I can’t remember the last time I was so angry or frustrated. I received a call about a woman in our community who needed some help. We receive these calls often at the church–there’s a lot of need in our community and the fact of the matter is that we can’t help everyone we’d like to help. Hear me say: I want for us to be able to help everyone, but there’s only so much money to go around. The vast majority of the money our church dedicates to mission work goes to support organizations that attack the systemic issues of poverty in our community–like at Mission Central, where they’re creating a career development center that will offer classes and training to help people get jobs with pay that brings them above the ALICE Threshold.
**Shout-out to remember Mission Central and the Dayschool on North Texas Giving Day on 9.19.19!!! Schedule your gifts today!!!**
Fun fact: The US Census Bureau calculates the poverty line by using what is called the “Official Poverty Measure” which is calculated by measuring pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet. This formula was crafted in 1963. By this measure, roughly 11% of the people living in Hurst fall under the poverty line. If you look at your grocery bills real quick and do the math, you would quickly discover that this measure does nothing to take into account things like…the actual cost of housing, childcare, essential technology, transportation or health care.
Fun fact #2: The United Way developed a new measure called the ALICE Threshold which does take into account all of the essential costs required to ‘survive.’ By that number, 37% of the population of Hurst does not earn enough income to meet the minimum costs of living here. That’s almost 15,000 people who are one flat-tire, one broken arm, one speeding ticket or one sick relative away from not being able to afford the next month’s rent.
We get a lot of calls for emergency assistance at our church, and I wish we could help everyone. Every once in a while, we get a call that we can’t turn our backs to. Listen, I know what you’re thinking, people will say anything and make up stories blah, blah, blah. Trust me, I’ve heard them all. Every single story, I’ve heard it–but not this one.
The woman recently moved into some apartments down Pipeline Rd., and by recently, I mean it had been about 6 hours. She had everything she owned in a U-Haul box truck and pulled up to her new apartment. She went inside to scope some things out and to wait for two of her friends to arrive to help her unload. When she went back outside, she discovered that the truck had been towed with everything she owned inside the truck. Unbeknownst to her, it had been parked in a fire lane. The truck was impounded in Fort Worth, and she was now liable for the towing fees (+ extra for an oversized vehicle), the impound daily storage fees (+ extra for an oversized vehicle) and the additional daily rental fees charged by U-Haul. The bill was at $383 and climbing. Above and beyond all of that, everything she owned was in the truck including her children’s beds, all of their furniture and all of their clothes. We all make mistakes. The difference between her and me is that if I’d made the same mistake three or four times, I still wouldn’t be worried about being able to pay my mortgage next month. The penalty didn’t match the crime–and that’s an issue that has to be dealt with on a legislative plane.
So now, this woman faced an impossible choice: figure out how to pay the towing company and then not be able to afford rent, or pay the rent and have no beds for her children to sleep in. Typically, in situations like this I try to reach out to other agencies who might be able to help. After several phone calls, I found no one who could offer immediate assistance. So I finally, reluctantly, determined that we were going to get the truck out of the impound lot. I called the towing company, introduced myself as a pastor, explained the situation, and I was met with what I would describe as an astonishing lack of compassion. After a 10 minute phone call that grew increasingly heated, it was determined that I would not be able to pay the fine over the phone. They had trust issues…and that’s fair I guess. So I dropped everything else that I was working on and drove down to their office to pay the bill because I had other obligations that I couldn’t miss that day. I found the lot down off of Beach in Fort Worth and approached the service ‘window,’ which was tinted so darkly, it was impossible to see the person on the other side…I could tell I was speaking to a different person than I had talked to on the phone, so I started over. “I’m a pastor, this woman can’t afford to get the truck out, I’m here to pay the bill so that she can come and pick it up later.”
“I need the lease agreement for the truck with your name on it.”
“I don’t have it. I’m not here to take the truck, I’m just here on her behalf to pay the bill. As soon as she gets off work, she’ll come down and pick it up.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I’ve already spoken, at length, with someone who wouldn’t let me pay over the phone, and they told me that I had to come down here and pay in person. I am not leaving until I’ve paid for this truck.”
I have to be very honest here. I said something to that effect…but my emotions were already driving the bus at this point. I was angry and I was flabbergasted (is that still a word?) at the lack of compassion that this towing company mustered for a woman who would otherwise be sleeping on the floor or homeless with her children. I couldn’t believe that they were so armored by policy and self-preservation to pause and see a person in a desperate situation that needed a break to get back on her feet. I was shaking. I was almost in tears of frustration. I understand they’ve been burned in the past. I’m sure they spend every waking moment of their days dealing with angry people. I get it. I try to see the best in everyone, and remember that we’re all children of God made in God’s image. At least open your window and make eye-contact with me…It was hard that day.
I didn’t leave until I had paid for the truck. I felt a sense of defeat and hopelessness not for me, but for this family knowing that there would always be more hoops, more backflips, more fees, more stuff they couldn’t fight in their future. I found out later that the towing company managed to slip in another $50 fee after the fact because the lease agreement was locked in the truck and she had to find another way to prove she was legally able to retrieve it.
I think one of the most eye-opening realizations for me is how profoundly some families are affected by things that we just brush off. When you get on this treadmill of desperately trying to scrape together enough money to live each week, all of the things that are minor inconveniences to many of us, are debilitating for a family that can’t make ends meet. All of the “help” that you’re offered comes with a lot of hoops, backflips, and wasted time that requires a person to miss work (less wages) to get the assistance they need. There’s an organization in Fort Worth that doles out federal grant money for rent assistance, but you have to go down to their office for an interview and currently they’re scheduling for 2-3 weeks out…so even if I had the foresight to know that I wouldn’t be able to save enough to pay my rent that’s due October 1st, I still wouldn’t be able to schedule a time to get down there and get the help I need for this month…not only that, I have to take off work to get down there…
I think maybe I’m just venting at this point. I can point to a few specific moments in my life when something stirred up a defiant, righteous anger in me. Those moments have usually been preceded by eye-opening experiences where God showed me an ugly, dark part of the world that had been previously unknown to me. It’s a fire God stokes in us when we expand the circles of our compassion beyond the limits of what feels comfortable and safe.