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Shared Sacrifice?

If you want to see why this recession was different from others in recent history, spend a little time over at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

They’ve been seeing and feeding people they’ve never seen before, people who never imagined they’d need help.

The other day, I went to see Dr. Chad Audi, the mission’s President and CEO. Not only is their caseload flooded, he said, “more and more we are seeing the working homeless.”

These are people who have jobs, but still have no place to live. The Rescue Mission does what it can to get them into housing, but the need is far greater than it used to be -- and for many, the ability to give is less.

Incidentally, there are some who think of the mission as just a soup kitchen, possibly because of their mass appeals for help with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless. A soup kitchen was pretty much what it the mission was when it was founded a century ago. Founder David Stucky kept people alive with food from his own pantry during the worst of the Great Depression.

But in modern times, the mission has added transitional and permanent housing as well as an array of programs designed to get people off drugs and alcohol, off Detroit’s mean streets and back into the workforce. They even have a ranch near Howell, where inner-city kids can spend a few days among woods and streams.

But the past few years have been especially grim. The number of people needing daily food assistance has increased by forty percent. Audi, who first came to the mission to take a temporary accounting position, told me about a middle-class looking man one volunteer noticed standing in line on one of the coldest days of the year, clutching the hands of his daughter and son.

They offered to take them inside immediately, but the man said he wanted to wait his turn. He had lost his job and his home, and was staying with relatives.

He didn‘t think it was fair to ask them to feed his family too, so they came to the mission. Stories like that are why Chad Audi is in this job. He has a doctorate in business, and came back from his native Lebanon fourteen years ago to take a government job that paid three times as much as working at the mission. But this work called to him instead.

Now, he is worried about the future. The mission is non-profit, non-partisan, and gets no government support, aside from some federal housing money. However, if the governor’s plans to end the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor is approved, the Rescue Mission fears their caseload will skyrocket.

Projections estimate this could plunge tens of thousands of children alone into poverty. That would strain the mission’s resources. And what it would do to Michigan‘s future?

Times are tough for the state, and lots of people are going to have to make sacrifices. Yet it’s fair to ask whether cutting a program designed to allow the working poor to keep their heads above water is going to backfire on the rest of us.

Let’s hope the governor and the legislature carefully think this one through.