Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Generosity of the Poor

I witnessed something very interesting today.

I attended a 'Town Hall' meeting with some of the formerly homeless in our Destination Home program. It basically was an effort on behalf of our staff to touch bases with the residents to review the terms of their lease and, with representatives of the apartment complex owners present, see if they had any problems that needed to be addressed. Most of these residents had been in the program for a year, some for a little less.

Adam, one of the case managers was talking to them about their 'life plans', goals for each one of the residents which the case managers help them achieve as they move towards self sufficiency.

Adam briefly addressed a problem when it came to financial management. Some of the residents were running into problems because they were trying to help friends and relatives!

It was touching for me. Here these men (there was one woman who came in late), had to be warned that they had to use their meager resources to take care of themselves first. The residents get by on social security or disability checks, 30% of which goes to pay a portion of their rent and don't have a margin for the type of generosity that could land them back on the street.

I've seen that type of generosity before: grandmothers who spend their savings trying to help their grandchildren; neighbors who don't have much, sharing whatever they have with those who have less; church members who take children in the church into their homes and hearts when their own children are grown and gone and I'm always amazed!

Sometimes they are taken advantage of.

Sometimes the people to whom they 'loan' money don't use it for the purposes for which the money was lent.

Sometimes these people use the money set aside to pay bills to help someone in need.

There are more than a few times when they have to be protected from their own generous impulses. But in some other ways, they experience something that many of us never experience:


Adam was right to advise these residents to take care of their responsibilities before they try and be generous with friends and family. They are in a very vulnerable place in life and the margin for error is slim. But there is something about what they are doing that is very heartwarming and encouraging. Theirs is an impulse, probably acquired in the streets, that if responsibly replicated could help us achieve something that we all need - community.

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