“I started reading that book, but needed to set it aside for a bit. It’s striking too close to home.” These are nearly the exact words I heard from both a colleague and my mother about Evicted (though each is committed to finishing it). Both women are caring matriarch types. Both have advised and mentored young people (family members and beyond) in the struggles of life, including sometimes desperate searches for housing. From my mother, I now know that our family, with four young children at the time, was turned out of the one drafty old farmhouse my parents found they could afford to rent, for no known reason.
Likewise in a reading group at my workplace Evicted has surfaced personal stories of living in Section 8 housing, of dealing with prejudiced landlords, of helping a daughter with a previous eviction who needed to press her landlord for not providing heat this winter. Reading this book is also eliciting a lot of questions. What are the rules and laws? What is our situation locally? What is being done in our community, and what is our part in that solution?
What is clear from Matthew Desmond’s book and his gripping public presentation on March 16 is that the current system is failing too many people. While it may take on different characteristics by community, lack of affordable housing is a pervasive and, I’d say shameful, issue in our wealthy nation. The numbers and the stories are compelling—open up your Reading Together guide and you will see just some of what our people are facing regionally. You may also recall from Desmond’s presentation that the average age of an evicted person in the United States is nine, yes, nine.
For me, reading Evicted requires letting these stories settle in your mind but more so to allow them to invade your heart. Affordable housing is not just about buildings and laws, statistics, and systems. Affordable housing gives us respite, hope, spirit, and pride. “Home” is so much more than shelter, and so many of us are in need of a stable one. The crisis of affordable housing is also a reflection of our country and maybe what it’s needing, which is a reinvestment of the heart of its people. A colleague once asked a stunning question, “What would it take for you to risk your heart for your community?” I think that’s what a book like Evicted is asking us—to risk our hearts.
So now that we are know more about the depth of this issue and how it’s playing out nationally and locally, what can we do? Our reading group still has a couple more conversations to complete and we are using Desmond’s Faith-based Reading Group Guide. We are a varied bunch, and have found the guide’s questions bring us to the heart of the matter to ask about spiritual responsibility, to do a bit of soul searching about ourselves and our society. The guide also provides specific calls to action for groups—meaningful ways to risk your heart by lending your ears, expertise, support, hands, and resources. Let’s take a look. Take one step. Reinvest our hearts.
Amy Ferguson, Fetzer Institute, Reading Together Steering Committee