by Amy Gaw
In order to insure the privacy of the individuals discussed, names and places will be changed. Quotes have been paraphrased from memory.
A few weeks ago, we were tasked to visit a residential home that had been tagged for code violation in order to investigate whether or not there was something we could do to alleviate the family therein. A few days after exchanging a number of phone calls and scheduling a meeting, Jay and I drove down the street to a quiet culdesac and met Miss Claiborne. As we exchanged greetings and entered her family’s backyard, we were blown away by the amount of old and used furniture, household appliances, computer monitors, moving boxes of books, and makeshift shelter. Walking through the tent like infrastructure, supported by curtain rods and covered in blue and green tarps, I couldn’t help but ask where all of this stuff came from.
“My ex-husband was really into storage auctions,” she said, “but anything we didn’t sell immediately has just been left here.” Two rabbits scared me as they ran around my feet and off and around the corner into a holed out dresser repurposed as a dwelling place.
“Oh, don’t mind them,” she quickly explained, “we have a number of other critters that take refuge in our backyard.”
I was appalled at the amount of clutter that had accumulated. Although, I am unhesitatingly impressed by the thrifty nature of Miss Claiborne and her family. They have created planter lining out of old movie theater walkway light covers, created pots for plants out of halved out 2-liter soda bottles, and made a swing set out of retired pipes, rubber, and wooden planks. As we continued the tour of her backyard, her son walked out. “This is Carl. Carl, say hello to our guests” she introduced us and proceeded to tell us more about her family. Carl and his sister are both young adults with special needs. Due to the nature of their needs, only one of the children receives aid from the government.
“I’m a part time teacher at a local junior high and so I don’t make very much money. Its difficult to provide for myself and my children on my own as my ex-husband comes and lives here once every few weeks promising to move some of the junk each time he leaves.” After putting two and two together, I realized that not only has a magnitude of junk accumulated in their backyard imposing upon the comfort of their home and their health but the code violation fines coming from the local city government are only pushing this family further and further into financial disparity.
“I can’t garden or work in my backyard as much as I used to. I can come out for maybe 15-20 minutes but then I have to lie down again. I would hire someone to come out and do the clean up but I just can’t afford it right now.” After taking a few photos to bring back to the office and discussing our mini-serve day on February 27th, we promised to send out a team to help clear out her backyard and dispose of the garbage at no cost to her. As we said our goodbyes and got into the car to drive back to the office, my heart began to break as I further processed the experience I just had.
I am reminded of Jesus’ miracles and signs. Subverting the temple’s system of healing which required the poor and sick to pay alms in order to be blessed and healed, Jesus removed both financial burden and healed disease at no cost. It is my prayer that OC United and its events this year with Love Fullerton, Love La Habra, Love Buena Park, Love Brea, Love Placentia, and Love Anaheim will be able to embody the vision and work of Jesus. Our savior saved at no cost ushering in the Kingdom of God whose heart breaks for the sick and disenfranchised.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.