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February 5, 2014

ANDERSON: Servants and serving

— On Monday night, I witnessed something I have waited to see in my region for a long, long time.

The New Albany City Council passed an ordinance on the third and final reading to help Haven House Services in Jeffersonville, while at the same time they passed on the first and second reading like allocations for two services located in their community, The Salvation Army and St. Elizabeth’s.

It was refreshing to hear the dialogue among the council members because they brought up relevant issues that many are torn on, like serving gays/transgender persons, separation of church and state and religious values versus civic responsibility. It was amazing to hear the dialogue and to understand just how much our elected officials have to struggle like we do with their personal beliefs versus their professional obligations. In the end, we are a better community for what I heard last night.

It isn’t new news; many of those who help Haven House are people who have long come to serve, but those who are elected face a different battle. If people support us or the other organizations in the community, they feel bolstered with that support, but if someone does not agree, often political leadership has to make a choice because an election is around the corner.

There are exceptions to that: In our own community we could not have survived the past few years without the support of Dale Popp and the Jeffersonville Township Trustee’s office. They have given our residents bus tickets; replaced or repaired three furnaces (we have lower gas bills than most private homes); given rent for those leaving the shelter and going into their own homes; partnering on support for people we are too crowded to house but willing to help; and the list goes on.

Erni Thompson, the Charlestown Trustee, and his ongoing support gives us monetary relief for serving the poor of Charlestown and a much-needed support system there; the city council in Jeffersonville for their willingness to fund a homeless study and then going beyond that by helping with the current sewer bills through the JeffCares campaign; Clark County Clerk Barbara Haas in keeping us informed on getting our folks registered to vote and helping them just learn the importance of becoming citizens again; Linda Muller and her support in educating us about the changing laws in New Albany and Floyd County.

All of these folks have reached out as elected officials to help us and to understand us. We really don’t ask for anything more than that — understand us, help us serve your poor, keep us informed in changes in our community that will impact those we serve, and deal with us honestly and openly.

I have written much about those who come to volunteer their time and who come repeatedly to assist us, and God only knows what we would have done without them. Many could not have done what New Albany did last night, however Wall Street United Methodist Church helped us rebuild our bathroom as did Little Flock Baptist in Shepherdsville, Ky., through the last allocation from New Albany. This year, Wall Street’s fundraising effort for us will be a hymn sing on Palm Sunday. Please come and help them help us.

As the audience listened at the New Albany council meeting last night, many of those we serve testified openly about their homelessness and their roots. One man, a lifelong resident of New Albany, talked about his father, a police officer of 34 and 1/2 years who retired from the force. He spoke eloquently of his own struggles and did so with dignity, asking not to be judged by his appearance or his life circumstances but rather helped to stabilize his life and get “back on track” after job loss and illnesses.

It is humbling to hear from those I serve and it is necessary. As we talk of ending homelessness, we have to include and hear from the voices of those experiencing such a lack of housing.

We can end homelessness, but it will take all of us — including the political system — as New Albany recognized that last night. We as nonprofits in this community work every day to serve and many of us have little resources to perform that service. We are necessary, as necessary as the larger, more lucrative nonprofits.

For every Dare to Care food bank, there is a Center for Lay Ministries. They co-exist and serve each other to serve the poor. For every supportive housing program, there is a shelter that provides emergency services until openings happen, and we are all needed.

The message that came through loudly last night was that it will take a community to end homelessness in this region, and that all of us will have to play a role — providers, citizens, employers and churches. We are all necessary.

— Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at barbanderson_1@yahoo.com

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