Trees and Sacred Taxes: Vote “Yes” on The Home Fund

Tu Bishvat teaches that taxes are holy.

Tu Bishvat, which we just celebrated this week, is the Jewish new year of the trees, and opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge our interdependence with the natural world, and with trees specifically. It is generally observed through a seder, a ritual meal which—like the Passover seder—is marked by eating symbolic foods. Rather than using the foods to tell the story of the Exodus from slavery, they tell the story of the spiritual meanings embedded within nature.

But it wasn’t always like this, the symbolic celebration of Tu Bishvat was a creation of the Jewish mystics. The original reason Tu Bishvat is on our calendar is more prosaic. It was (and this is hinted at when we call it the “new year of the trees”) a way to mark the ages of trees for tithing purposes.

In Leviticus 19:23-25 we read, “When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before God, and only in the fifth year may you use its fruit—that its yield to you may be increased…”

In other words, when you plant a tree, you are not to eat the fruit for the first three years, and in the fourth year you bring the fruit as an offering to the Temple. Only then can you use the fruit from the tree. And in order to fulfill this practice, one would need to know how old one’s tree is. Rather than needing to remember the exact age of every tree, Tu Bishvat was to be the day when all trees were considered as if they had aged a year.

The mystical observance of Tu Bishvat is much more compelling, perhaps, especially as we do not offer fruit as an offering to a Temple. But there is something meaningful in this original practice—the idea that what is ours is not wholly ours, and that in order for us to benefit we must first give up some of what we created for the benefit of others.

And since the fruit in the fourth year was going to a central institution, a contemporary parallel is taxation. That we give some of what is ours for the benefit of all.

I think about this as ballots have arrived in our mailboxes for a special February election here in Olympia. The primary reason for the ballot is the measure to create The Home Fund, a special fund that will generate revenue from a small sales tax increase in order to create affordable housing and more social services for those in need. I’ve endorsed this measure and plan to vote for it.

We know the issue that homelessness has been in Olympia, there are too many people with real needs in our community. And while we have great services in the Interfaith Works shelter and the new Community Care Center, to name two, there is always more need. And by generating money to build housing, the Home Fund addresses the issue of homelessness from the simple premise that unhoused people need homes first, and then, with that safety and security, can address other issues as needed.

We have been engaged with the issue of homelessness at Temple Beth Hatfiloh for years, from hosting the overflow shelter, to opening up our doors to the warming center, to supporting the permanent shelter and other efforts, we have done what we can to support those in need. But, what we can do as a congregation is limited, it takes a much larger effort with greater resources. The Home Fund is one such effort, and has the ability to generate tremendous resources for our community. We do what we can as a congregation, and one of those things is to use our individual strengths and voices and vote.

In connecting the tithing of fruit with God, the Torah is making the case that supporting our communal institutions is not just necessary, but sacred. There is a lot that can be said about taxes, but in the case of the Home Fund it is clear, that supporting those in our community through a slight sales tax increase is also sacred.

When we celebrate Tu Bishvat, we share how we are dependent on trees for so much—food and wood, shade and oxygen. And this should remind us as well how we are dependent on one another for many of our basic needs. With the Home Fund we will be able to give a little of what we have to share with others for what they need. This way we are all uplifted.

Yom Kippur Day 5777: “Addressing Homelessness in Olympia: The Need for Values in our Civic Life”

Last November, not long after the high Holidays, I took a risk when I, without prior consultation with the Board, committed our congregation to join with two other downtown faith communities to host a warming center for the homeless during the cold and wet winter months.

I don’t normally eschew process, I’m very process oriented. But the situation was dire, time was short, and when I met with my colleagues and Meg Martin from the IW shelter, we knew we needed to act fast. For as we know that during the winter months while there is a shelter, a permanent shelter, there is no daytime place for people to when the shelter closes. So I said yes, of course we would, and we would work out the details later.

And we did. The TBH took Mondays and Tuesdays and opened up, because Mondays we are closed and Tuesdays are minimal use. (The most inconvenienced group was the Senior Schmooze, which needed to move into the back classrooms for a few months. And this group was probably the most supportive group.) The shelter staff handled the management. There were rules of behavior, and a regular sign in. We set parameters as far as the boundaries of the space that could be used, and we agreed to provide a coffee and tea service for the guests. We were able to hook up cable TV—the wire lying dormant since we agreed to cable service with a bundle when we took on Comcast for our internet provider. Donations rolled in: coffee, tea, sugar, etc. And the people came.

