Economic refugees

Phloem and Xylem: Economic refugees

October 9, 2013

Yesterday I attended a breakfast for clergy of the supporting congregations of the YWCA Family Center.  Once a month Columbus Mennonite teams with North Broadway United Methodist Church to serve a dinner.  Our congregation also gives $1000 annually to support the mission of the Family Center. 

It’s an impressive facility, constructed in 2005.  It is home to all sorts of community outreach and includes 50 dorm rooms, each giving a temporarily homeless household private space while the Center helps with job placement and permanent housing.

What most struck me about the morning was the level of urgency expressed by the staff regarding the increase in demand they have seen over the last couple of years.  They are currently housing 136 households, far above the capacity of 50.  This means that cots are being set up in spaces in their facility not originally intended for housing.  Because all of the extra space is now full, the Center is also paying for hotel rooms for some families. 

There are many churches, corporations, and individuals donating money and time to the Family Center.  One message from the staff was a strong Thank You.  Another was challenging congregations to take a next step in their commitment to the Center and these families.

Several staff said something to the effect: “There are reports that the economy is improving, but we’re not seeing it here.”  If the situation at the Family Center is any indication, there are a growing number of people for whom the economic system simply isn’t working.  There are not enough living wage jobs to support households.  Although this wasn’t the focus of yesterday’s meeting, it’s important to not only serve the needs, but also ask why the needs exist in the first place.  Charity joins hands with social justice.

Yesterday also happened to be the evening that CMC serves the dinner.  I was not there, but this morning Nancy Franke of CMC sent me a note reflecting on her experience that included these words:  “I never thought about our country having refugee camps, but this felt like something close to it tonight.”

Economic refugees?  Yes.  Right here among us.

A good prayer before a meal, or anytime:

God, grant bread to those who are hungry; and a hunger for justice to those who have bread.