I live in a small city outside of Baltimore called Aberdeen. It’s a modest town, born of the canning industry and railroad, where most people work hard to live peaceful lives in little neighborhoods. Unfortunately, just under two hundred of our neighbors are unable to afford homes for a variety of reasons, ranging from addiction to mental illness to financial hardship and everything in between. Some of these Aberdonians live in tent villages in a few spots around the area; the most notable of which is a transient community located along the railroad tracks in the woods next to our library and fire station.
Recently, the Aberdeen Police Department has decided to issue a $50/day fine to anyone staying in a tent in these high-traffic areas for more than 24 hours. It’s created a controversy in the city of Aberdeen and beyond.
As a local and a Christian, I am not bothered by the tent villages. As a matter of fact, we were driving past one the other day and Collin said, “I want to start a company one day where we sponsor homeless people and build them their dream houses.” At the age of seven, my son already sees the need for compassion for the homeless. I found it a testament to the Christian values my husband, myself, and St. Joan of Arc School are teaching him. But, it will be many years before he can start this company (and he will!), so what do we do in the interim?
Fining the homeless is not an option. They need places to sleep and knowledge of where those places are. (Particularly because good sleep reduces the severity of many mental health problems.) Their basic human needs are not being met, so why would the fine prohibit them from mere survival? And if there aren’t enough places for them to sleep, are tents in the woods really the worst possible option? Where else would they go? Would they be bounced around to another town and back? What are the realistic long-term solutions available?
We could also start treating the cause. It’s no secret that addiction and mental health are two overwhelming problems that our nation faces, particularly our homeless populations. In Harford County alone, heroin use is an epidemic. Rather than tracking car accident deaths on their billboards, the Harford County Sheriff's Office now posts overdose deaths. Some people argue that the root of addiction is mental illness, which alone costs America $317 billion dollars a year. It’s a seemingly impossible puzzle to solve, but that doesn’t mean we ever give up. We can educate not only our youth, but adults, about drugs, mental illness, and homelessness, as well. We can offer proven rehabilitation and therapy programs (there are many in downtown Aberdeen). We can build better group homes, halfway houses, and shelters. And we can pray.
Sadly, homelessness is a problem that has existed as long as humanity and it’s not likely to go away. We may never have enough resources to eradicate homelessness in Aberdeen, but, a $50/day fine is not the answer. Where are the homeless supposed to come up with money if they have no income? Where will the money collected from the fines go? Where will the homeless people sleep if they can’t camp in the woods?
When logic and emotions intersect, confusion begins. But, as Christians, we are called to listen to our conscience. I don’t know what the answer is here, but I do know that we must treat all of these human beings with dignity, with compassion, and with optimism. May God bless all of their souls.
March 31, 2017 09:25
By Robyn Barberry
My grandmother, Marion Thuma Snyder Johnston, told me this story many years ago and said that she wanted to write it someday. She passed away peacefully on March 30, 2017. She didn’t get a chance to put it into writing, so I’m going to make sure that her story is shared with the world.
When Grandmom was a young girl, her mother told her they were going to deliver some Christmas gifts to poor children in Baltimore, where they lived a modest, but comfortable, life. She adamantly protested, but my great-grandmother dragged her out of the house with bags of toys people had donated to their church, destined for boys and girls who weren’t sure if they were going to eat that night. She huffed and puffed all the way there, asking her mother, “What about me? What about my presents?” all the way up to the doorstep of the crumbling East Baltimore rowhome where an embarrassed woman in shabby clothes opened the door. My grandmother peeked past her and saw a gathering of “moppet-headed” children, huddled together to keep warm. Their clothes didn’t fit, their faces were dirty, and their eyes were sad and old. As my great-grandmother chatted with the mother, as though she were her next-door neighbor, my grandmother stood there in awe, trying not to cry. “We have some presents for the children,” my great-grandmother said. She and my grandmother handed out the packages and watched as the children opened each toy. Joy overcame the room. When my great-grandmother and grandmother left for their modest, but comfortable, home, Grandmom had a new perspective on the life she had and on the life she was called to lead. From that moment forward, gratitude and charity shaped her attitudes and her actions.
Like most grandmothers, Grandmom spoiled her grandkids with time, money, and love. She showed up to piano recitals, First Communions, and St. Patrick’s Day parties. She bought us entire wardrobes of the most fashionable clothes for Christmas and gave us money to spend freely for our birthdays (even into adulthood). I’ll always cherish our phone conversations and the greeting cards she sent.
My grandmother also offered her generosity to the Church of the Epiphany in Raspeburg. She helped keep the church beautiful and volunteered for many of the church’s charity groups. I remember delivering Meals on Wheels with her and my grandfather. Those experiences were like the one she had with her mother. Every delivery was made with love as though she were serving a dinner she prepared to her own family members.
My favorite gift my grandmother gave me is my mom, who exemplifies those ideals of gratitude and charity. Like her mother, my mom gives and gives and gives. Sometimes I look at myself and think, “How could I be more like my mother and my grandmother? How could I be more thankful for the many things I have? How could I give more of my time, my money, myself?” And then I remember the most important gift they both gave me, faith in Jesus Christ. If I put Him and His people before me as they have, I, too, will live a life of gratitude and charity.
March 31, 2017 08:34
By Robyn Barberry
If you’re looking for something fun, free, and fantastic to do this weekend, head over to the Baltimore Museum of Art to meet Josh Copus and participate in his interactive Brick Factory, which is part of his greater project “Building Community.”
My mom, the boys, and I visited the museum on Thursday, June 16th to celebrate my birthday (and because when your mom is an art teacher, there is no summer vacation from learning!). After visiting the exquisite sculpture garden, we headed over to the lawn on the opposite side of the museum where we found Copus, elbow deep in clay harvested in Perryville, just a few miles from our house.
“Welcome to the Brick Factory!” he said. “Would you like to help me make some bricks?”
Collin joined Copus on the other side of the table where he explained the history of brick-making and the vision behind his project. While Collin and Copus filled a wooden frame with the terra-cotta colored clay, Copus explained that the after the bricks hardened, they could be stamped with letters and etched with designs. His goal is to create a public installation with all of the bricks created by museum-goers. Every brick will be unique, yet all formed of the same material and the same process. It will be one small way to bring Baltimore together.
After they packed the frame with the clay, Copus lifted the frame and, like magic, six perfectly formed bricks appeared before our eyes.
Copus set them aside to dry, explaining that after they became “leather hard,” they would be fired. But first, they needed to be stamped and decorated.
Each of the boys made a brick, stamping their names with plastic letters and a rubber mallet.
Collin used pottery tools to draw people and sharks on his brick.
As we worked, I learned that Copus is from North Carolina and that he creates other ceramic works of art, as well. He’s enjoying his visit to Baltimore and visibly loves his chosen line of work. His energy was so contagious that we chose to spend most of our afternoon working with him rather than taking in Monsieurs Matisse and Degas. There’s nothing like spending time in the presence of a living artist.
Before we left, Copus gave us a brick with the word “COMMUNITY” stamped on it.
Copus asked Collin what community meant.
“Like a whole city of people coming together,” he said.
“That’s exactly right!” Copus said. “And that’s what this is all about!”
It was a great way to spend a summer afternoon. We were, in a sense, our own community of artists, contributing to an even greater community called Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing Copus’ final production, where every one is more than just another brick in the wall.
You can catch Copus and the Brick Factory throughout the weekend at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It’s a fun, free way to participate in Baltimore’s art community. Here’s more on Copus and his Building Community project.
June 17, 2016 01:14
By Robyn Barberry