Summary: We all need shelter for the body. Even more, we need shelter for our souls.
A Home for All God’s Children
August 27, 2006
During the second week of June, Toni accompanied a group of 25 youth from her church to New Orleans to work toward restoring some homes that had been destroyed by the hurricane and flood of last year. When she came back, she told me that she had never in her life seen, or even imagined, the devastation that they encountered. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has estimated that there is still more than 50 million cubic feet of debris to be cleaned up.
The clean-up along the entire Gulf Coast has been a study in contrasts. As we all know now, FEMA was incredibly slow to respond, but the American people responded with lightening speed and amazing generosity.
I know of one church in our Conference – there are probably others, but I know of one – which put together a plan to bring former New Orleans’ residents to Indiana. They found housing, job training, social services, medical care, and other support systems. They provided transportation for about 30 folks, and are continuing to help them adapt to a new situation.
As of today, only a fraction of former New Orleans residents have been able to move back and reoccupy their homes. We hear all sorts of stories, but my guess is that no one really knows how many people will be permanently displaced. It is such a tragedy because we all need shelter for the body – a place in which to live.
It’s ironic that misery for some produces opportunity for others. You know that my son Chris works in a Recreational Vehicle plant in Middlebury. FEMA ordered tens of thousands of temporary shelters following the hurricane. The plants in northern Indiana and other places went into overdrive last fall and into the winter. They were working mandatory overtime. The line Chris was working on was producing 23 units a day, six days a week, for a number of months. All of the men and women in those factories brought home huge paychecks. He always said that he felt a little guilty making a really good salary when others had lost everything.
Another innovative method of housing the homeless other than in FEMA trailers are in dome homes. They never really caught on in New Orleans like they have in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, a fellow named Ted Hayes began looking for a way to house some of the homeless in southern California. His solution was these dome homes. There is now a dome village out in L.A. Each home is made of 21 fiberglass panels and bolted together with Teflon bolts. Two adults can erect each one in about 4 hours. Each home is 20 feet in diameter and contains 314 square feet of living space. Not a comfortable domicile by any means, but for some people, a place to call home. They work in Los Angeles, even though they never caught on in New Orleans.
We all need shelter. In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a book in which he delineated a hierarchy of needs. In other words, there are some things we need which are basic. Other needs are met and fulfilled only when we meet the basic, lower level needs. The most basic needs are biological: air to breathe, food to eat, and water to drink. The next level of needs is those that address security issues. Among those is adequate shelter.
I don’t want to diminish the problem of people displaced by natural disasters or by circumstances that have caused them to be homeless. Putting hurricane victims aside for a minute, homelessness is still a problem. I wanted to try to get a clearer picture of homelessness in America, so I went to the website of the Fort Wayne rescue mission. Did you know that nationwide, 35% of the homeless are families with children; 30% are women; 79 % are under the age of fifty; 30% have jobs; 61% are Caucasian; 17% are African American; and 16% are Hispanic. Many of the homeless are veterans; many struggle with mental illness; many have been victims of job loss as jobs are being outsourced overseas.
When we leave here, we will all go back to homes that are safe, comfortable, and clean. Not everyone can say that and I think that we have to be aware that people right here in our community struggle with adequate housing. That being said, we also have to realize that people need shelter for their souls as well.
At the tip of Maslow’s pyramid of needs is what is called “Self-actualization.” At the top of that is “self-transcendence.” We’re talking about religious needs here. Everyone has them, whether or not they admit it, or recognize it. Everyone needs to be connected to something bigger than themselves. Everyone has to ground his or her soul in something. Everyone’s values, standards of conduct, and meaning in life has a source. For Christians, that source is Christ. For us, Christ is the shelter of our souls.