I’m having a liberal crisis of faith and it’s all because of parking.
Parking brings up a lot of issues for me. I worry about finding parking when I travel and I get angry when someone takes my parking place at home.
I say “my” parking space, but we don’t have assigned spaces. We don’t even have paved parking areas.
The unspoken agreement (although unspoken isn’t quite right because I’ve told my neighbors it’s a rule so they’d leave my space alone) is that the first townhouse has two spaces, then the second has two and the third has two and so on. Guests park along the street.
Very little makes me angrier than coming home late at night to discover a neighbor is having a party and someone has parked in my space.
It’s not that I can’t walk an extra hundred feet to my door, it’s just that I live here. I pay the mortgage. I should have that space no matter what time I return home.
But this isn’t about party-goers parking in my spot or even about not being able to find a parking space at a concert or restaurant.
A few weeks ago a strange car started parking in front of our townhouse overnight. It would appear late in the afternoon and disappear sometime after I got up but before I left for work.
Because our community has townhouses and detached houses, and the detached house people seem to think they are a little better than the townhouse people, at first we thought someone had instructed their visitor to park at the townhouses because they didn’t want to clutter up their street with an extra car.
But then my mother saw a young woman park the car and head down the hill, out of the community, so we thought she was catching a ride with someone and using our parking to leave her car.
We debated what to do. It seemed petty to report it to the police, but who wants strange cars sitting around all the time?
Then one Saturday morning, I came downstairs early and started making coffee. I saw a man get out of the mystery car, pee in the grass and get back in.
That’s when I realized that someone was probably living in that car and needed a safe, out of the way place to park overnight.
This is where the liberal crisis of faith comes in.
My first reaction was “I don’t want people living in their cars in my yard.”
Then I immediately felt guilty. What harm are they doing, really? Besides peeing on the grass.
They weren’t taking up my parking space, or that of any other resident. They weren’t noisy and didn’t appear dangerous.
And I felt sorry for them.
So why does the idea of homeless people sleeping in their car in the parking lot bother me?
In grad school one of my fellow students introduced me to the concept of NIMBY, not in my back yard.
These are the folks that say they support drug rehabilitation or are against racism, but then complain when a methadone clinic opens next door or a Chinese-American family moves into the neighborhood.
They’re liberal and accepting until it gets too close to home. Not in my back yard.
There’s a very public case of NIMBY on in my town right now.
A non-profit organization wants to open a halfway house. It got all the permits and approval from the town, but next door to the property is a church, not a big church with a large organization behind it, but one of those little churches started in someone’s home.
The church doesn’t want the halfway house next door. They have a day care center and don’t want their precious born-again babies to be anywhere near nasty druggies and drunks. (I’m paraphrasing.)
No one seems to see the irony of these self-proclaimed Christians turning away the very people who Jesus championed (if you believe in all that.)
And I’d bet if you had asked the entrepreneurial pastor back before the halfway house decided to move in, he would have been all for helping those poor unfortunate souls.
I don’t want to be like that.
I recently heard an article on Public Radio about a church in the south that allowed people living in their cars to park in their lot at night. They even left the church open so they could use the bathrooms.
The homeless people they interviewed were so relieved that they had a safe place to park. The bathroom access was so exciting that one woman cried.
I think about how stressed I get about parking when I’m traveling. I can’t imagine having to worry about it all the time, knowing whether or not I was able to sleep depended on a parking space.
Maybe the reason I feel uncomfortable is that having homeless people in my yard makes me feel guilty about what I have.
I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a nice home and a car. I can pay the bills and even buy little splurges like e-books and movie tickets.
I wish I could say I went outside and invited the people in the car in to use my bathroom. But it didn’t seem safe for two single women to invite strangers into their home, homeless or not.
The car stayed later than usual that day and before they left, a couple of my neighbors stopped in back of it and had a nice long chat, not knowing there were people inside because the windows were covered in condensation.
The car left almost as soon as my neighbors parted ways and it hasn’t been back.
I hope they found someplace else to safely park. And I hope if they come back, I’ll have the courage to leave a thermos of coffee or bottle of orange juice for them, because I don’t like being a NIMBY.