Returning from the Adams County Housing Summit, I busied myself with those little household tasks that generally seem routine and annoying, but now took on a special quality. I’ve always had a house to live in, a bed to sleep in, what I needed to take care of my family, play, putter, eat, read, take a bath, brush my teeth. Having a roof over my head took on a whole new meaning.

I’ve long been aware of poverty, local and global, of people doing without, being homeless, but I’m ashamed to admit, out of sight, out of mind.. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that those who are homeless or live in rundown yet expensive housing somehow deserve it. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that providing a safety net for low wage earners is somehow an undeserved entitlement for them while tax breaks for the rich are rewards for the many ways they contribute to society. If a society is only as good as the ways it treats its poorest citizens, then we should hang our heads in shame since we are the richest developed nation in the world with the highest percentage of poverty!.

We’ve all heard: “power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, ” but I prefer “wealth and power reveal the persons we already are.” There is hope in that. Yes, there are those who somehow find ways to rise above their desperate beginnings, but they are also the ones who have someone who cared, mentored, helped, gave them hope and help to persevere. At the Housing Summit, we heard stories that broke our hearts, like the HACC student living in her car and going to Sheets to study and use their free wi-fi. When push comes to shove, there are few deadbeats; only people fighting against unbelievable odds.

Far too many of us view Medicaid, housing vouchers, food stamps, subsidized child care as entitlements or that dreaded word “socialism.” Not so. Providing a safety net that allows citizens to flourish is simply common sense or what many of us call “compassionate capitalism.” After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the same principle is true of a nation. The more we devalue our poor, low wage earners, immigrants, and racial minorities, the weaker and less secure we will all become. This is why taking care of all people, not just the rich and powerful, is the greatest positive determinant and predictor of economic growth, strength, and security. Without stable secure housing people cannot work and support their families.

It is up to us “haves” to make positive social change happen. A statistic we learned: it would only take 22 billion to provide a housing voucher for every low to middle income family. That may seem like a lot until you compare that to the 171 billion in tax breaks we give homeowners every year. The real problem isn’t lack of resources. It’s distribution. Yes, wealth and power can corrupt, but wealth and power can also bring our the best in us, enabling us to be not just good neighbors and compassionate citizens, but the greatest country in the world. We aren’t there yet, but we can get there if we choose.

I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you visited me. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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