It was amazing. It was an amazing site because of the normalcy evident within. Ultimately, the need that was served was that people just wanted a space. People just wanted to come into that space for the simple, basic reason of just being. Some conversed, some watched TV, some charged their phones, some drank coffee and some just slept—for those who went unsheltered overnight, the warming center became the place for respite, for sleep. Occasionally other service agencies came in to meet with people.

In total, the warming center operated 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. every day from November 24-March 31. The average daily number of guests was 130—not all at one time, but who signed in over the course of the day. The peak usage, which happened here, was 179. The warming center was a real success, but an unfortunate success. A success in that it served a real need, unfortunate that it was needed in the first place.

Overall, the warming center went off with minimal incident. Some increased wear and tear on the building, but we have this building, we should share it. We use it for tikkun olam just as we do for our spiritual and ritual needs. And so I thank you for your support in doing this, all of our members and guests who accommodated the warming center, I want to thank our staff, Catherine and Kirsten, who were here on a day to day basis, and who helped an facilitated with the warming center. I am very proud of the fact that we did this.
I tend to reflect on issues of social concern on Yom Kippur day because of the spirit of the haftarah that we just read. The words from Isaiah, which I had us all read, imbued with your own personal spirit of social justice and commitment to communal change. But as I learned from Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism who I studied with earlier this year as part of the Brickner Social Justice Fellowship I am doing this year, that for all his talk, Isaiah was a failure. He was a failure.

Why? Because his railings on did not result in meaningful social change.

So I don’t just want to stand here and say there is a homeless issue in our community. I want to stand here and say that we need to get behind efforts to solve it.

The warming center was not our only experience with homelessness this past year. A few weeks ago during the summer months, people started coming by the Temple and sleeping. This is not uncommon, we’ve always had this as long as we have been in this building, we have individuals who have taken shelter under our overhang, or spend the night.
But over the summer it was more, things started to change.. People started camping out, building structures out of tarps. And also, while in the past people would get up and move on in the morning, people were hanging out all day, in the courtyard and on the front entryway. And there weren’t any problems—I engaged with the folks who were staying here, most people were respectful of the space and each other, setting up guidelines and cleaning up our grounds—the situation began to become somewhat unmanageable. While we wanted to be compassionate, what were are responsibilities to our community and the people that were here?

So we convened a small group was convened to discuss the issue. We talked to other downtown faith communities that were wrestling with these issues. We talked about behavioral covenants, daytime verses nighttime, and specifically our values as a Jewish community. And after talking with people who are deeply engaged in the issue downtown, we decided that we ultimately could not manage the situation and would have to ban camping at the Temple. We were advised, with good advice from people in the know, we would need to go all in, or not at all. We would need to be engaged, monitoring constantly, checking in and aiding, possibly facilitating access to services, but it was something we realized that as a community, as a congregation we did not have the resources to do. So we had to make a difficult decision. We had to put up signs and ultimately say that there was no camping, no trespassing allowed.

And it was a challenge, based on our values and our commitment to tzedakah and tikkun olam. But also realizing that in order to facilitate that tikkun olam we need to do it in a good, effective way. And so while our signs worked, the question still remains, what do we do about the issue of people who are experiencing homelessness in our community.
It is a real struggle for us because we are not just another downtown address trying to mind its small piece of real estate. We are a synagogue, a Jewish community rooted in values and a greater concern. And while we had to make that one decision because it was unsustainable to continue, it becomes our imperative then to work for a solution that is sustainable.

Interfaith Works, of which we are a member, Danny Kadden a member of our community is the Executive Director has done tremendous work on the issue of homelessness in our community, and I just want to share some reflection from Interfaith Works:

The “chaos of homelessness” is well documented, illustrating how quickly issues compound for people the longer they remain on the streets. Sheltered, “chronically homeless” adults – the most highly vulnerable subgroup experiencing homelessness – are inadequately served by existing case management resources in our community.

Because most resources are available only in fixed clinical or treatment settings that require clients to make and keep appointments on a regular or recurring basis, many persons go untreated or are only sporadically and inconsistently served, resulting in continued homelessness, persistent high utilization of emergency medical, mental health and public safety resources, and greater risk of death on the streets. The lack of effectiveness of these case management strategies constitutes a substantial barrier to services.

