Monday, December 16, 2013

Homeless Victims of the Welfare State

The last time this web site commented on one of the Kingsport Times-News' write-ups about people who need readers' help at Christmas, this web site was unsympathetic. I mean to say...a full-grown, able-bodied man wailing about his broken-down bed instead of fixing it? Please.

This time, I'm convinced that a family whom the Welfare State would like to put out on the street on Christmas Day actually need and deserve help.

The story appeared in the Times-News on December 10, 2013, at the bottom of page A-1, written up by Jeff Bobo.

Sometimes nice middle-class homeowners have a year or two when everything goes wrong and nothing goes right. For this family in Rogersville, Tennessee (their names are in the Times-News), 2013 was one of those years.

The father did at least get a disability pension. He needed it, to cover the expenses from nine surgical operations for cancer.

The grandfather died.

The house burned down.

The family were given a choice between moving into a low-income housing project, which didn't have a flat big enough for five school-aged children (and where the kind of cancer the father had must have been deeply not appreciated by other residents), or living in their car. So they moved into the project, where they had to pay $450 per month rent.

The mother, a nurse, also became unable to work. Now the father's $500 pension* was all they had to cover the $450 rent, plus groceries, school supplies, car payments, and medical bills. Naturally they made a few incomplete rent payments. The kind humanitarian social workers in charge of the housing project responded by slapping on late fees.

*[EDIT: My new editorial resolution for this year is that, if I post something in error, I'll fix it where it originally appeared so that it doesn't float around in cyberspace confusing people. A recorded phone conversation still sounds to me like "paying $450 out of $500 a month" but I'm convinced that the informant misspoke; the father's monthly pension was reported in a Times-News follow-up article as over $900.]

The car was repossessed.

The family were told they had to sell their land to pay the rent. They were desperate enough to give serious consideration to this very bad idea. They even found a buyer...but at the last minute he came up short of money.

Luckily, the family had friends at church. Friends appealed to the church on their behalf for money to pay the family's back rent. Money was raised. The kind humanitarian social workers in charge of the housing project sneered "that even if [the family] come up with the money, they will still be evicted."

Social workers tend to get that way when they have to deal with people who've been in the comfortable middle class long enough to have become accustomed to functioning like, and being treated like, intelligent adults. (See Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's The Outsider for another detailed example.)

The manager of the project threatened to "start moving stuff out on the curb" if the family didn't come up with the money in half an hour, on December 9. The police, however, being more conservative, impersonal, law-and-order types, replied that the rules required them to wait another fifteen days. 9 + 15 = ...that's right, Gentle Readers, they were going to put these two disabled adults and their children out on the street on Christmas Day.

Predictably, people who read this story in the Times-News on December 10 started calling the newspaper office and e-mailing Jeff Bobo. I had met a minister from Of One Accord about a year ago, kept his card with a vague plan of writing something about his ministry, not had the online time to write the article, and misplaced the card, but I eventually tracked down the church's number, and on Saturday I finally called when someone was there.

Of One Accord Ministries is keeping it real. They do have a fax machine; they don't spend money on Internet access. The minister who talked to me did, however, say he was asking anyone and everyone who used the'Net to publicize this story, so I am.

During the past week, various agencies of the Welfare State had come up with unhelpful suggestions. The "Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency...offered to pay their first month's rent up to $500 if they find a place--but wouldn't be able to pay for a deposit." We would like to see the social worker who made that offer rent a decent three-bedroom house or flat for $500, even with a deposit, even without a prospective tenant having had an especially yucky kind of cancer.

Church members and newspaper readers had, however, made some offers that were worth taking seriously. By Saturday, someone had promised the family a two-bedroom flat, rent-free, for two months; a collection was being taken up to buy them a clean three-bedroom trailer house in which they could live on their land while rebuilding the house, and construction workers and supplies were being rounded up.

As of Saturday, the minister said they'd been able to collect what sounded like about one-third of the cost of a livable three-bedroom trailer house, and other churches would be taking up collections on Saturday and Sunday. I've not asked how successful those efforts have been. Rebuilding a three-bedroom permanent house will take a lot of money.

Is anyone out there feeling munificent? Or has anyone out there even received, or do you expect to receive, gift cards for stores like Lowes, Home Depot, or Wal-Mart (all of which have outlets near the family's property)? Currently collections are being taken via real mail only.

Please address cheques, postal money orders, or relevant gift cards to:

Of One Accord
P.O. Box 207
Rogersville, Tennessee 37857

Please put "The Homeless Fund" on the memo line.

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