August 26, 2013
Dear Columbia City Council Members,
I am writing to tell you why I am changing my vacation plans this week.
I brought my son Mason, not quite five, to the EdVenture Museum in Columbia last year on an afternoon road trip to the coast. He’s young (and was even younger then), and I thought it would be a good idea to break up the trip, so I searched online for fun things to do with kids along our route. Of everything I saw, EdVenture looked like the most fun.
And it was. Mason loved the mock grocery store, playing with synthetic bones and learning about his body, and especially the firetruck exhibit. He bravely crawled through the dark tunnel as a firefighter sometimes is required to and came right out the other end smiling.
However, when it came to Eddie, the three-story educational boy’s body with exhibits inside that children can climb into to learn about their bodies, he was a bit intimidated. He wasn’t quite ready to face this huge giant. The memory stuck with him, though, and he has talked about Eddie many times since then.
About six months ago he told me that he was ready now, and that if I would take him back, he would like to climb around inside of Eddie. I believe him. So when I got the word that his preschool would be closed this week, I thought I would take a couple of days off and bring him down to Columbia to see Eddie and some family who live there.
I’m not going to do that, though.
I learned yesterday about your new policy regarding your neighbors who don’t have houses to go home to. That policy violates the basic teachings of my faith (Christianity, in which Jesus spent most of his time talking about how we should go about caring for the poor) and I think you will also find that it is ineffective, based on other efforts along the same lines around the country. Most of all, though, it is simply wrong. It is wrong to arrest or evict people who are already in trouble, rather than trying to figure out what got them there in the first place (lack of affordable housing in Columbia comes to mind as a possibility) and how best to help. Instead, you are making it illegal for others to help. Churches and other outreach organizations who try to feed homeless people downtown can now be arrested for that action.
My friend Hugh Hollowell is a minister who works with homeless people in Raleigh, NC. It seems that they have a similar idea, but I encourage you to watch how it plays out over the next week or two. It doesn’t reflect well on the City Council, or the City.
My great grandfather, Asbury Gamewell LaMotte, walked back from North Carolina to his home in Columbia when the Civil War ended. I was hoping to loosely follow his path this weekend and tell Mason some stories about the family and this city, which has mattered to my family for generations. I would have taken him by the house where my sister recently lived, too.
I refuse to spend any money in your town, however. If your choices are based simply on money, I will take this opportunity to deny you mine. I hope others will make a similar choice, for now. Then my hope and prayer is that you will see the error of this decision and change it. When you do, I eagerly look forward to bringing Mason to see Eddie.
Best wishes to you and all of Columbia’s inhabitants,
Black Mountain, NC
Lance Crimm says
AWESOME. Thanks for leading on this and being such an amazing Jesus Follower!
Zuzu Welsh says
David, you and I share the same feelings on this topic. One of the reasons I chose Homeward Bound in Asheville as one of the benefactors of every show Give Me Love puts on is because they go beyond the surface in helping the homeless. I was so honored to get to speak at their annual volunteer dinner, because they do the great work. I just play music. Thank you for who you are and what you do and perhaps as our paths grow closer together we can work together for the benefit of such.
Thanks Zuzu. The words “play music,” however, should never be preceded by the word “just.” Poets give voice to vision and musicians open hearts so those visions can take root. If we can’t envision a better way that doesn’t yet exist, we have little hope of achieving it. Thanks for the important work you do.
Joe Henry says
Among the things I appreciate most about you, near the top would be your thoughtfulness and your gentle, respectful way of sharing from your life experience. Blessings on you.
With all the land that is undeveloped around Columbia it seems you could allot some to set up an area for the homeless to go and set up.It’s not an ideal situation but it’s certainly better than running people off.We INSIST on housing stray animals.There but for the grace of God go I.
Clearly you have a profound misunderstanding of the homeless issue and what it takes to solve it. Too bad your son will miss out.
Thanks for chiming in. You may well be right. I have misunderstood things before. I’m not sure what your experience has been or what it has taught you, or where you expertise is rooted. My experience has been from staying at the Open Door Community in Atlanta and working with them, knowing people and hearing their stories and learning directly about the challenges they face, likewise a bit in Asheville, NC and in Raleigh, NC at Love Wins Ministries, where I have spent a bit of time, though not nearly as much as I would like, in direct conversation with folks who are without homes. Some of my close friends, Hugh Hollowell (Raleigh), Erika Funk (Philadelphia), Paul Scouten (experience in Atlanta, now living in Black Mountain), and others have given large chunks of their lives to working on those issues at great personal sacrifice, and they have taught me a great deal too. My masters degree touched on some of these development issues, and my time in India and Guatemala working with extremely poor people taught me some things, too, though those situations are markedly different in some ways. The main thing I have learned, both through my own experience and through sharing stories with others, is that ‘homeless people’ are not monolithic. That is to say, they are no more a group of people with the same story, issues, faults and strengths as, say, people with brown hair. So many of these decisions are made *by* some people and *for* others, but most frequently the people affected are not personally known by the people making decisions. People of faith like myself like to say that we care about ‘the poor’, but we very often don’t actually know anyone well (sharing a meal together) who is struggling to have enough to eat. I have known people with doctorates, extremely talented musicians, great craftspeople, teachers, etc. who, through the kinds of circumstances that could befall any of us, have no place to live. There but for the grace of God go I. And you.
The other thing that I have learned about homelessness is that it is not fundamentally a failing of the individual, but of relationships. The truth is that I have a lot of net. My family would not let me sleep on the street. That is not true for a lot of people, and we don’t get to choose what family we will be born in, who will get sick and die and leave us on our own, etc.
People are quick to point to various failings of homeless people, too — addiction being most prevalent. That is unquestionably common. I wonder, though, how quickly I would resort to self-medication in a similar situation. The truth is, I can’t know until I find myself there.
Kicking people when they are down does not seem like a very strong concept of how to solve the problem to me. As I said above, though, I have no illusions that I understand everything about the issue. I’m quite sure that I don’t. And I welcome you educating me. Thanks again for chiming in.
Blessings on you and yours,
Victor Wilson says
David, you are the sort of dear soul that can change the world, one candle at a time. Thank you!
Nancy Spivey says
Bravo to you!