Reverend Zac Morton wants us to understand the causes and consequences of extreme poverty.
Sleeping in a tent on a porch in Grafton Monday night, Zac Morton heard someone walk onto the porch. He didn’t know who it was, and it made him think about the vulnerability of people who sleep outdoors.
“We just don’t stop to think about the anxious situation that folks can be in whenever they’re unsheltered,” he said in a video Tuesday morning. “We don’t often take time to consider the emotional toll that takes on folks.”
A pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, Morton is walking to Charleston—175 miles in nine days—to draw attention to the causes and consequences of extreme poverty in West Virginia. That was his first night, after 26 hilly miles. Today, Thursday, he’s on Day 4.
Morton’s #walk4wv campaign and fundraiser takes a different theme each day. In video updates, he jumps off from his experience of living outdoors, carrying his belongings, and not knowing where he’ll sleep that night to reflect on larger issues—problems like social stigma, affordable housing, and criminalizing poverty.
His videos are an easy, good-natured watch, and they make you think.
“We’re conditioned somewhere socially to just keep walking by folks when we see them on the street and it looks like they’re experiencing extreme poverty—when it looks like they’re houseless,” he said in a Monday update. It makes them feel invisible, he’s learned in his relationships with people who are sleeping rough. “I don’t think it’s necessary. We can acknowledge their humanity a little more, treat them like anyone we might see on the street. Say hello. Be nice.”
Morton thinks about the words we use. “I’m using ‘houselessness’ because, especially when I think about my friends and folks in Morgantown, they have a home. Morgantown is their home.”
To illustrate how hard it is to get back into housing, Morton raised the example on Tuesday of the homeless encampment in Morgantown. Earlier in the summer, the City planned to have everyone housed in two weeks. “It’s been way longer than that,” he said without judgment. “I think they just had a really unrealistic expectation because they don’t know what it takes to navigate the situation.” He takes it to its logical conclusion: “If a city—a city government—can’t figure out how to get these folks into places within a matter of weeks, then you think that folks who are experiencing that have a chance of getting through quickly?”
Follow Morton at @walk4wv on Facebook to hear his thoughts on other facets of extreme poverty:
Day 5, Friday, September 25 Substance use, harm reduction, and peer recovery coaches
Day 6, Saturday, September 26 Living wage, ID documents, and red tape
Day 7, Sunday, September 27 Supporting direct service organizations
Day 8, Monday, September 28 Food and health care access
Day 9, Tuesday, September 29 End the invisibility
You can also follow him at @walk4wv on Instagram, or visit walk4wv.org to learn more. Better yet, join him on any leg of his walk. Or donate on his gofundme page to help him get to $10,000 in support of Milan Puskar Health Right’s work to house the homeless.