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Rev. Chrissy Cataldo of Sidney is a local church pastor.
I am a pastor of a small church that wants to help our neighbors. Our church, like many religious communities in Maine, keeps a small fund to help neighbors pay for bills if they come up short. Jesus said that faith is loving God and loving neighbor. This is one way we show our love of our neighbor.
When I first began my time as pastor, I expected calls for help from people who were struggling. I did not expect so many of them to be calls for help with rent specifically. And, I didn’t expect I would hear from so many people who live in hotels as though they were apartment buildings.
Sometimes I meet families of three or four people living in a one room, one bed extended-stay motel that doesn’t even have a full-sized refrigerator. They cook everything in the microwave.
I’ve also noticed that, though the rooms can be small, they are safe and warm. Since the safer-at-home order has been in place, I have started following mutual aid groups on social media, where neighbors are helping neighbors. I’ve noticed that many people are asking for help with rent there, too.
While many had been protected from eviction while the courts were not processing evictions, our state government and our members of Congress can take steps to put policies in place that show a long-term commitment to prevent evictions as long as people’s livelihoods are disrupted by this terrible public health crisis.
The town where I serve doesn’t have a homeless shelter. We do have hotels that will cut people some slack and serve as a safe place to live. In this time where we know that the coronavirus spread is managed by remain-at-home measures, I know that the people who live in our local hotels have a home to remain in as long as those hotels can stay open. It seems clear to me that, here in Maine, if we are to truly love our neighbors who are housing insecure, we must make sure that the hotels where our neighbors can, and already do, live remain open.
This is an opportunity for our communities, and our leaders, to make a clear statement that they care about people enough to cover more than just one month’s rent. And, if any hotel is going to be supported by the government in order to stay in business, we must make sure that the people who still need homes are similarly supported.
It seems like such a waste to have hotels sit empty and people sit on the street. Why not help people find a home in a hotel, even if it’s a temporary one? I’ve learned in my time in Maine that Mainers don’t like to waste things. Why waste this opportunity to care for our neighbors?
I think we, as a state, have a great opportunity to make sure that people don’t have to move because they cannot pay their bills during a public health crisis. I think we can come together, as a state and nation, to help people pay their rent during this time so those who can least afford it don’t end up buried in debt and lose the homes they’ve worked so hard to make.
Stable housing is key for stable health. In order to be able to re-open slowly and safely, people need a home to be safe and healthy. This is the commitment we are called to make to each other as we navigate this crisis together.