Shelter Theology and Wounds of Poverty
Please read this whole post. Thank you.
Most of us live in one world; others live in a different world. That is, in the USA. Some live in poverty, at less than $26K for a family of four; others in extreme poverty, at less than $13K for a family of four. That’s one world. The rest are not in poverty and in various levels of provision and even affluence.
I’m reading Susan J. Dunlap’s new book, Shelter Theology: The Religious Lives of People without Homes. She’s in Durham NC and discusses the history of Durham, including its redlining are, called Hayti, that shaped the economy of poverty for the century to come. Desegregation and a freeway right through Hayti didn’t help development for the blacks living in Hayti. In the 80s mills and tobacco factories were shutting down, gutting the low-paying but stable job economy. In the 90s some development occurred: Durham Bulls, performing arts center, high rises, and foodie culture. This began to uproot the downtown community to more affordable, less accessible locations. The older area is now gentrifying.
There is an affordable housing crisis. Prosperity in an area can exacerbate poverty, as in Durham. It increases at times homelessness. So also does racism, incarceration, food shortages.
She turns next to neoliberalism’s version of capitalism: Reagan and Thatcher. She contends neoliberal capitalism is enhanced by government; not just a capitalism left alone by the government but aided by the government – e.g., lowering corporate taxes, meritocratic worldviews, and individualism that puts blame on the poor and glory for the successful. Low wage jobs are outsourced to other countries; funds have been cut for social services; she points her finger at Clinton’s well-known temporary limit on social services; poverty’s numbers increased dramatically in Durham. Some services were privatized, like mental health care, which pushed the poor out the door; low income housing was privatized; the connection of criminal justice to poverty. In Durham, the largest deliverer of mental health care is in the jail.
Dumpsters became a place to find a meal.
Homelessness is an embodiment issue, one that makes a body vulnerable. It puts a person in proximity to what Dunlap calls “horror.” Horror hovers the homeless, where there are ever possible contingencies of pain.
The three horrors are:
Violence: against women, women against women, between men, against children
Being “on the street”: loneliness, aloneness, forced to choose sex, drugs, theft; damage to the body, to the spirit, to the mind; ungrieved deaths.
Abandonment (esp for those with mental illness): a cycle can exist in moving from jails, state hospitals, and homeless shelters. And gyms.
People, persons, bodies – all in need of pastoral care.
People with a theology worth listening to. They pray, read the Bible, wear crosses, have tattoos, and they pastor one another. They come to life in a Prayer Service.
A hard chapter to read. I hope you read it sometime.
Many of Dunlap's points about what has happened in Durham (in a specific context) are also reflected in Rodney Clapp's "Naming Neoliberalism." The current neoliberal order in the West is done, and continues to do, much damage to our society.