Long Island Distress

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Today’s New York Times editorial, “In the Cold” (on the link from the Times home page, “Long Island Pain”), draws our attention to the economic distress in an unexpected place. Two specifics stand out for me. First is the quotation of Alric Kennedy, director of community resources for the Long Island Council of Churches, “Our donors are now our clients.” Second is the observation that some construction companies are cutting their costs by skipping payroll, counting on their undocumented workers not to (dare) complain.

On one hand, there is new economic distress for people until recently in a position to help the “less fortunate,” as we call poor people. The editorial says the county’s director of housing and homeless services reported that “more overburdened homeowners and the elderly are coming forward now — often bewildered and ashamed.” On the other hand, people among our society’s most vulnerable, undocumented immigrants, are having their hours cut, often for domestic workers cut in half, and sometimes are not being paid for the work they have done.

Among my questions is, How can churches and other concerned groups, themselves with constricted resources, respond effectively to the growing and changing needs? Do we simply cut our own costs where we can do so without putting ourselves into a down-spiral, or can we find ways to reallocate funds from our own institutional needs to the rapidly emerging needs of people in distress? Since many religious bodies already run on tight budgets, maybe the more helpful question would be, Can we find ways to share – creative ways to share, for example, meals and warmth (literal, physical warmth in our buildings)? Are there others ways of sharing resources?

The Times editorial hints at one problem in identifying and responding to distress: the embarrassment of people unaccustomed to needing help. How many are ashamed to let their distress be known? Another is the fear spread through immigrant and migrant communities in response to the waves of hatred and xenophobia that have swept the country. If people are too frightened to object when they are not paid for work they have done, will they not also be afraid to trust churches and others who might be willing to help or to share?

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