I have spent this week assisting in running a shelter for homeless families at my church. I am writing this the day after Thanksgiving; there are so many thoughts swirling around in my head that I want to share with you, that I don’t know where to start. So, I will start with this; community, what is a community and what does that word mean to you? My sweet daughter has learned about communities in kindergarten this year, so this word is one that we should all know. It is my hope that the word is one that will become deeply ingrained in your mind and heart as one that represents kindness, compassion, and love, and a word that inspires those feelings for you. A community is simply a group of people living in the same place or a group having something in common. All of us that live in Chester are a community, those that you work with are a community, and those that live at the shelter are a community.
This week we welcomed 28 guests to our shelter, 15 were children, and three were infants. The church works with CARITAS to shelter families, women, or men. This year we sheltered families the week of Thanksgiving. CARITAS is a much needed program, one that helps end the cycle of homelessness and get families and men and women into their own homes while providing services that assist in job training, mental health and addiction. They work with faith communities to provide shelter and meals. It is a great system that relies heavily on volunteers and seems to work relatively well.
As I said above, I have so many thoughts that I want to share and the first is this; community is everywhere; your town, your church, your local school, the shelter.
These families that were in our shelter have been together for a few weeks and have already formed bonds with each other. They watch each other’s children, and look after one another. While with us, one of the mothers became very ill and had to be taken to the hospital (she is okay, flu). The other guests did not even hesitate; they cleaned her space, got her fresh bedding, changed her sheets, took care of her children, fed them, cleaned them up, made sure they had fresh clothes, and rocked them while they napped. They all came together and took care of what needed to be taken care of, no questions asked. It was how a community should react in times of crisis. It was a perfect model for how we should all behave.
My second thought, the community of Chesterfield is failing miserably at taking care of its own. As I watched these families this week, spent time with them, got to know them, it broke me that Chesterfield has no shelter for other families that may need a place to go. CARITAS, while a wonderful program, has a waiting list that can be a year long at times. Yes, a year long waiting list to get in the program. Chesterfield has no homeless shelter, I don’t know if any of you realized this, or it just never crossed your minds. We have a large homeless population, especially along the Jeff Davis corridor, and we have no place to offer them shelter. Now, the county will fight this all day and night, they are trying to “revitalize” Jeff Davis Highway, and while this isn’t a bad thing, when you are revitalizing neighborhoods of poverty, you need to have a plan in place for those that already live there, and that does not include new apartment complexes with rents that are over $1,000 per month (which some think is “affordable”). With all of this “revitalization,” which for those of you who haven’t picked up on it , translates to “let’s move the poverty somewhere else where it is not our problem” the homeless population is going to continue to increase. Families will be moving into motels, struggling to make it and eventually end up on the street.
We need to look at what the CARTIAS guests exhibited this week. Kindness, compassion, and love for those in their community. They gave their time and energy (after having exhaustingly long days) to assist someone in need in their community. They are a perfect example of what needs to be done. Chesterfield County needs to take a good look at what the needs of its most vulnerable residents are, and make sure that they are being taken care of, not just ignored. Communities take care of each other, not just during the holidays, but the entire year, however now would be an outstanding time to start.