It’s difficult. We can understand. It’s difficult to navigate when we have means.
We have seen a lot of progress in our community. Our floating emergency shelter that we used to host 2 weeks over the winter is no more, because a more permanent shelter was established right around the corner at First Christian Church. There are many people focused on housing, from Interfaith Works as I mentioned from rapid rehousing through Sidewalk and the Family Support Center, sheltering at Camp Quixote and on. But what is sorely lacking is the ability to access services easily. What we don’t have is a place—a day place—to be when the shelters close.

There is movement on this front. The Community Care Center, sponsored by Providence and including community partners such as is becoming more and more of a reality. There was just an article about it last week in the paper. A housing levy is being discussed to build more affordable housing locally.

These are efforts that we as a congregation need to get behind. Not because it is what we experienced at our building, but because it is expected of us to do.

As a faith community deeply engaged with our civic life, we have a particular voice to bear on issues of common concern. It is no surprise that three faith communities and our local interfaith organization to create the warming center. Because we had the means on the one hand, but because it is part of our spiritual mission to help those in need. We bring to our engagement in civic life a set of values, beliefs and actions that compel us to behave in a particular way and to have particular concerns. We must act on them, and we must preach them and hear from Isaiah.

We have a gift to bring to our community and that is this particular rootedness in tradition, in values, in ideals. And it can come out not only in the work we do in our community, specifically in this case around homelessness, but to bring to bear to our entire civic life here in our community in Olympia. That to bring this idea of being a values based community to bear on our civic life just as we are called upon to be a values based community can be very, very powerful.

That to me is the point of religion as a whole, to orient ourselves towards that which is greater than ourselves. And not just that we answer to a higher authority, however you may define it, but that we have to answer to one another. We have to answer to one another. And I believe that as a community we are stronger when we are rooted in values. That we are not just concerned with what is right in front of us, that we are not just concerned with our own individual concerns, each trying to mark out our own territory. But if we take the larger picture, and apply to that a set of values that we commit to, then that that is tremendous. And that is something that we as faith communities can give to our larger civic life.

In fact, we are starting to talk about this. Starting to talk about this here locally among our faith communities, about bringing certain values to bear upon our civic life, upon our civic discourse. The question is, what are these values? What might we wish to offer? What can we offer to our civic leadership, what set of values that we can root our decision-making in?

And while across faith communities we can have a sense of agreement about what they might be, just thinking today, on this day, Yom Kippur, I look to our tradition, and what values we might be able to offer from our tradition.

And just as we hear from Isaiah echoing to give us this charge, we look to our Torah reading from this afternoon, that we will read later, from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19, that can give us a guide.

This section in Leviticus that we are going to read is called “The Holiness Code” traditionally and holiness is an infusion of divine spirit, or a means of elevating one’s life beyond the prosaic, the day to day. How do we give our lives meaning? And how can we give our communities meaning? We can see this in the text that we are going to read later. I’ll give you a preview of it right now. And when I read this text, I see the value of mutuality, I see the value of compassion, I see the value of respect and I see the value of inclusion.

Mutuality: we can recognize that we are dependent on one another. In our afternoon Torah reading is that famous line, “love our neighbor as yourself.” But it doesn’t say which neighbor, just the rich neighbor, or the sheltered neighbor or the neighbor with means. It just says, “love your neighbor.” And the people around who are experiencing homelessness are our neighbors. People like to argue when we have this civic discourse that most of the people here are coming from other places, because there are so many services in Olympia. But the data does not bear that out—most are from Thurston County, they are our neighbors. And we have to remember that. We need to bring to bear the value underlying that verse that we live in a state of mutuality with one another.

And, once we identify our neighbor and recognize that we are in a state of mutuality, we need to take care of our neighbors. We need to have compassion. Yes, the verse says “love,” but love in the sense of action. The Torah doesn’t legislate feelings, but action. The Torah is not saying we need to feel a particular way, but we have to act in a particular way. And we have to act with compassion.Also in the Torah reading this afternoon we have the verse, “ When you reap the produce of your land you shall leave unharvested the corners of your field…but leave it for the poor.” Embedded here in the text is the idea of compassion for another, to be able to provide means to another, to be able to provide for another to the extent possible. Built into the fabric of life is sharing with others. Here a corner of the field. In our case, shelter. A place to go.

