By Greg Lang
A little more than a year ago I stood before a Rotary Club and told my audience of the Dalit, a class of people known as the Untouchables relegated to the bottom rank of the Hindu caste system in India. The Dalits of Hyderabad, India live in Pipe Village, a collection of abandoned sewer pipes that have been cobbled into homes. The Dalits are scorned by the upper classes and experience discrimination and adversity in employment, education, housing, and nearly all other aspects of life.
Lest my audience think the plight of the Dalits living in squalor on the other side of the world was not their concern, I also told them about the Mole People living in storm drain tunnels beneath the streets of Las Vegas. And if that too seemed far enough away not to matter, I pointed out there are people living in tunnels beneath New York City and even Kansas City. In fact, in addition to the thousands of people living under the streets of America, there are also thousands living in tent cities, and there are tens of thousands who are living in their vehicles. There are more than a million public school children who do not have a home to return at the end of the day.
In Gwinnett County, population 815,000, nearly 11 percent are living below the poverty level, and 26.5 percent of its working population, 107,000 people, is without health insurance. Across all Gwinnett County schools, the percentage of students living at the poverty level ranges 13-51 percent. More than 87,000 students, 54% of all students, are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program. In recent years our school system has accommodated over 1,600 homeless students. You have only to look at the rate of evictions and foreclosures in Gwinnett to understand we do indeed live with poverty and homelessness issues in our community.
Gwinnett is great and success lives here, yes, but not for everyone. Witness the work of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Community Services and its Helpline, providing information and access to food, healthcare, childcare, housing, clothing, and a plethora of other sources of relief. These resources were not born out of a desire of bored people to find something to do, but rather were born to meet a pressing need.
We at the Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett enjoy a work that allows us to live out our faith as we care for the poor and uninsured, but clearly there are less demanding ways to walk the Christian walk. We are here to address a pressing need just as our servant peers are at Rainbow Village, the Norcross Cooperative Ministry, AID Gwinnett, Annandale Village, Partnership Against Domestic Violence, Friends of Gwinnett Seniors, Hi-Hope Center, Wellspring Living, and many others; we are fighting to lift up those who do not know that Gwinnett is great and have not yet tasted its success.
Join us in our work; help us give hope and a hand to our struggling neighbors. Join us in not letting Gwinnett tolerate or ignore disparity and discrimination in access to and the enjoyment of life’s basic necessities. Say “No”, there will be no Untouchables here, and say “Yes” to the nonprofit organization dearest to you that will call one day asking for your help to help others.
Greg Lang is executive director of Good Samaritan Health Center.
People Helping People is a publication of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services.
For more information contact Ellen Gerstein - firstname.lastname@example.org or at 770-995-3339.