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Monthly Archives: June 2011
Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen
Senior Minister, Westminster Presbyterian Church
A few weeks ago I spent the day at the State Capitol, one of a hundred or more people who came to testify before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. My name was near the bottom of the list of those scheduled to speak. Like the legislators, I settled in for a long day.
One after another they came, nurses, doctors, social workers, parents, people living on the street, individuals with mental illness, others who have disabilities, advocates for those who could not be there to speak for themselves. It was like being at the scene of the Last Judgment in Christian scripture as told in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or naked, or thirsty, or sick…?” and Jesus replied, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
The speakers acknowledged the ordeal facing our legislators – namely, balancing the budget by closing a deficit of more than $5 billion. But they wanted our elected officials to know that the enormous problem facing us is not primarily fiscal; it is, fundamentally, a human challenge, a moral test.
At stake is our vision for Minnesota. Will we be a state that solves its budget woes only by cutting government programs essential for our poorest citizens? Will we forget that the truest measure of our success is how “the least” among us fare?
This is a Matthew 25 moment for Minnesota.
It is time to get serious about the budget. For three months, we are waiting for the Legislature to put forward a budget for which the public can respond and negotiations to take place. With a few days left in the legislative session, we need creative, visionary, collaborative leadership from those who govern to move us through the crisis facing our state.
I went to the Capitol to tell the story of the Currie Avenue Partnership. I wanted legislators to know that a year ago the business leaders of the Downtown Council of Minneapolis and the interfaith Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness had joined together to end homelessness for those living in emergency shelters on Currie Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.
As of today, 146 individuals have moved out of the shelters and into their own apartments. Their average length of homelessness? Almost five years. The Currie Avenue Partnership succeeded because citizens acted, together with the state. The business and faith communities raised the funds to hire the case workers to start up the Group Residential Housing program for Currie Avenue.
It was a win-win for all concerned: people moved out of shelters and off the streets and into their own homes. It took sacrifice on the part of those who provided the funds. It took skilled case workers to guide individuals into the program. And it took government to provide needed resources.
The story is multiplied many times over across the state. Government programs provide the minimum safety net. Single adults who are disabled and with doctors orders cannot work, for instance, receive $203/month in assistance. Parents who have lost their jobs and are part of the 50% of workers who do not qualify for unemployment insurance receive $537/month for a family of three. These funds are used for basic necessities like transportation, food, utilities, and rent. In our time, these are “the least” among us. It is morally unacceptable to ask them to bear the brunt of our funding shortfall.
Balancing the budget by passing major cuts in programs for human services is like a long, slow, social tornado moving across our state. It will leave a trail of destruction in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. It will cause hardship that will last generations. It will end up costing more public dollars as we have to deal with the consequences of leaving so many without the support they need.
Surely we can do better. Surely there is a way to combine modest, strategic budget cuts with careful increases on the revenue side. Everyone can help make this happen – and yes, it will take sacrifice on all our parts.
As the first synagogue established in Minneapolis, Temple Israel has a strong presence. It is now one of the ten largest congregations in the United States. As an urban congregation located in Uptown, is dedicated to serving a diverse community and has a congregation engaged in the issue of homelessness.
Temple Israel is involved in aspects of providing temporary housing and ensuring people keep their permanent housing. In this time of an unsteady housing market, the congregation is working at foreclosure prevention. Temple Israel’s ongoing project with Jewish Community Action works to prevent foreclosures in North Minneapolis. Together, Temple Israel and Jewish Community Action have been advocating for people to receive loan modifications so they can stay in their homes. Working alongside of churches, neighborhood, ethnic and community organizations in North Minneapolis, Temple is bringing an end to foreclosures taking homes from families and individuals.
Temple Israel is a Families Moving Forward congregation proving temporary shelter under their roof. Families Moving Forward is a faith based, nonprofit organization in Minneapolis that provides temporary emergency shelter, permanent affordable housing and supportive services to low income families with children. Families Moving Forward is in collaboration with over 40 local congregations and thousands of volunteers. Temple Israel hosts families who are a part of this organization 2 – 4 times a year, for a week or two at a time. In many of the congregations, each family has a private sleeping room. Everything that each family needs for the week is provided by the volunteers from the congregation: food, beds, and fellowship. During the day. the families in our shelter move to the Families Moving Forward Day Center, located at 1808 Emerson Avenue North Minneapolis, their home base. From there families go out to and from school or jobs, looking for employment and housing, and to preschool or school. According to familiesmovingforward.org, Families Moving Forward provides emergency shelter for an average of eight families at a time. In 2009 the emergency shelter served 191 individuals, in 55 families; of these individuals, 63% were children; nearly half the children were under six years old. Over their 15 years, they have served more than 1,000 families and over 3,500 people. Of all the families who left the emergency shelter in 2009, 58% moved from the shelter to a permanent housing or long-term transitional housing facility. Counting only those families who completed the Families Moving Forward program, 92% moved to permanent housing or long-term transitional housing.
As a part of the Families Moving Forward organization and working with foreclosure prevention, Temple Israel contributes to the ending of homelessness by working through Minneapolis’s strong interfaith community. Through this work, they strive alongside many other congregations to get closer to the goal of helping to make permanent changes in the lives of the families served, in order that these families and their children are never homeless again.