness for the fig trees.

“It’s good for the people who come here. It’s good for their soul. They need beauty as well as food. And these gardens provide both.” – Charlie Headington