The Heritage Foundation has been getting attention lately for its report on the poor. Noting that poor people have air conditioners, cable TV and an Xbox, they make the case that “poor” in America isn’t what it used to be.
Tavis Smiley, PBS pundit, and Cornell West, the eccentric author, have been traveling around the country talking about poverty. They’re not drawing much media attention. Most of us don’t want to know about the poor.
The executive director of Evergreen Christian Outreach, Sharon Smith, knows a lot about the poor. Talking with Smith, one learns that EChO’s business is booming. The number of unemployed and underemployed has grown considerably in our mountain community. In the past six months, 106 area households registered for new assistance. More than 400 families have come to EChO this year because they can’t meet their bills. These are folks who have already cut the frills. Smith said one of her donors was shocked to report, “I just saw my neighbor in here ‘shopping’ for food.”
With only 42 shelter beds in Jeffco and 1,200 homeless, there’s more temporary housing for animals than people. A growing number of individuals are camping, living in their cars and couch surfing. “If you don’t build a shelter, you don’t have homeless,” says Smith. Most of us would like to stay in denial.
Smiley and West point out that the national debate has been more about cutting the budget than investing in communities. “Every citizen in a democracy has a moral obligation to be concerned about the weak and vulnerable,” says professor West.
That’s the important distinction in the political polarization many feel. Are you only looking out for No. 1? Do you see the need for massive job-creation programs along with investments in public housing, education, transportation and health?
The profits are there, but they have been going to the corporate chieftains, the “job creators” who take jobs overseas. Poverty is not a crime, but robbing the poor and the middle class ought to be.
Local aid groups such as EChO, located at 27640 Highway 74 in Evergreen, need all the basics plus paper products, dish and laundry soap, which are excluded from food-stamp purchases. Besides donations, we can all share necessities, offer hope and act as a sounding board to neighbors who want to get back on their feet. Isn’t that what community is all about?
Hannah B. Hayes is a former Both Sides Now debate columnist, small-business owner and peace activist. She has been a part of the Evergreen community for more than 35 years.