by Reverend Kelly Dahlman-Oeth
Every morning when I get to church, I say, “Good morning” to Danny and Trevor who are asleep on the concrete courtyard. They are always eager to see me and grateful that I am there to invite them in to get warm.
The other day I found Jennifer’s clothes and HIV medications in the bushes at church, and I brought them inside to keep them safe. I don’t know her, but I consider myself her pastor.
Every time he’s released, Chris shows up to sleep on the porch until he loses the battle with the mental illness that make his behavior unacceptable to others.
A few years ago, I conducted Debi’s memorial service after she died in her car in the Safe Parking program at the church.
Even though I’m a United Methodist pastor, and not a Catholic priest, Gil always teased me, and called me “Father.” I still grieve for my gentle friend knowing that he died while he was living in a tent.
Yes, I am a pastor. I am educated, employed, housed and I have good healthcare. As an accident of birth, I am also a white, straight, U.S. born, cis male. The sum total of those characteristics put me at the top of the food chain when it comes to power and privilege in this country.
As a pastor, I am appointed to Ronald United Methodist Church in Shoreline, a church that sold property in a partnership with Hopelink and Compass Housing to recently open a 12,500 square foot food bank and service center and 60 low-income housing units.
As a pastor, I have something in common with our elected officials and all those who are paid to serve and protect. Specifically, we are all responsible to serve all the people in our community: rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, housed and unhoused.
As a Christian, I strive to follow the life and teachings of a first-century Middle Eastern penniless, homeless rabbi that I know as Jesus Christ. This Jesus spent three years healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and telling the poor that they are God’s beloved children worthy of dignity and respect.
Jesus also had plenty to say to those of us with power and privilege, significantly, “those to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
So, I spend a great deal of my time with those who live on the margins of our society. Indeed, I do not understand what it means to be a Christian if I am not among those with whom Jesus would have spent most of his time: the poor who live on the street; the addicted who battle the demons of drugs or alcohol; the hungry and lonely who come to eat at our free community dinner each week.
Gil and Debi were my siblings. Jennifer and Chris are God’s beloved children. Danny and Trevor are not trash to be swept away because corporations or wealthy homeowners have influence over elected officials.
Their lives are just important as the millionaire tech employee and the elected officials. They are sacred.
They are my responsibility, and they are your responsibility, and frankly, they deserve better from me, from us, and from our elected officials.
Sweeps do not solve homelessness. They are inhumane and abusive and expensive.
No one starts doing drugs because there is now a safe injection site in their neighborhood. Clean injection sites do not lead to drug use, they make it safe for those who are possessed by the demons of addiction, and they make it safe for the larger community.
Many of us will continue to learn what we can do to provide safe, caring places for those struggling with mental health issues, but we are no substitute for the trained professionals who are overwhelmed and underfunded.
The HOMES tax can make a big difference in funding housing and vital services for people like Danny, Trevor, Jennifer, Chris, Debbie, Gil, and so many others. Taxing the biggest, most prosperous corporations in our city to fund these services is carrying out Jesus’ injunction, “those to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
I firmly believe that budgets are moral documents. Municipal, county, state and federal budgets that favor corporations and the rich, while they ignore those who live on the margins are immoral.
I will continue to love and serve my vulnerable siblings, and I implore you to join me, whether you are part of a faith community or not; whether you are an elected official or part of a corporation that benefits from our tax dollars; whether you are one of the wealthiest among us or an average voting citizen like me.
Kelly Dahlman-Oeth is a pastor at Ronald United Methodist Church