When Ice Melts Hard Hearts
Many homeowners in Shelby County staved off the brutally cold temperatures earlier this month, without power. Muscle memory failed us with our wall switches. Uninspired meals using thawing meat, and warming dairy will not be missed, and all of us were earlier to bed without TV. Body awareness peaked with no hot water for shaving or bathing. The common response from the tens of thousands inconvenienced was “this has got to end soon!”
My good friend, Dwayne Jones, has had a keen awareness that what we experienced acutely with harsh weather conditions is the chronic reality of the unhoused in our city. We sheltered in place, read by flashlight and warmed with layering and log burning.
Meanwhile the short days of winter offered familiar long dark cold nights for the houseless. Charging a cell phone is a non-starter for them. A warm meal is barely recalled, and a hot shower is not a priority as it is rarely a possibility. Most are not searching for a home but are looking for shelter from the rain and cold. Dwayne has designed 5 very tiny apartments in a storage container and equipped them with a common generator and a portable potty outside. He is as creative as he is compassionate and knows he can be part of the solution to the needs of those who are unfazed by grounded power lines on our sidewalks and broken tree limbs in our yards. Mr. Jones has fully stepped into the problem and has plans to build more of his temporary shelters.
Dwayne’s passion and knowledge of the urgent need for shelter has put him at odds with land use and zoning requirements of the city. But as he told the Commercial Appeal,
“I don’t have six, eight months to go through all that. People are out here freezing to death, and right now, we’re in a crisis situation…people who are sitting up in cushy homes, they don’t care…
Now, I believe in rules. But sometimes, the rules don’t make moral sense.”
As I was telling Dwayne’s story to our ladies, showing them the newspaper article, and lamenting the growing needs, one of our employees said, “That looks really good. How can I qualify to live in one?” She has been living with relatives and will soon be turned out. She sleeps on the floor in a house without heat and is almost homeless herself. I assured her we will help her relocate, but it will be accomplished through prayer for God’s merciful guidance.
Britney Thornton, founder of JUICE Orange Mound, opened a warming center that was recently shut down by Code Enforcement because it ran afoul of safety and zoning requirements. She and Jones are co-laboring for those who have called O M their neighborhood but hold no stake in a mortgage or rent. Their hope is to achieve home safety and modest creature comfort for the tormented and vulnerable men and women created in God’s image and lost in The City of the Blues.
The unhoused and soon-to-be unhoused are in residence here on curbs and benches, and cold floorboards. A neighborhood like ours doesn’t get to choose its neighbor or ignore the responsibility to love them.
I am blessed in watching our ladies provide food, water, and prayer for any in need who walk past our porch. They know that Orange Mound is not our real home, and what we do for the least is the same as doing it for Jesus.
The Lord multiplies the efforts of Jones and Thornton and our MCOT employees. They feel they have been given much and are able to share from their abundance. The abundance can be weighed on a scale of their heavy hearts for the broken lives and measured in the number of raised hands to volunteer to help them. They are teaching me to see the “invisible” people in our midst, hear their silent groans, touch the wounds of the untouchables, and ignore the pungent air that they breathe.
Nine years ago, we thought we were bringing the knowledge of Jesus to OM, but now I have discovered Jesus has already been here and homeless since OM began. It was here Orange Mound’s “Founding Fathers and Mothers” built their first homes for their homeless families and erected 6 churches in which to worship Him.