This AP story sheds light on what may become our next big problem: a pecking order among those in need. Like Fresno’s mayor, Alan Autry, many want to rush out and invite the evacuees to their towns and churches. That’s great.

However, many towns and cities and rural areas, like Fresno, already have people who are in need of housing and other services. So what happens to them? Do they get leapfrogged by out-of-town natural disaster survivors?

It may seem like a crude question and one we’d rather avoid discussing. That would be a mistake. G. Todd Williams, pastor of New Covenant Christian Church in Houston, ever-so-gently warned of this problem right after Katrina. His church ministers to the homeless, particularly youth and young adults. He sees the great need ever day. The influx of new homeless to Houston creates more difficulty for the already-homeless; more danger that they will be forgotten or ignored.

So what are we to do? I don’t have any answers here. And I continue to be impressed by the response of churches and faith groups and caring individuals.

But like the hurricane itself, the spreading of refugees is exposing poverty that has been long-ignored, by the government and sometimes, by the faith community. Are we hypocrites for falling all over ourselves to help out-of-town folks when we have been overlooking the needy in our own communities?

Your first response might be ‘No! The evacuees couldn’t help it. A natural disaster caused their situation. It wasn’t their fault!’

So they are more deserving? What about the slow-motion hurricane of economic and social forces that contributes to ordinary poverty? Is it invisible just because we can’t watch it develop on the Weather Channel?

Make no mistake, there is an implicit pecking order, imposed by well-meaning folks, on the needy. Domestic disaster evacuees come first. Then, political refugees with ‘legal’ status. Then, the homeless. At the bottom, “illegal aliens” who suffer and die in the desert by the hundreds, and in the trunks of cars or in overheated railcars or packed into semi-trailers.

We have shown how much we CAN care. Before we return to the status quo and pat ourselves on the back, assured our good works will please God, we need to ask some hard questions of ourselves and of our political leaders.

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