Compassion is the second value that we find in this text. And we do this without judgment. Each and every person in our community is worthy of and deserving of respect. Leviticus reads, “ Do not pervert the cause of justice, show favor neither to the lowly nor the mighty.” Don’t favor the lowly or the mighty, treat everyone with respect. Everyone is to be treated equally, and do not show favor. If someone comes to us in need, we should not sit in judgment. It doesn’t say, help those except for whomever, or judge those, in this case it is ok. We can’t judge, we shouldn’t judge, and ultimately we know we can’t because Besides, this is impossible to do because we do not know other’s stories. We don’t know each other’s backgrounds. We don’t know who is lowly, or who is mighty. We don’t know, and it shouldn’t matter. We treat everyone with respect.

And inclusion, our fourth value. We want to be sure that everyone is welcome, and not just those with means, not just those with shelter, but everyone who is here is counted. And one of the ways we do this is to make things accessible. In Leviticus we will read, “do not put a stumbling block before the blind. How much more that we shouldn’t put stumbling blocks in front of anyone, or to remove them if we see them. By doing so we create a more inclusive society, in which everyone is welcome. We remove the barriers, we clear the path. What are the barriers? They could be many things. They could be economic barriers. They could be cultural barriers. They could be attitudinal barriers. Remove the barriers, increase accessibility, create inclusion.

Mutuality, compassion, respect, inclusion. Isaiah preached the need to create a better society. Leviticus gives us the tools to do so.

These are good values to hold as individuals. But imagine if we can incorporate these values into our civic life. That decisions are made from our leadership with these values in mind. That decisions are not made out of a utilitarian sense of the most good for the most people, or simple economics, but how well they accord with these values?

We as a congregation, as faith communities, have a unique voice to bear on these issues. We speak the language of faith, of sacred action, of holy community, of serving a greater good. It is time that we not only uphold these commitments in how we engage in our community, but that we challenge our greater community to act in ways that are in accordance with our higher values.

And here, let us make the renewed commitment. We have been touched here by the issue of homelessness in our community. We engaged it in very real ways over this past year. We must continue to live our values and do what we can to make a real difference in our community. Because it is possible. So I chose this year to not talk about an issue that is out there, or global, or even national. I want us to think about the right here, the right now. Where it is immediately possible to make a difference.

After the warming center was over, Meg Martin from the shelter came to Erev Shabbat services one Friday to speak and to make a presentation. She spoke about the warming center and homelessness, she shared stories and data, it was very powerful. And she expressed her thanks to us as a congregation for stepping up and taking on the warming center, and for opening our doors at a time of great need.

She presented us with a plaque picture, signed by guests of the warming center. In the center is a quote that was printed on there (according to Google it is from Theodore Roosevelt, but I haven’t been able to confirm): do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

We know we are not going to solve it all, but from our corner perch here, on the corner of 8th and Washington in downtown Olympia, we are well positioned to do what we can with what we have to make this a better and stronger and more caring, resilient and values based community. That is what we have to offer. So just as we extended ourselves earlier this year with the warming center, and in other ways. Let’s continue that work of opening our doors in every way that we can.

Where Do You Charge Your Cell Phone?

Years ago, I remember learning of a movement to create voice mail boxes that could be accessed from pay phones, so that people who are experiencing homelessness will have an “address” that could help with communication, job searches, etc. The lesson of how technology can address this specific social issue made an impression on me.

Technology changes, but the principle stays the same. Those who are homeless can now get an email address, or Facebook, which can be logged into through public computers at the library—a virtual address that can help in so many different ways. And now, with cell phones becoming cheaper and easier to obtain, those who are homeless can have the same ease and access to communication as anyone with a physical address.

The one major challenge will cell phones, of course, is they need to be charged. And that is the big question: if you are homeless, where do you charge your phone? Think for yourself when and how you charge your phone. Perhaps you make a point of plugging it in by your bedside overnight so you wake up with it fully charged. Or you leave it connected at work while you sit at your desk. Or in your car you make sure to have a charger so you can automatically plug it in on your commute to work or running errands. I do all three, so I am never at risk of being completely out of juice.

It’s not having a cell phone that we tend to take for granted these days, it’s having the ability to charge our phones when we need to that we take for granted.

This began to dawn on me when I would see people hang out in Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia, with their phones plugged into the outlets on the lampposts. Or when people would sit in the TBH courtyard and use our exterior outlet (which we have since removed because it was vandalized and damaged.) Or when people would come into the warming center cosponsored by TBH, and one of their main concerns was being able to plug in their phone. This was an eye opener.

