Stories often beget more stories.
While reporting for a second installment of our series No Shelter, housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer heard about Eric Martin, who at just 33, froze to death two weeks ago near City Hall.
Martin made an impression on those who met him in the unhoused community and its advocates, and so they asked Jacob whether he would consider writing about Martin.
What Jacob ended up with is a story not just about a life that ended horribly but a story that peeks into Memphis’ values as expressed through its leadership.
I was struck, in particular, by a quote from homelessness nonprofit Constance Abbey founder Roger Wolcott. He’s frustrated that the city doesn’t allow nonprofits to provide food in warming centers. It’s a policy, he says, that comes across as “mean.”
That’s such a simple idea, the notion that city policy should be kind to its constituency.
What would happen if policymakers lead with kindness before they thought of cost? Would they ensure that the city’s Office of Emergency Management had enough staff? Would warming centers have cots instead of chairs for the unhoused to rest in?
Would they consider serving more people a good thing rather than an inconvenience? Would we need warming centers? Would we have enough affordable housing? Would an unhoused community and their advocates exist?
This is something Dr. King spoke about in a 1967 speech:
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say ‘This is not just.’”
What would the story of Memphis be if that true revolution began here?
Wendi C. Thomas is the founding editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at email@example.com.
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