The holiday of Passover tells the story of the Israelites leaving their home. Egypt and wandering in the dessert with the hope of entering the “promised land.” Throughout history and even today, we see how individuals are often forced to flee their countries and search for a new home. The Book of Deuteronomy talks about loving the stranger because you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.
The concept of welcoming the stranger is a familiar one at Jewish Family Service because we serve individuals and families who often have nobody else to turn to for help. We live in a world where people are often apprehensive when it comes to welcoming the stranger – they are fearful and just trying to survive in their own lives. It is understandable that in the world we live in, people are afraid to open up their home to someone they do not know. On a rare occasion, I have seen incredible individuals willing to take in a person for a temporary period of time, but this is not the norm and for most, it’s just too much to ask.
Wandering Jews and non-Jews frequently approach JFS in need of resources for housing. Rental prices are on the rise across the Lehigh Valley. We see people who have either lost their homes due to a foreclosure or are at risk of losing their homes. Many of these individuals have families and are trying to make ends meet. They are on a limited budget and they might not have the best credit history.
Just imagine being on a fixed income of less than $1,200 and having to pay your rent, food, transportation, utilities. It is very difficult to find a rental apartment for under $800, particularly if you have a family. I call this a housing crisis.
Where do people go when they have limited resources? They come to JFS, because they need help locating housing and then they frequently cannot afford to pay the security deposit and the first month’s rent. Very few agencies in the Lehigh Valley are able to help provide this. If someone has a child and becomes homeless, they are at risk of losing custody of their child and their family will become separated. The waiting list for subsidized housing through the Allentown Housing Authority is a two years.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the concept of the Settlement House became popular when immigrants entered this country. Persons would move into rooms in these houses that also had other services, such as teaching the immigrants to speak English and providing some meals or recreation. These houses usually helped persons with their transition to a new country. People who are looking for housing today will temporarily live in hotels or motels. Last week, a gentleman who was between jobs came in because he and his family were evicted from one of these hotels. The alternative to living in a hotel is a car and then the street.
For those who are in need of housing, the “promised land” is a secure, affordable space that is appropriately furnished. If you know of such an option, please contact me at JFS.