The last year has been a crash course in learning how broken much of our assistance programs are in Lancaster County—and my guess is across the country. From the little bits I have had to work with the system previously, I had a sliver of an understanding. As a new pastor seeking to assist people in getting help and empowering them to make proactive choices, I have a whole new level of understanding. A whole new understanding of the catch-22s built into the system. A whole new understanding for the need to be subversive and “play the system.” A whole new understanding of how inequitable life in the USA is.
This fall our church opened its doors to a family that was between housing, and one of our members opened her home. When I called to get the family assistance, I learned that in order to qualify for assistance, the family needed to truly be on the streets. You could say we could “fake that” except that a case worker is sent to make sure that the family is truly without a home. My response : “So what you’re saying is that it would have been better and more helpful if we had let them sleep under the bridge?”
Currently, we have someone who fell behind (just two months) in rent. After receiving notice from the landlord about an eviction, this person utilized all the community resources available to her. When she heard nothing, I began contacting the connections I have made within the community. Still no response. In this case, we have someone who has both the knowledge and communication ability to follow the procedure and is getting nowhere. What about the many people who do not have access to phones or computers? What about the many people who don’t figure out the procedure until the last minute? And we wonder why people quit, give up, and are distrustful.
Now I know that the social workers working for the agencies are overworked, underpaid, underappreciate, and mistreated. I know that one part time person is often tasked with doing the work that should be for an entire department. My anger and frustration are not with the individual people or even with one specific organization. My anger is for a system that does its best to keep people in their place. A system that pretends to be for all but in reality is more like a caste system. A system that claims to be filled with opportunity. This system does not say equal opportunity to me.