Commentary: Remember the unsheltered during Holy Week

Jim Martin is an advocate for the homeless, and is the director of The Shepherd’s Office in Georgetown.

As many of us walk with Jesus through Holy Week this week, please remember the unsheltered in our county who carry heavy crosses of exhaustion, of stress, of rejection, of hunger, of homelessness, of the lack of resources and the lack of a place to belong.

I believe that in the eyes of our unsheltered people, we see a glimpse of Christ who walked that long road to Calvary. Jesus emptied Himself for us; how can we empty ourselves for others?

Can we create new zoning for a certain place in Sussex County where the unsheltered have the right to simply exist? Can we create a place where they know they are allowed to go, no matter what time of day it is and no matter what time of year it is? For our sheltered Sussex Countians, they have a “built-in” basic sense of the right to be somewhere in our county, and that place is usually their private home or their place of work.

And the sheltered also have a sense of belonging to many other places around the county. So shouldn’t the unsheltered Sussex Countians also have the same right to simply exist and belong somewhere in the county?

A human being with no place to go is like a slow execution of squeezing the life out of their bodies gradually. As an advocate for the homeless, I see the punishment that exclusion, alienation and “mother-nature-extremes” does to the human body over time.

The lack of sleep, the lack of healthy food, the psychological trauma of isolation, loneliness and the profound loss of family does takes its toll.

What is the first step to get a certain location in Sussex County explicitly zoned and designated as a Tiny House Community? How can we foster an affordable community of 200- to 400-square-foot-size homes that will meet the needs of the working poor who are also homeless? Where can we create a place that legally exists within the framework of our current zoning ordinances, land-use laws, building codes and inspections?

Can council schedule a special “study session” with the experts so we can try to find answers to these questions as a community? Can we create a new “Smaller Dwelling Spaces and Lower Cost Housing Task Force?”

Many of the working families I know in Sussex County can’t financially handle or ride out a $500 emergency nowadays.

Thousands in our county are interested in smaller living spaces. We lost our hope in being successful in a $300,000 house because this is way above our income level. But can we at least be allowed to live in our county somewhere?

Living is having a roof over your head and HVAC in your living space, living is not having to commute long distances to work each day. Living is having a routine and stability in our community. Living is knowing that someone is not going to ask us to move tomorrow. We want less things, more freedom, more time with loved ones, more time outdoors with our children.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Martin is an advocate for the homeless, and is the director of The Shepherd’s Office in Georgetown, a faith-based resources group that provides fellowship and assists people overcome social, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual barriers with a hand up.

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