“A split-screen American nightmare …” That’s how Robert Putnam describes his childhood home town. (Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis). Fifty years ago, writes Putnam, his hometown was “a passable embodiment of the American Dream”. Half a century later, it is a nightmare from which kids “from the wrong side of the tracks” have little hope of ever waking up.
Putnam makes the case that what is true in Port Clinton, Ohio is also true in Burlington, Vermont … or any other US community you want to name. And on Thursday there was a demonstration at City Hall. “172” – That’s the number of homeless children and youth in Vermont’s Chittenden County. The Burlington Free Press posted pictures and an article of the event, quoting the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) executive director Rita Markley as she describes an “unfolding crisis that has received very little public attention”.
Putnam describes the scene now in the parking lot of his high school alma mater – where “wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the high school lot next to decrepit junkers that homeless classmates drive away each night to live in.”
“172 children living in cramped hotel rooms, crowded shelters or sleeping doubled up in the living rooms or unfinished basements of family and friends” – that’s how Markley describes the situation here. She explains that one of the reasons we – the public – might miss the crisis is because homeless youth don’t want to stand out.
Vermont’s Governor, Secretary of the Human Services Agency and Catholic Bishop were in attendance at the City Hall event. Governor Peter Shumlin announced to the crowd that he has directed members of his administration to put together a comprehensive plan “to end homelessness in Vermont once and for all.”
Right next to the piece on homeless children and youth, we read the headline: Vermont plans ‘significant reduction’ of jobs. According to the article one of the “five biggest targets” for cuts is the Human Services Agency.
Political promises roll off the tongue more easily than the funds necessary to keep those promises roll out of our wallets.
In his book: Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Timothy Keller reminds us of how Job of Biblical fame defends himself: If I have withheld anything that the poor desired …or have eaten my morsel alone and the orphan has not eaten from it …if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing or a poor person without covering … then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder and let my arm be broken from its socket. (Job 31:16-23.)
Some among us continue to scream about the inequities in pay. We decry the systemic prejudices that keep the well-off walled off from hard working people. Didn’t Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently refer to our two countries – Israel and the US – as “Lands of Promise”?
Promises are easy to make. Let’s promise to end homelessness; let’s promise to provide equal opportunity; let’s promise young people that hard work will result in their climbing the ladder. Then let’s be as generous as we need to be in order to ensure the promises we make to our children are ones we intend to keep.