Widows and orphans were very vulnerable in Biblical times. Unless their extended family was particularly gracious and caring, the loss of a nuclear family’s male breadwinner could leave his wife and his children with no way to pay for their day-to-day living expenses, housing and food. In order to make sure they would not be reduced to begging, widows and orphans were provided for in the Law God gave his people to follow (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 10:18, 27:19, Psalm 146:9, Isaiah 1:17, 23, Zechariah 7:10). God even refers to himself as the “Father of orphans and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). In the New Testament, James, the brother of Jesus, said,
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).
In our modern world, widows are often provided for in their husbands’ retirement plans, or they may be receiving Social Security, or at least welfare. Orphans have similar fallback provisions, as well as the foster care system. However, I’m going to suggest that today’s equivalent of widows and orphans are single mothers and their children. In most cases, they are employed in low-paying jobs, with little opportunity for advancement. Many of them don’t get financial support from their children’s fathers or from their extended families. Often, theirs is a lonely, frustrating struggle to make ends meet so that they can provide a secure life for their children.
The past few weeks, I’ve been in contact with three different single mothers who are facing the same basic dilemma: with the gentrification of the Pasadena area, they are being squeezed out of the rental market. Literally squeezed out. Let me tell you their stories:
Maria* has lived in the same small, two-bedroom apartment since 2009. At first, she was with her parents and her brother, and now her parents are still part of the family living unit. Her father is still able to work and contribute to household expenses. Over the years, the owner has upgraded the other apartments in her building, raised the rent and attracted new tenants. On October 1, he notified her that she had to move out by November 1. Then, the unit would be remodeled during the next two months, and if she wanted to move back, the rent would be raised from the $1200 per month she had been paying to $2000 per month. She gets a little support from her parents, but the father of her child is in jail with a long sentence, so he’s no help. After a frantic search, filling out of applications, and multiple dashed hopes, she was fortunate to find a two-bedroom in Altadena for $1850, which she sees as a lucky break. Now, if she can only figure out how to supplement the income from her minimum wage job.
Samella* was already in Section 8 housing, for which she paid $1000 per month, before she became pregnant. Her landlord was constantly threatening her that he was going to charge her for routine maintenance that was his responsibility. Finally, he told her she had to leave because he was going to upgrade the unit and that, when he did, he wouldn’t offer it to her again. (When he did rent it out, the price for the new renter was $1500). It was about that time that she became pregnant, so now she had to look for housing for two. She had been holding down an entry-level job, but because of the stress of the pregnancy and the need to find housing, she lost it and had to go on welfare. The father-to-be wanted to stay and be a family, but he had no job and no prospects, so he actually became her dependent. There was a very tight cap on what she could afford. She had to go out to Azusa, miles from her friends and job prospects, to find a Section 8 unit she could afford at $1257 per month. She feels pretty hopeful about it, but it’s certainly going to be a real struggle.
DeeDee* has lived in the same apartment for twelve years, where her mother brought her up since her teens. During that time, the building has had three owners, and each one has raised the rent, from $1250 per month, then to $1485, then to $1750. Currently, DeeDee and her 6-year-old son still occupy the unit with her mom, who is on disability. In August, she was told she had to leave by October 1 so that the landlord could remodel the apartment. She asked for more time, based on the fact that she had been his tenant for so long, but he wouldn’t budge. She is currently paying at the new rate of $2,000 until she can find something more affordable. She does have some help from her child’s father and her mom’s disability check, but it’s still going to be impossible for them to stay where they are. She has since learned other disturbing facts. The “remodeling” of the unit will be superficial, amounting to new carpeting and repainting. Also, she found that the new residents in a similar, adjacent apartment are paying $2650 per month, so that is probably the landlord’s goal for her unit as well.
* * *
Do you think God might be challenging us to do something to encourage these single mothers and their children, just as he challenged his people of a different time and culture to care for the widows and orphans of their day? Any ideas?
— Pastor George Van Alstine
*The women’s names have been changed for privacy.