December 10, 2020
By Todd Stillerman
2020 marks the fiftieth holiday season of my life. Debbie’s parents live in New England, and she decided when we got married that we would not be traveling northward for holidays (we visit in the spring and fall). Thanks to her generosity, I have spent 49 consecutive Thanksgivings and Christmases with my parents. That’s 49 turkey dinners, 49 stockings hanging from the mantle, and 98 family photos for the archives. 2020 also marks a historic pandemic that continues to rage across the country. Infection is spreading and physical contact is dangerous. My parents are in their 70s, and Debbie has a vulnerable immune system. I wasn’t surprised when Dad called last week to let me know he and Mom couldn’t host Thanksgiving or Christmas this year. With my three brothers and their families, we now have 20 Stillermans to accommodate, and that’s too many people for an indoor gathering. I wasn’t surprised, but I was still disappointed. If there is anywhere I feel the warmth of God’s hands reaching out to me, it’s when I can celebrate with family. The fellowship that comes from in-person gatherings is hard to replicate through a webcam. While I am sure God can reach us through Zoom or WebEx if she chooses to do so, I was still feeling pretty low.
Perspective was revealed in short order, however, when I logged into a presentation from our friends at Legal Aid of North Carolina about an expected rise in evictions coming to our community and around our nation. I will still celebrate my holidays in a warm house with Debbie and the kids. Others will not be so lucky. Many pandemic relief programs, including several moratoriums on evictions, are scheduled to expire in January. Legal aid providers expect a surge in evictions in Mecklenburg County in the New Year, and countless families will lose their homes. The cost of evictions for families, neighborhoods and the community extends beyond just the physical removal from a dwelling. Evictions impact the well-being of families and children, create residential instability and perpetuate patterns that lead to disparity rather than upward mobility. Maybe those were God’s hands reaching out to me, or at least poking at me to count my blessings. My family is safe and healthy. We do count ourselves lucky that the only burden we are bearing is an inconvenience. I resolved to use my hands to make a difference in the community by volunteering to represent tenants facing eviction in court. If you’re a lawyer, you can join me. There is no right to a lawyer in a civil eviction case, so almost all tenants are unrepresented. Studies show that tenants who have a lawyer are much more likely to secure relief (even when that lawyer is a volunteer).
If you’re not a lawyer, there are lots of things you can do to support families in our area as they face eviction:
· You can regularly contact your state and federal representatives to encourage them to pass legislation that extends pandemic relief efforts and expands social safety nets for your neighbors.
· You can get involved and volunteer with local organizations (and you should also give them some of your money whenever you can). Legal Aid of North Carolina (https://www.legalaidnc.org/give-help/donate) represents tenants around the state; the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy (https://charlottelegaladvocacy.org/donate/) represents
immigrants and non-citizens in eviction matters in Charlotte.
· You can support and, if you are able, join those who are working for racial equity (https://racialequity.org/racial-justiceorganizations-and-resources/). Unsurprisingly, people of color are even more vulnerable to eviction and other consequences of poverty.
By taking action, we, like the hands of God can extend hope to others in our community. I will try to focus my thoughts on that hope during this unusual holiday season.