Yesterday, the old Drop Inn Center building was demolished. The Drop – now under the “Shelterhouse” brand – was Cincinnati’s largest homeless shelter for decades. But it was also more than that.
The Drop Inn Center was the heart of a grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor, movement of people who believed in the dignity of every person. Back in the ‘70s, a young guy with a bandana and shaggy hair started bringing people in from the cold. His name was buddy gray, and with Bonnie Neumeier and others, he was a part of building the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement. It was Cincinnati’s own Poor People’s Campaign.
Together they created a shelter to keep people from freezing outside, they added programs to support people struggling with addiction, they raised money and advocated for investment in affordable housing (the only really cure for homelessness). Along the way, some of their projects, programs, and ideas made them unpopular. It was said that people wanted the Drop Inn Center to move before it even opened on 12th street. The half a block to Music Hall was uncomfortably close for orchestra-goers and our city’s homeless.
My heart ached yesterday, looking at the pile of twisted metal and rubble at the corner or 12th and Elm. Here was an outward symbol of what it looks like when those with money and power have a different vision than those without it. Here, this hole, where I had sorted cans during many a Community Action Day, where, more importantly, men and women had attended substance abuse treatment programs, NA and AA meetings (Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous). This hole is where Jimmy Heath had lived – for the first time in a long time – inside; he started taking photographs and connecting with others through art; he became a community leader. People used the Drop’s address when they needed one – for an ID, to register to vote, to put on a job application.
It’s almost too easy to see why someone with enough resources to spend $47 million dollars on a park, just across the new $147 million street car tracks finally, finally got the Drop Inn Center out of sight. But wealth disparity today is not just any-city’s elite vs. the homeless. The wealth gap has to do with just a few of those elite growing their wealth exponentially while the rest of us are left to make do with less and less.
The wealthiest 1% of Americans own more than the bottom 90% of us combined. In January, Oxfam reported that now only 62 people own as much wealth as half of the people in the world. Sixty-two. We’ve had 62 people come to a Community Night dinner in the CFJ. Imagine those individuals; it’s just a few more than the people you might have gone on Approach with. Picture buying enough groceries for them for the weekend. And then try to imagine keeping 3,500,000,000 people alive with those same resources. The world has given enough to those 62 people for that to be possible.
A system this skewed doesn’t work well for any of us. For most of us, it doesn’t work because we live like there is barely enough. We don’t expect a job to pay enough for us to cover basic needs and save (for a car, or a better place to live, or in case there is a medical emergency). And we definitely don’t expect that people should be able to take a few days off of a job. Or be able to travel during those days off. We might hope for those things, but we don’t demand them for everyone. Rest – or even living without the stress of knowing you don’t have savings to fall back on – is a luxury.
For those who are wealthy, and growing wealth from their wealth, the system is also failing. I see this on two levels – they suffer on the human level from being separate. This could be another whole blog post. But it is failing because the math doesn’t work for very long. We need most people to be able to participate in our economy – when most people can buy food, or clothing, or even pillows for their beds – farmers, producers, and pillow manufacturers succeed. They make money, and in turn can also participate. If you are the CEO of a pillow factory, you need the people in your factory to be paid well enough that they can also buy your pillows, or else you will eventually fail. In fact, this billionaire is talking about just that.
It’s possible, I believe for the world to work differently than it does now. I also believe that my faith calls me to work for a peaceful and just kin-dom of God. For now, because of each other, we struggle. I think in that place, because of each other, we are safe. Safe from violence, but also from hunger, and safe from losing our jobs if we have to go to the hospital, or even if we want to go on vacation. Safe from our homes being demolished even if we own them, and the land they are built on, for more than twenty-five years.
It will take real work, and valuing each other more than some other values that we hold now. The words of Arundhati Roy, an Indian author and activist, resonate.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”
Shannon Hughes is the Assistant Director Service, Justice and Immersion for the Center for Faith and Justice. She is a proud XU alum and when she is not hanging out with AB Board she loves to play outside, write, and try yellow mustard on anything in the fridge.