I noticed this and many other things over these past four months that the warming center was opened. Today, the warming center, as planned, closed its doors.

warming center
Photo from the Olympian
Four months ago, my colleague the Rev. Tammy Stampfli from The United Churches and I were invited by our third colleague, the Rev. Amy La Croix of First Christian Church, along with Meg Martin and other staff from the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter, to strategize about a new idea. The winter cold weather and rain were on their way, and Olympia was faced, as it has been in recent years, without a place for homeless people to go during the day. The original ideal of a full service shelter/day center championed a few years ago needed to give way to a permanent overnight shelter only, and while that was a great step forward it still left a gaping hole of needs. Where do go during the day when the shelter closed at 7 a.m.?

We made the agreement that the three faith communities and the IW Shelter would open a temporary winter warming center, to run from the end of November to the end of March. We worked out details—we would open 7 days a week, from 7:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., and hosts would rotate on a regular schedule. (TBH hosted Mondays and Tuesdays.) The shelter staff would oversee and manage the day center, signing people in, enforcing the rules, etc. Each faith community would provide a coffee/tea service (no meals). And each faith community generated its own protocols about how their building was to be used, the spaces available, the bathrooms designated.

And then, at the end of November, the warming center opened its doors, with TBH being the first host.

It was, in many ways, an experiment to see what was possible. It was very much a “ready, fire, aim” undertaking, as it was hard to know what it would be like happened once it was underway. Shelter staff was amazing, taking tremendous care of the guests and taking care of our building. Many people donated coffee and tea and money to keep the coffee tea service going. We ran cable through the walls to get cable television in the social hall. (We already had service through our bundle deal with Comcast for our phones and internet). Some programs were rescheduled or relocated. The generosity of spirit shown by the TBH membership and leadership has been incredible. And in the end, the warming center went off very well and with little incident.

As the warming center closes, my hope is that it was able to demonstrate a need and a possibility. That the need exists for a day center in Olympia than can help alleviate homelessness and provide access to resources and care, and that such a center is feasible. There are so many factors that underlie homelessness beyond economic—mental illness and substance abuse, to name two—that the ability to concentrate services would be tremendously beneficial. I am heartened by the initiative of Providence along with other organizations to make something like this a reality for our community. It is an initiative I think we should all fully support.

But even beyond these more substantial needs, something simpler and perhaps even more important is required, and that is what we were able to do with the warming center. For looking back over these past four months I see a tremendous success in that we were able to provide the basic human needs that we all desire and require (and sometimes take for granted): a warm, dry place to be to rest, to connect with friends, to have a cup of coffee, to watch TV, to read a book or play a game. And yes, to charge cell phones.

Why “Protect Our Children” Doesn’t

Here in Washington, we don’t have Election Day, we have election week. With all mail balloting the norm here, it means that we don’t always have the final tally of votes at the end of Election Day. Votes that are postmarked on Election Day are still valid, and as they come in a close election could be undecided and the leader can even switch as they are tallied.

It was a low-key election season in Olympia. With no major national or state-wide elections on the ballot, the focus was on local races. (The exception being of course the initiative to label GMO foods, which lost.) One of the things I love about our town, and living in a small city in general, is that the issues facing the candidates are tangible and concrete, and make a real difference in the lives of the citizens. Candidates are accessible and known, and everyone gets involved in this most important civic process.

I was dismayed this past election season when our local elections took a new low. This year one of the issues facing our community is the desire for a “low barrier” shelter. Recognizing a need in our community, Interfaith Works and other social service agencies have moved forward a proposal to establish a permanent, professional shelter which would take the place of some of the temporary beds available plus reach out to a population that is underserved. While various locations were scouted, the most promising off of Eastside Street was met with swift and vehement opposition by a vocal group of nearby neighbors.

This issue then became swept up in the election season, and was an issue facing the candidates. Candidate Mike Volz had his window broken on his auto shop, and he blamed his opposition to the shelter for the vandalism, despite the fact there was no proof. The Olympian reported this as fact, and indeed, in their endorsement editorial, tried to make this a one-issue election. And most discouraging, an organization called “Protect Our Children” printed and distributed a mailer which reaches a new low in civic discourse.

I first became aware of “Protect Our Children” during the time the proposal for the shelter was for the Eastside location. I was in the middle of things, both as a supportive member of the faith communities and as an Eastside resident. One day, driving home from school pickup on the first day of school, I passed by St. Michaels and saw a big sign with the “Protect our Children” logo and people distributing literature. After dropping the kids at home I walked over to see what was up.

