Left Justified: Improving poor neighborhoods

Stanley Campbell

By Stanley Campbell

When somebody doesn’t like their neighbor, they can up and leave, not only because this is a free country, but also because God gave us a lot of space (well, we took it from the Indians; but if you don’t like your neighbor, just move).

If we lived in Japan or Switzerland, to construct a new house, we’d better have a court order and 10 times more money. In Rockford, it is cheaper to build a house than to rehab an older home, even though in some neighborhoods the initial purchase price is so much more affordable.

Rockford Urban Ministries is just one of many church groups trying to rehab neighborhoods. The best is, of course, Zion Development, an outgrowth of Zion Lutheran Church. I’ve borrowed a lot of good ideas from that organization.

Unfortunately, when you buy a run-down house in a dilapidated neighborhood, you can end up putting more money into the rehab than the house is worth on the open market. Still, we try because we love the people in every neighborhood and have an environmental spirit that believes we shouldn’t throw away neighborhoods like we throw away Styrofoam cups. Let’s not pave over the best farmland in the world while homes are deteriorating.

Rockford Urban Ministries, in celebrating its 50 years of service to the city, is hosting a program about churches fighting poverty. Somewhere in the Bible, it says we should help the poor. Really, everywhere in the Bible it says we should help the poor. In fact, helping the poor is mentioned more often than going to war with one’s enemies and accruing great wealth to afford useless luxuries.

But I digress.

March 22, I’ve asked the Rev. Enrique Gonzales to share with us his personal work from Broadway United Methodist Church, 1503 Broadway. He is the pastor of Centennial UMC and has recently moved the congregation to the smaller and better heated building. Pastor Gonzales also has a concern for treating the immigrant fairly. He hopes to improve the neighborhood in which he finds himself. He will be joined by the director of Shelter Care Ministries, the Rev. Louisett Ness. She wants to rehab some Broadway/11th Street buildings for affordable housing in the neighborhoods.

This city does not like affordable housing for the poor. Unfortunately, the city “fathers” are only familiar with the old-fashioned warehousing of the poor and seem to be reticent to support faith communities when they venture into housing.

I’ve asked the reverends to speak, at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 22, at Broadway UMC, not only about their projects, but also about the faith that moves them to do their work. I invite not only those interested in the Broadway/ 11th Street neighborhood, but also anyone interested in helping those in need.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the March 14-20, 2012, issue

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