By Pastor Matthew Barnett
Much of the evening news and the questions asked of our elected officials centers on the latest outlandish statement a congressman or prime time host has made. But a mother in Los Angeles, struggling to pay rent, looking for work, all while trying to find a stable internet connection so her three children can participate in remote learning, doesn’t have the time or the energy to follow this drama.
The shallow debates that I watch unfold on television — and then soon after on social media — are not the discussions struggling families need right now. They don’t need people with power and platforms to focus their energy on eachother; they need them to focus their energy on finding common-sense solutions to the economic barriers that prohibit them from affording a roof over their head or putting meals on the table.
Families in Los Angeles, the city I call home, are hungry, tired, stressed, and longing for life to return to some sense of normalcy.
LA County’s unemployment has been the highest of anywhere in the state (over 20% at times), and is always among the highest in the nation, because much of our economy is driven by the service industry. Folks here can’t just simply do their job from a Zoom call all day long. Some residents are even forgoing basic necessities like food and clothing, and others are going into debt simply to afford their monthly rent.
Even until this past week, Los Angeles was still under stay-at-home orders. It’s just another example of this city bearing more of the weight from this virus and the economic fallout.
Finding a place to lay your head at night is getting more expensive by the week it seems, yet the jobs required to afford this basic necessity are disappearing. And heavy-handed COVID restrictions are making many jobs obsolete. Homelessness is already a terrible phenomenon affecting Los Angeles, and yet, thanks to the economic impact of the extended lockdowns, it’s expected to triple this year and peak in 2023.
The debates about how to help average Americans overcome these hurdles are the ones that need to unfold in the halls of Congress and on the airwaves. People in my city and across the country are pleading for less drama, and more solutions. They’re looking for adults who will detox from cable news spectacles and fight for their communities.
At the Dream Center, we’re doing our best to listen to our neighbors and understand their needs. That’s why we’ve begun the process of expanding the transitional housing floor on our campus. Because right now, people need a chance to recover from their losses and get back on their feet. We provide a home and a supportive community where they can regain their strength and stability and rebuild their lives. There’s a need out there, and we’re trying to fill it. It’s as simple as that.
While our county officials still can’t seem to find a way to safely restore in-person learning — as other communities have proven is possible — we decided to try to fill the gap by transforming our parking lot into a safe space where kids can come for free tutoring, computer and internet access, and recreation. It also gives their parents a much-needed reprieve.
When adults engage in schoolyard drama, folks with real problems just start tuning out the leaders they’re supposed to be able to trust; and that trust gap within our institutions just continues to widen.
Instead, families are looking for anyone with a winning message, and action steps that give them tangible hope. Nobody wins when we’re busy fighting each other. So let’s not argue to try and score points. Let’s just focus on solving problems.
Trust me, your neighbors will thank you.
Matthew Barnett is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple. The Los Angeles Dream Center is a faith-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of individuals and families in Los Angeles through residential and outreach programs.