The Rise in Homelessness

This week we entered the liturgical season of Advent.  A time of waiting watchfully for the coming of Christ.  A time of living our lives intentionally for Christ while we wait, watchfully.

It is also the darkest month of the year.  It is quickly becoming cold.  And Mainers are beginning to realize that there will not be nearly enough funds to keep Mainers warm this winter, nor many programs to keep people in their homes, which will lead to a rise in homelessness.

And sadly, at the small church I serve in rural Maine, we are already seeing that rise.  We are getting more calls for food, fuel, and shelter.  We are blessed to have wonderful homeless shelters north, west, and south of us.  Each of these shelters has a profound ministry, but they are also full.

We recently had a family of six, plus two pets, call our parish, seeking help with shelter.  They’d done all the right things, getting on the waiting lists in the shelters north, west, and south of us.  They had applied for jobs, they were caring for their children.  They were doing everything right, but on a particularly cold, fall night, they were about to face sleeping in their vehicle.

They were stuck, and so are we right now in Maine.  The need is greater than we can handle.  But winter is fast approaching, and with the cut to fuel funding, what is a family to do?  What is a church to do to support that family?  What is a community to do?

It seems to me that at least two things need to happen.  First, we need more shelter.  We need to increase our support, both with our time and our talent, to our local shelter or drop in center.  We can’t have our neighbors freezing this winter, or being forced out of the shelter they do have because they can’t afford fuel.  It’s just not acceptable.

Second, we need to address the systemic issues of homelessness in our country.  Here in Maine, one of the systemic issues is that  living here is so expensive, whether you rent or own. Fuel is expensive, and many low-income Mainers live in older homes that require more fuel to heat due to their age and/or lack of efficiency.  In a handout given at a United Way of Midcoast Maine meeting, it cost over a $1,000 more for low-income Mainers to heat their homes.  If people of all economic status’ can barely manage the fuel bill, how can any low-income Mainer pay the bill when it costs more than it might if they lived in a house that was energy-efficient.

We desperately need fuel aid here in Maine–and not less of it– more of it.  We need to encourage our politicians to do something about fuel aid to those that need it, to keep them off the streets and in their homes.

One of my favorite campaigns is Advent Conspiracy.  In this campaign, Advent Conspiracy challenges Christians to remember what Advent is really about.  They encourage us to not get caught up in consumerism and to set aside giving meaningless gifts.  Instead we can spend time together.  And to use the money we save towards something good.  They use the example of creating worldwide clean water.

Those of us here in Maine, if we too join the Advent Conspiracy, might be able to do something about slowing down the rise in homeless that will surely happen this winter in Maine.  Some of the money we save might go to our local homeless shelter or drop in center.  We can also volunteer and build relationships with those at our local homeless shelter or drop in center.

We can support initiatives like that of Maine author Stephen King and his wife, who offered to match up to $70,000 dollars of the $140,000 dollars his radio station have been trying to raise for fuel aid in Maine.

You can also collaborate with organizations like KeepMeWarm and Efficiency Maine .

You can also write to our representatives and ask that they take some initiative to do something about the lack of fuel aid and the rise in homelessness.  Write or call Olympia Snowe,   Susan Collins, Chellie Pingree, and Mike Michaud.

This is the season of Advent, and if we are truly waiting watchfully for Christ–than it matters how we live right now.  It matters that we live into Christ’s calling in Matthew 25: 35-36: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

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