Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rainy Day Saturday Musings: On Not Liking the Poor

I won't be pointing any fingers here today, at least not directly at anyone special.

Just need to make an observation or two about poor people and the rest of us.

We've been working several months now on the acquisition and redevelopment of an old, abandoned, downtown office building here in Dallas. The project has been a long shot from the start for a number of reasons. Financing the deal immediately comes to mind, but we have a plan and there is a chance it could work out.

The building has been vacant for almost 15 years. It is a mess inside and out. It has great potential, but those who tried to sell it as an upscale condo project gave up several years ago.

What has been even more interesting than the financing plan and the architectural studies, are the attitudes we have uncovered here in Dallas about poor people in general.

Dallas prides itself in being a city of faith, goodwill and compassion.

In many respects I suppose it is.

But, I am noticing something a bit disturbing.

The closer we move to really doing something significant for very low-income persons and families, the more objections we get about "the problems these kind of tenants" will bring with them to a property.

The emotions are fascinating to watch.

People are afraid.

Some fear that their property values will decline if the poor show up downtown as permanent residents.

Somehow being on the street is better than being in the neighborhood as a resident.

Or, for the working poor, having them ride the rail or bus downtown to work is much better than having them live here all of the time, I mean even after work hours.

Some have told us they fear that the people who would lease our small units would come with "physical and mental problems" that we just couldn't handle. Like the decision to rent a small, high quality apartment in itself means that a person is somehow "troubled" by definition.

Dallas loves shelters.

Well, not really.

But we do love controlled places.

Spots where we can show up, sometimes with our children in tow, and do nice things to and for people. It makes us feel useful and good. Then, we can go out to eat before driving home to our more comfortable and familiar surroundings.

We really don't know much about shelters.

We don't realize that shelters empty people out on the street every morning and don't re-open until evening. Sort of a group hotel with extreme check in, check out policies.

We are good at lumping poor people as well.

Not all poor people live in shelters.

Many work. Many work hard at more than one job.

These people will keep the restaurants, museums, churches, upscale condos, boutique hotels, and coffee shops humming for those of us who work and travel downtown. This important labor force will need decent, affordable places to live like the rest of us.

By the way, do you know what a full-time worker paid minimum wage today earns in gross wages in a year?

If you said, "$10,700," you were correct.

Downtown is attractive because of the transit system and the environment.

Most poor people don't own cars. The bus and rail system downtown is cool for everyone.

Believe it or not, poor people enjoy art, bright lights, churches, parades and street concerts just like the rest of us!

I am deciding that if the truth were known, we don't much like poor people here in Dallas. Or, maybe to be fair, I should say we don't like them nearby.

I mean, after all, good Christian people living in a good Christian city like this one surely like the poor.


So, I know that's not it.

It's just that we've found life works better for us and the poor if we keep our distance.

Maybe this strikes at the root of our real problem. I wonder if we even know any people who are poor?


Paul said...

I don't know how to help or react. Last night I met a friend and we had a nice dinner. We went to a coffee shop and were disappointed that it was closed. As we got in our (nice) cars two apparently homeless men walked across the parking lot. I was struck that the two of us could be in their shoes. I don't know what to feel, think, or do.

cierakae said...

Yep, as long as we can maintain the distinction between "us and them" we're much more comfortable.

Give "them" a decent place to live, and you might blur the lines.

As long as they're living on the street,"they" are "them" and we are "us".

We don't have to confront the fact that
"they" are "us"
separated only by education, birth, money,
geograpy, mental illness,

If you strip the mask off of "them"
it threatens "us",
after all, we earned our comforts didn't we?

Don't get me wrong, I fully recognize many people pull themselves up with sacrifice, hard work and wise choices.

I've also known folks that work twice as hard as I do, and will never have half as much.

"Keep it moving, bud"...I don't want to reflect on you and your circumstances too long...

it might cause me to confront who I really am.

cierakae said...

Paul, feel the need for a follow-up. My post is not in response to yours (we're passing a rainy Saturday the same way)

I've been in your shoes, and it is tough to know what to do.

I've just settled on making "eye/I" contact and acknowledging them as a person. Sometimes `this invites a request. If my gut doesn't scream "scam" I do what I can, a buck, a ride, a night on my couch, conversation, prayer.

I've met some neat folks this way.

I've had some people question my sanity,I'm sure I've been scammed a couple of times, but I've also been made richer as well.

steve said...

Ouch! while you did not want to point fingers, you skewered me! Whta are you like when you want to point?

Love might be the point.

Like: "if I do all sorts of things for the poor, but have not love..."

Like: "Love your neighbor as yourself" We use words like compassion, like charity, like "shelters" because we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

If we do not love our neighbors as ourselves, can we really say we are Christian? How?

God forgive us, and change us, please!