Did you happen to see this past Sunday’s (3/6/2011) episode of “60 Minutes”? If you did, you were probably as moved as I was by the segment “Homeless Children: the Hard Times Generation”. US Census states that the number of children living in poverty in the US has gone up from 14 to 16 million in the last 2 years: “. . . the fastest fall for the middle class since the government started counting 51 years ago.” (Scott Pelley, episode transcript). “Reality show” indeed! This story was especially compelling because the kids in it told of the experiences of homelessness and hunger in their own words.
During the reflection discussions we typically have at the close of a Justice Education Day with a volunteer group at St. Anthony’s, it’s not unusual to hear someone mention that it was hard to see the number of children and families eating in the Dining Room. So much of what we witness and respond to here at St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin has at least a couple of sides to it, and all the perspectives are important to recognize. What I mean is that our “Dining Room” is called that on purpose: our founder, Fr. Alfred used those words very intentionally. Anybody have a Dining Room at home? Who usually eats there? You got it: family. In the Dining Room, we honor the reality that we are all family. That doesn’t lessen the concern at all however, that we see more families coming in–or the concern that many of our guests are separated for all kinds of reasons, from families of origin.
A story I like to share during these reflections is one of a gentleman who grew up in the Tenderloin. He and his Mom ate at “Tony’s” regularly, and far from any sense of feeling outcast, as a child this fellow looked forward to coming to the Dining Room where he and his Mom felt welcome. He’s told me that the stability and comfort he felt here were instrumental in allowing him to live through that time with dignity intact.
In Sunday’s “60 Minutes”, there was some mention of the bonds of “family” that are showing up during the rippling losses of the Great Recession: one of these is the number of relatives, friends, and neighbors who are taking folks into their own homes. The relatives and friends, I am aware of. I didn’t know that there are actually many people who have been extending their own homes to neighbors who’ve been foreclosed upon, or lost their homes for other reasons. I was very, very moved to hear that—people sacrificing their privacy and personal routines to bring in their homeless neighbors.
I know we can’t all do that. I don’t think I could. But we can all do something to recognize and nourish kinship with each other. This 60 minutes episode, as heart-wrenching as it was, reminded me very much of the caring exchanges in the Tenderloin such as those that happen day in and day out at St. Anthony’s. The fact that this show was on National prime time with the faces of these children looking out and speaking out to the Nation, gave me reason to hope that we can address the human costs of poverty for all generations.