I recently attended a North Wilkesboro Board of Adjustment meeting regarding the Catherine H. Barber Memorial Homeless Shelter and its desire to relocate from temporary accommodations into a vacant facility at 106 Elkin Hwy, across from the old Carolina Mirror complex.
I’m largely unfamiliar with responsibilities of the board of adjustment, but not the workings of government and bureaucracies within it. The meeting started with a board member asking the shelter’s representative why he and another shelter representative were involved in the matter when they both had out of town addresses. This perplexed me. Why does it matter where someone is from?
Would the board have derided the address of a Fortune 500 CEO if he had wanted to move part of his operation into this vacant building? I hope so, because if they wouldn’t care about the big-time CEO’s address, why do they care about addresses of the shelter’s representatives? That would smack of discrimination. And discriminating against a homeless shelter is no different than discriminating against the homeless.
I won’t presume to know someone’s intent, but I will speak to what I saw at that meeting. I saw a board obviously intent on denying the homeless shelter’s request from the outset, while desperately trying to appear unbiased. I saw a board rigorously cross-examine the shelter representative, while allowing speakers opposed to the shelter to ramble for minutes using fear-mongering language and anecdotal “evidence” flimsier than a wet noodle.
I understand the idea of a homeless shelter moving in next door is unsettling. Somehow, we think being homeless reduces a person’s value. Our society criminalizes homelessness. We fear someone who has nothing to lose, and who could have less to lose than the homeless? But there is another side of that coin. Who has more to gain than someone who has virtually nothing? Who can benefit more from just a little help than those who so often get none?
Many of us revel in the notion that we attain all we do through our own hard work and ambition. There is much truth in that belief. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Each of us stands on the shoulders of others. Each of us gets some help along the way. Some of us forget that. As a community, we must bear up those who struggle. It’s time for us to stop looking away.
As a Christian, my faith instructs that my words and deeds reflect the example so clearly set by Jesus Christ. And in Him I find clear direction on such a matter as this. For the better part of three years (Christ’s time of ministry in Judea), He was homeless. Jesus and His disciples traveled nearly every day with no idea where they would lay their heads at night. I wonder: If Jesus were here today, preaching to us in North Wilkesboro and hoping to stay the night at the Catherine H. Barber Memorial Shelter, would those witnesses who so eagerly spoke against the shelter at that hearing have a change of heart? I wonder.