We sent Eve to public school in a urban, challenged district because we wanted her to grow up in the real world, not in the upper-middle-class, all-white, all-our-children-are-above-average-and-should-go-to-college bubbles we grew up in. She grew up in the real world - she learned about food stamps and fathers in jail and mothers who couldn't pay the rent and 16-year-old sisters who had babies and kids who couldn't afford pencils and notebooks.
And now she's learning about homelessness.
Eve's friend Marcella lived with her mom and five other kids, some siblings and some half-siblings and at least one cousin, in a rowhouse in one of the most challenged areas of the city. Last week, one of their neighbors left a pot unattended on a stove. Five houses were destroyed in the fire. Everyone in Marcella's family got out safely and a brave bystander rescued their two dogs. The Red Cross put them up in a hotel for three days, and then they had to leave the hotel - and they have nowhere to go. Marcella texted Eve to say "We're out on the curb in front of our house and I don't know what we're going to do".
Sam got in touch with the school district and we gave Marcella and her mom the name and number of the office that assists homeless students; the school district has strong motivation to make sure Marcella and her sibling and cousin are all in school, and they have access to other programs. Eve is packing up some clothes to give to Marcella, along with some extra school supplies. We talked about why it's so difficult to find a new place to live - about deposits and landlords and exorbitant housing prices - and about the ways in which government could do a better job. But we didn't invite Marcella and her family to stay here. Eve didn't ask and we didn't offer.
We have room - we probably have as much room as they were living in. I wish I were the kind of person who could throw my house open to anyone in need. I wish I could really follow the commandment to care for the orphan and the widow and the stranger at our gates. I know I can't. Eve spent a fair amount of time at Marcella's last year; their house is chaotic and full of conflict. I don't know Marcella's mom at all. We live in an area of the city that isn't really served by public transit and it's too far for the younger kids to walk to school. Are those reasons or excuses?
Sam and I like to think we have a social conscience. We give money and we give time and we both work in relatively underpaid jobs because we believe in the value of what we do; we are still impossibly and unimaginably lucky and privileged. We would never be on the street because we have family who could take us in, and who could give us money. We have always had a safety net that Marcella will never know. I can't save everyone; I'm not required to save everyone. I know that. I have a right and even an obligation to keep my own family safe and to give myself a break from the chaos and emotional stress of the stories I hear at work. And yet, somewhere inside, I will always feel that I am not doing everything I could be doing to heal the world.