This was a group that was firmly in opposition to the shelter. When I expressed my support to the person handing out the flyers, I proceeded to have a conversation in which I felt condescended to, as in, “how can anyone support the shelter, and if you do you are naïve and ill-informed.” The name of the group, and the literature, pointed to the tactic underlying this group—trading on fear tactics and the demonization of the homeless.

This was confirmed by the mailer distributed. I didn’t get it at my house, but I heard about it and there is a copy of it posted on line. In short, the mailer asked voters to vote for Mike Volz because, as it reads, his opponent Julie Hankins wants sex offenders to live near children. Or, in other words, Hankins’ vote for funding for a low barrier shelter is tantamount to her affirmative desire to put children at risk of sexual abuse. Misguided and hurtful.

I’m not naïve to know that we are facing real challenges in our community with drug use and abuse, violence, criminal behavior, untreated mental illness and destruction of property. But what this mailer demonstrates is a willingness to trade on fear while at the same time lumping together all those who struggle with homelessness into one composite. It is dehumanizing, and ineffective because it won’t address the whole issue.

I want to protect my children from harm. What parent doesn’t? At the same time I also want to protect my children from bigotry, from hatred, from fear tactics. And I want to expose my children to the challenging parts of our society—homelessness, poverty, other societal ills—so they understand and recognize that they have obligations not only to themselves but to others. That they need to be concerned not only with their own welfare but with that of those who are in desperate need.

And while the fight over the shelter goes on, for the past two weeks members of Temple Beth Hatfiloh have been staffing the Interfaith Works overflow shelter, housed at First Christian Church. (We will house the shelter in December over the Christmas holiday.) Some of our volunteers also bring their kids (I have on one occasion as well) to spend the night, a powerful way to get our youth involved in Tikkun Olam while at the same time educating them to some of our real challenges as a community.

The best way to protect our children is not to build walls but to build bridges, not to avert our eyes but to open them. I’ll vote for that.

Concerns and Hopes

Last week I attended a forum at St. Michael’s parish about a new proposed homeless shelter in Olympia. The shelter would be a low barrier shelter, recognizing some of the conditions that are obstacles at existing shelters and creating a place for people to go when they normally wouldn’t have another option.

The current proposed location is near the Eastside neighborhood, where I am a resident. The reaction among many of my neighbors was swift and sharp, with many opposed. While I am mindful of their concerns, through my engagement on the homelessness issue in Olympia over these past several years I see this, as a potential benefit to the social services available here, especially as it would take over from some existing shelter projects which may not be sustainable in the long-term.

At the forum, the over 200 attendees broke into small groups to talk among themselves, and then each table reported back to the whole. The organizers of the shelter–including Interfaith Works, of which TBH is a member–took notes and are preparing a response to the neighborhood residents. While there were some complaints about who was notified when, that issue I believe has passed, and we can move forward with thinking through this important project.

forum
from The Olympian

At the forum in our small groups, we were asked to talk about two topics: what are our concerns about the project, and what are our hopes for the project. Most of the concerns were what were reported out in local media-everything from safety, to potential drug abusers and sex offenders walking in the neighborhood, to declining property values, to our neighborhood bearing the brunt of most social services in our town. What dismayed me however is that when it came time for listing the hopes, most people just listed hopes that were really masquerading as concerns-“I hope the shelter goes somewhere else,” for example. Even if people had concerns about this shelter project, there was little evidence that people wanted to at least engage with the positive possibilities that the question of hope presented.

So to answer those questions, I would like to share a few of my own concerns and hopes for this shelter project.

I am concerned that…

…we are unrealistic about our fears.

…we assume the worst of those we don’t know.

…People are unable to think beyond their own self interest.

…There are those who are not part of communities of service, like churches and synagogues, and so don’t see service to others as a value.

…we discriminate based on circumstance.

I hope that…

…we can all see ourselves as wanting to contribute to a common solution to a problem that affects all of us.

…we take responsibility for one another.

…we recognize that we all want the same thing: a safe place to stay, a roof over our head, an outlet to charge our cell phone, a place to be with our partner, security for our children.

…people have a place to stay this winter and will ultimately find stable housing.

…none of my neighbors wind up homeless.

It’s not to say that addressing the social issues which confront us is an easy process. I’m concerned that we may not have all the answers, but I hope that we can expand the conversation and do our best for each other.