Any Help Appreciated
On a recent trip to a major city, I walked to city center from my Airbnb. As I crossed under an overpass, where the public train passed overhead, I was struck by the number of tents lined up along the path. What caught my eye, however, was a large piece of cardboard draped over one of the nylon tents. Engraved in sharpie were the words “Any help appreciated.”
I was so distracted that I almost missed the two grown man’s feet emerging from one of the tents as he slept.
As I walked on, the words “any help appreciated” rolled over in my mind; and I wondered what has happened to our cities that we have landed in a place of acceptance for fellow human beings living with their backs against the ground? We run to people displaced by storms, fire and other catastrophe. And yet, we walk past our neighbors on the street who have been displaced by a catastrophic loss of family, as if there is no urgency.
In our logical minds, homelessness is such a complex issue that we have enveloped our own lives with a cardboard tent that consoles us when we don’t know what to do. We pass people a $20 bill, hand them a bag of food, pack them into an over-crowded shelter or sweep them into an apartment, and we are satisfied because “any help” is appreciated.
But there is a lot more to it than that. And the longer our society sends the message to our unhoused neighbors—that we are content with their circumstances–the more they also believe there is nothing more for them. Therefore, “any help” is appreciated.
Although Fredericksburg hasn’t always had the visible homelessness that major metropolitan areas have faced, the same groans of larger urban centers HAVE lived quietly in the underbelly of our historic heritage and riverfront pride for decades.
In that same underbelly, however, there have also been nine churches diligently partnering with God for seventeen years—learning the names, hearing the stories and forming relationships with those who have found the streets to be their home.
I have often leaned on the 1 Corinthians 12 passage as a reminder that our neighbors are one of the many parts of the body. If one part suffers, the whole body suffers. Just as care for the body cannot mean attention to the eye, while ignoring the leg or tending the hand, while overlooking the heart; we cannot treat homelessness as if it is just a symptom of joblessness or mental health or even just housing. It is a matter of the whole person and the whole body of this community saying “we see you,” and as my brother, my sister, my neighbor, “any help,” when you’re living in a tent, is not enough for us.
I am excited to share that the 17-year journey of Micah Ecumenical Ministries has now brought together a group of partners who are ready to stake that claim—to build a community where the very least among us can live affordably, have purpose, and grow the meaningful relationships.
Micah’s board of directors, Mary Washington Hospital, Virginia Supportive Housing and the City of Fredericksburg have all agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. It is our intention to find a site where both Micah’s vision for Jeremiah Community, 30-50 small homes, and a traditional Virginia Supportive Housing apartment building, 60-80 units, can be realized.
Virginia Supportive Housing and Micah have already visited a couple of sites across the region. There are two in Spotsylvania, one off of Lafayette Blvd and the other on Courthouse Rd. There is a site in the city of Fredericksburg. And there is one is in southern Stafford off of U.S. 17.
It is important in our site selection that we identify a place that is accessible by public transportation and offers walkable access to a grocery store. Not to mention, both Virginia Supportive Housing and Micah are non-profits, so cost of the land and development issues—topography, environmental, noise issues and neighborhood concerns—are also vital to keeping the project manageable.
The body of many parts that is forming around this vision already extends well beyond the MOU. SDI Engineering has invested hundreds of hours of pro bono work developing draft site plans. A local developer who is passionate about affordable housing is consulting with us. HKS, a national architectural and design firm, has donated thousands to help us with a master plan and floor plan for the small homes. In addition, Micah already has commitments for nine homes, which we believe can be purchased for $60K or less; and all nine of our core churches are working to gain approval in their respective processes to build a house.
Who knows who else might join in when four critical partners can join together and say we are a compassionate community; And we measure our hope and our welfare in how we take care of the least among us. “Any help” for some of our most vulnerable neighbors is simply not enough for us.