A Reflection by Thomas Cook, Hope House Resident
Every day Dannis and I walk our dog at nearby Cornell Square Park. Weekday morning walks are usually more eventful as we usually see the regular folks who have their routine of walking at the park every morning, and we also see many parents taking their kids to Daley Public School (right next to the park). Weekend mornings are less busy and the park is more quiet. A few weekends ago, however, I saw a sight we normally do not see at the park. As I finished my first of four laps around the park with our dog, I saw a man standing for a while by the dumpster that is right next to the park fieldhouse. As I got closer, it became clearer what he was doing: he was propping the dumpster lid open with his head and then finding food and eating it with his hands. I could see that he had food he had found in the dumpster in his left hand and a salt shaker in his right hand to season it. He continued to rummage around for food, find some he was thought was suitable for eating, season it with his salt shaker, and then eat it. Apparently this was his breakfast.
21st century America and we still have people eating out of dumpsters. One doesn’t have to go to a third world country to witness extreme poverty–it’s right here in our own city. How is this possible, and how does this happen in the so called ‘greatest nation on earth’?
I would say it’s because we have a misunderstanding of wealth and resources. Somehow we have been led to believe that wealth and resources are infinite. Our American culture teaches us that there is unlimited wealth out there for the taking: enough for everyone to have as much as they want and desire, and then some. You can acquire as much as you want with little or no effect on others.
Now I haven’t studied economic theory, but the above understanding of wealth and economics doesn’t make sense to me. I have studied the Bible, and, the understanding of wealth and economics from Biblical times makes perfect sense to me. Biblical understanding of wealth was that there was only so much to go around and therefore if you took more more of the pie than you needed, you were taking away from someone else and causing them to suffer. Applying this to today’s economic world tells me that the poor are poor because the rich are rich.
Going with this way of thinking, the man we saw at the park that Sunday morning eating out of the dumpster with a saltshaker was doing so because somewhere else someone was feasting lavishly and taking much more than their share of the pie (sounds like the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus–Luke 16:19-31). The thinking works for communities and groups of people, too. So why does the Back of the Yards (clearly an underserved population and neighborhood) exist in the first place? Because other neighborhoods (perhaps, for example, Winnetka, Il, where the median household income is $200,000, compared to Back of the Yards–where it’s closer to $20,000) are taking and receiving more than their share of the pie for things like school funding, road construction, land development, and business investment, leaving the Back of the Yards with next to nothing for these same things. But I’m not going to lay all the blame on rich suburbs for the poverty of the Back of the Yards. Actually, I think we’re all partly guilty of this man eating out of the dumpster because we all take more than we need at some point and this has a ripple effect on those around us.
If you’re looking for a way to simplify your life and not use more than you need so as not to impoverish others, come live with us at the Hope House. We’re not perfect, but we try to live simply so that others may simply live. We live in and serve the Back of the Yards neighborhood. We need you to join us so we can work towards never ever again having to see a person in 21st century America eating out of a dumpster.