Living Large at the Center for the Working Poor (aka the Burning Bush Community)

December 6th, 2007


I am still living in an intentional community called the Center for the Working Poor, or the Burning Bush community. Over a year ago, when I said that I was starting a community and a “non-profit organization”–and then started talking about a vision of the community growing to take over the world–I admit that it might have sounded little over-ambitious. People sometimes responded, “What are you talking about? This isn’t an organization… It’s just Paul and Clayton living in a one-bedroom apartment, eating rice and beans.” Sad to say, they had a point.

Today I’m pleased to report that the Center now seems like a real place, and the vision of the community, even if it is still in its early stages, is something that people can really see. We moved into a beautiful, well-lit, bourgeois Victorian house. Although the rent is remarkably low, I am ashamed to admit the house doesn’t really fit into our definition of “voluntary poverty.” In fact, after much discussion, we decided to give up the phrase “voluntary poverty” in favor of “voluntary simplicity.” I still live off of $200 a month, 90 percent of the food I eat comes from dumpsters, and I have no health insurance. Yet my life is hardly a Spartan existence or what most people would define as poverty. The food from the dumpsters includes more gourmet items and desserts than I have ever consumed in my life. We have so many donated kitchen appliances at the Center that–even though we have given many away (and plan to give away more)–we still are in possession of three coffee makers, a food dehydrator, two high powered fruit juicers, and I don’t know what else. Everything I really need is provided for me by the community: shelter, a communal car, a house computer with Internet access, and even a semi-working cell phone. I never go out to eat except to get coffee or the one-dollar rice-and-bean burrito at El Pollo Loco. Still, by my standards, I am living large.

We moved in to our new house because the community is growing so quickly. We have many more people living with us than before. We currently have six people living in the community; in addition, a constant flow of relatives, visitors, and workers stay at the house. Trent and I are full-time volunteers for the Center. The other housemates have jobs as community and labor organizers, fighting for the working poor. They are all on our board of directors contribute their personal time to the Burning Bush. We had two additional full-time volunteers over the summer– Johannes from Germany and Moises from Mexico by way of Colorado. Both lent a special personality to the house and together made for interesting conversations about German beer culture and Mariachi music.

Once a week we deliver hundreds of dollars worth of groceries to families who are in need of some help. We know the families pretty well at this point. They are wonderful people and are happy to invite us into their homes. We are also trying to help unemployed workers navigate the bureaucracies of the welfare and disability systems –something we we’ve been wanting to do more of for a long time.

I now believe that the biggest problem facing the poor in America is lack of healthcare. Not just is it hard for many to find affordable healthcare, but also it is one reason that employers fire their workers. Obviously it is illegal to fire a worker because they report an injury, but there are a lot of legal loopholes, and if the corporations want to fire someone they can just make up a reason to do it. Half of our families had a working family member fired because that person reported an injury to their employer, or were hurt on the job. I am not a healthcare provider, so I thought that I could do nothing to help these families, except refer them to a free healthcare clinic. For many workers this referral to a free clinic has been a godsend.

This work aside, I spend most of my time building community here at the house. Housemates, organizers, and workers come together for community dinners and for bi-weekly educational events and discussion groups about non-violent direct action. I am also very involved in working with different unions and immigrant rights groups to support efforts to win comprehensive immigration reform. This work is a frequent topic of discussion and reflection at the Center.

I can’t tell for sure how much progress we’re making toward the goal of taking over the world. To be honest, at this point I’m happy to just be getting by financially as the community grows. I am extremely grateful to all the people who have supported us with donations and letters of encouragement. Almost all of our support comes in small monthly donations of $10 and $20. Over a hundred people have contributed financially to the Center, and many give once a month. Nevertheless, we are still struggling to make ends meet, so we appreciate any additional donations. If you want to donate you can donate through our website center for the working poor

Or this link


It is a link to CLUE clergy and Latity United for Economic Justice—all donations that you make will go straight to us.


Paul Engler

PS: I have gotten request for and have done a few radio interviews since starting the center, and I have gotten some rave reviews about this particular interview—I wonder what you think.

Click here. http://www.centerfortheworkingpoor.org/devangrace_interview.mp3

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