Lisa sat on one side of the motel door, Vance on the other. They’d moved here, hearing work was plentiful in Denver. She is mid-60’s with a bit of Social Security income; he, late 50’s. Housing costs stunned them—$1500 a month for their motel room. Survival was hard—between his day labor at $65 a day and her Social Security, they could barely afford the room.

He found a regular job, but health issues and no vehicle made it impossible to keep. Back to day labor, with no guarantee of daily work; on bad health days, work was impossible.

I noticed the boot, a case that locks over the door handle, making the room key unusable. When people are behind on rent, the manager boots the door. You don’t get back in until you catch up. The only place Vance and Lisa have to call home and they are locked out.

They were $100 behind, needing that to get back in. But that wouldn’t pay for the next night or the nights after that.

I asked their plan. Vance said there was a day labor place across town that paid over $100 a day. He was going to catch a 4 am bus, hoping for work to catch up. I asked where they would sleep; they pointed to the concrete sidewalk in front of their door.

Let the story sink in. Imagine you are Vance—late 50’s, willing to work. You are going to sleep on concrete. Your motel is 24 hour a day chaos—drugs, prostitution, gangs, violence. You will sleep poorly, if at all. At 4 am you will catch a bus, with no guarantee of work. Even if there is, you may catch up the $100 but what about the $60 for the next night and the next and the next?

Be Lisa. Mid-60’s, health issues, surrounded by chaos and danger. You won’t sleep much; you will mostly pray.

They might pull it off for a night or two, but at that age, with health issues, it won’t last. The odds of getting stable—even in a Colfax motel room—are overwhelmingly against you. It seems hopeless.

Vance and Lisa don’t fit people’s stereotypes about our friends—shiftless, unwilling to work, addicted. He wants to work; they are kind, godly people who are good neighbors to others. I have seen no signs of addiction. No

doubt their back story is complex, but here is the truth: They are in a desperate situation with almost no hope of escape. We know many like them.

And that was before Covid-19 hit, wiping out most day labor and other marginal employment. Things have gotten worse. Many of our friends suffer every night because they have no decent, affordable place to call home. It breaks my heart. And, it makes me angry.

Even housing programs that help are in short supply. In some programs, people pay 30% of whatever income they have and get more stable housing. But waiting lists run two to eight years. Imagine living Vance and Lisa’s life for eight years before you get a place to call home. You might not live that long.

I contrast that with my life. I have never known a day of housing insecurity. Most of you are like me. Maybe your place called home isn’t all you’d like it to be, but you know where you will lay your head at night. Even in hard times we find something, maybe crashing with family members. Many of us live in mansions. We are housing secure.

Please, try to feel the pain, insecurity, and hopelessness you would feel if you were Vance and Lisa. Day after endless day. Many simply give up, sliding into despair, susceptible to pain-numbing addiction.

We have seen the power of having a place to call home. We have a long history with Elsie—helping her deal with her husband’s death, getting her away from an abusive son, keeping a roof over her head. Without help, we feared for her life.

After two years, her name got to the top of a waitlist. She pays 30% of her $800 a month disability for a decent apartment. Add in food stamps and loving support from our JOC family and she has become a different person; relaxed, fun-loving, a delightful part of our family. She has a long-term, affordable place to call home!

Our ministry is simple: We show up and love people. But as we have done that, we see the need to find pathways to a sustainable life for our friends. We want them to find community and know Jesus. But they need much

more than that, especially a place to call home. Absent that, chaos reigns; with it, they have a shot at stability.

We have increasingly gotten involved with housing issues. Pray for us about that. There is some good news: Even as Covid-19 has made things worse, it has also opened up some housing funds. We have received two small grants—$20,000 total—to help with this. Aurora’s City Council has approved $300,000 for helping as well. We are working with Aurora’s Homelessness Department and a couple of other agencies to distribute that, aiming first to stabilize people in motels and then move them into apartments. We are grateful to Jesus for the chance to help our friends, small as this start is.

All of this—housing, poverty, our friends—is complex with few easy answers. I will tell you more at another time. But for right now we are finding some answers.

Tonight, when you lay your head on your pillow, think what it would feel like to sleep on a concrete sidewalk, a jacket rolled up for a pillow. Let this phrase haunt your thoughts and your prayers: A place to call home. Most of us have it and don’t need to think about it. Pray that same gift for our suffering friends. They need help.

Then, ask this question: What would Jesus have us do?

PS:

• If you live in the City of Aurora, it would be great if you could call or email whoever is your representative on City Council and thank them for their generosity to help with housing.

• Names changed for privacy.