No Shelter, our new monthly series by housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer, prompted a lot of discussion in our virtual newsroom. Most of it came because of one line Jacob wrote that said the Q&As will “introduce readers to neighbors they may not talk to otherwise…”
Were we assuming something negative about you, our readers, accusing you, in fact, of ignoring or neglecting the unhoused in your community, we wondered? In the end, we decided to leave the language as is. The truth is we were pointing the finger at ourselves as much as anyone else.
People who are unhoused make the more fortunate uncomfortable. They are both visible and invisible. We see them seemingly everywhere, and yet there isn’t even a definitive count of how many people don’t have a permanent place to live. We know the numbers have increased during this pandemic, and the loss has created makeshift communities and shown up in schools.
And we look away. It’s tough to see homeless people as neighbors, in part, because that means seeing oneself in someone we may perceive as destitute or broken or desperate or troubled or lacking. That’s a tough thing to face and so even those of goodwill sometimes look away.
But we shouldn’t. We can’t. I told Jacob how much I loved his framing for this series and he told me he’s been thinking a lot recently about the equal value of human life. “Few object to the idea: whether because the Bible makes it clear that God despises favoritism or because equality is a concept that seems just to most people. But, I’ve been particularly attuned in recent weeks to the many ways we fail to live up to it.
“We let children in the Global South continue to die of preventable diseases; we refuse to let desperate refugees migrate to our country; and we choose to ignore the people experiencing homelessness we meet,” Jacob said.
No Shelter forces Jacob to not turn away and it is MLK50’s invitation to you — and to us — to face what’s happening to some of our neighbors and demand our policymakers do something about it.
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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