It’s the Poverty, Stupid.

Today I will take part in the Point in Time Count. This is a national survey or census of people experiencing homelessness in the United States.  I will interview voluntary participants and record demographic information as well as information about the causes of homelessness and what types of help and services people need and which they are actually receiving. The count helps allocate available federal and state resources to the places where they are needed.

I will go about my duties with professional pastoral face and demeanor.  Internally I will struggle with dismay, desperation and out right rage.   Here’s the picture of homelessness in my local area:  Homelessness in Montgomery County,Texas .  Please see the Houston Coalition for the Homeless and the  National Coalition for the Homeless for the broader Houston and National picture of homelessness.  Almost a thousand people experiencing homelessness in my area, well over 20,000 in greater Houston, and closer to three quarters to a million than half a million nationwide.

It’s the not numbers that make me angry. It’s the reality that this does not need to exist.  Neither does it’s underlying cause: poverty.   Sometimes I think that when issues such as homelessness get the attention they deserve, it helps the present situation, but still leaves the underlying cause relatively unexamined.  Make no mistake, homelessness is a symptom and the root of the problem is poverty. There is no need for such misery.  There is no need for poverty.

Homelessness and Poverty are not incurable problems that are doomed or fated to always be with us. Like slavery, homelessness and poverty exist because we allow them to exist.  Homelessness and poverty are human creations.  Being something we choose to create, they can also be things we choose to end.

There is something you can do. Yes, you can volunteer at a local agency that serves the homeless and you can bring food and you can help take the homeless census, but it’s not really enough. To end homelessness you need to do something more. You need to live as if you believe we are all in this together. You need to call for a living wage. You need to stop believing the lie that there isn’t enough for all of us to have what we need. You need call for an end to the glorification and rewarding of greed and selfishness.  You need to question the idolization of unfettered capitalism.  You need to work for a living wage and housing and health care for all regardless of employment status or income.

Take a look at the national low income housing “Housing Wage Calculator.”  Plug in your state and it gives you the average cost of a modest rental home.  I live in Texas. In Texas the average rent is $1300 a month. In order to afford this rent, a person or a family must earn $25 an hour or $52,000 a year.  Yes, not everyone needs to rent or own a home, but even the cost of an average apartment rental is far beyond the means of a minimum wage worker.  An average apartment rent in Texas is between $800 and $1000.  The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  You would need to work between 100 and 138 hours a week at minimum wage to afford various average rents  in Texas. I usually try to refrain from exagerations and name calling, but to oppose a raise in the minimum wage is not just wrong, it is evil.

I will go take part in the point in time count today as a UU minister, but Unitarian Universalists are no better or worse than any other religious group when it comes to actively working on the core issue of poverty that underlies homelessness. Unitarian Universalists seek to find a mission for our religious movement as a whole, yet we continue to be relatively silent on the issue of poverty.  Yes, LGBTQ rights and marriage equality are very important. Yes, anti-racism and anti-oppression work are vital.  Yes, the environment needs critical attention as we are quite literally running out of time.  But, when it gets right down to it, we do not put our voice or our power behind demanding the dignity and worth of every person.  In some ways the issues we take up as Unitarian Universalists help us refrain from addressing the evil of poverty.  Perhaps it is because among all the privileges one might enjoy in society, being male, white, heterosexual, the one that innoculates us the most from the pain of human living is wealth. Yes, wealth is a privilege tied to other privileges, but perhaps that’s why it’s deserving of more attention.  When one is faced with giving up some of one’s wealth and income so that all may have a better standard of living, one must then begin to face the other privileges one enjoys that provide the wealth or access to wealth.

This is what’s on my mind today as I head out to talk with my brothers and sisters who have no where to call home.  All of this and the knowledge that I am one illness, one accident, one paycheck away from becoming one of them.

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