Category Archives: Homelessness

Adult Problems

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Less than two weeks ago, I went back to New York City for my 30th college reunion. I was more interested in reconnecting with my girlfriends than with my college and university, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wave of nostalgia that came over me as I revisited campus and some of my favorite off-campus haunts. This milestone reunion also gave me a chance to look back at a carefree and idealistic version of myself.

One morning as two friends and I were walking the short block from our hotel to the nearest subway station, I glanced to my right and saw a man under a blanket sleeping on the sidewalk up against the side of a building. It was around 11 a.m., the day was well underway, and a food vendor stood at his cart less than twenty feet away from the sleeping man. “How horrible and how nice that no one has checked on this man or shooed him away,” I thought to myself.

On my last subway ride back to my hotel the night before I was scheduled to fly home, a man boarded the train pushing a stroller. He announced that he was visually impaired and was struggling to provide for himself and his son. The toddler in the stroller stared at me, his big round eyes pools of weariness. His little face was dirty, as were his clothes. A tourist sitting across from me handed the man some change and told him, in his Australian accent, to get his son to bed because it was late. The man feebly replied that he was trying to do that.

I’m sure I saw the same types of things when I went to college in New York City back in the 1980’s. Maybe seeing such things made me feel badly for a moment. Now these images won’t leave me. Back then I could hide behind the excuse that I was still a kid and these were adult problems for the adults to worry about. My job was about classes, homework, papers, and exams. It never occurred to me that I would inherit the task of dealing with homelessness, because the grownups would handle it. Thirty-four years after I started college, the issue of homelessness looms over many-most-all big cities in our country; adults have not handled it. There is no shortage of intelligence to harness for solutions, only a shortage of willingness to prioritize solutions and to work together to implement them.

It’s true, school days are to be relished because the grownup world is hard. Adult problems like homelessness, poverty, bigotry, racism, and war seem impossible to fix. I don’t think we’ll fix them until we fix the root of all these problems – adults.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

The Pedaling Shepherd

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Sister Libby Fernandez of the Sisters of Mercy is legendary in Sacramento, California. She has been the Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes, a private charity that serves the hungry and the homeless, for 11 years. She joined Loaves and Fishes in 1985 as a volunteer. In the 32 years that she has been with this organization, it has blossomed to have a budget of six million dollars, 80 employees, and 12 programs with services that include hot meals, restroom facilities, showers, day and overnight shelters for women and children, medical and mental health care, and a school for children between the ages of three and fifteen.

It’s not Sister Libby’s prodigious work with Loaves and Fishes that recently caught my attention, however. She has announced that she will leave Loaves and Fishes to start a new ministry called Mercy Pedalers. On an adult electrical tricycle, she (and volunteers, in case you’re interested) will go to meet homeless individuals where they are instead of waiting for them to come to Loaves and Fishes, something which may never happen for some.

Unfettered by the administrative duties of being Executive Director, Sister Libby hopes to bring people more than needed supplies. She wants to build connections and trust. By helping people to build self-respect, she hopes they will decide to move forward with their lives and trust her to link them to the services that will help with that next step.

Imagining Sister Libby on her tricycle searching for people who feel forgotten or unwanted in order to help them believe that they matter and are loved, I can’t help but recall the parable about the lost sheep and the shepherd. Jesus taught that the good shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep to find the one lost. I get it, Sister Libby. Ride on.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

Man in the Vestibule

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This photo of homeless protestors outside Sacramento City Hall appeared in an article by Steve Milne in Sacramento Capital Public Radio News on January 26, 2017. 

A homeless man died outside Sacramento City Hall the other night. He was the second man to die outside City Hall in a week. It has been a wet and cold winter so far, and homeless people have left their campsites at the river’s flooded banks. Some of them, like this man, found spaces to sleep under the well-lit overhangs of City Hall.

The paper said the man had nothing but the clothing on his body to keep him warm. This immediately brought me back to a homeless man my husband and I were startled to find sleeping in a parking garage two weeks ago. We had dinner downtown and were returning to our car, parked on the roof of a public parking garage. The elevator doors opened inside a tiny vestibule that offered some shelter from the cold and the rain. Our laughter was abruptly cut short as we stepped out of the elevator and saw a man sleeping on the floor to our right.

The first thing that struck me was how long his body was. He had to curl up into an almost fetal position to fit into the space between the elevator door and the door that led to the garage roof. His face was light tan. His skin was clean and unwrinkled. He was clean-shaven and handsome. His black hair was streaked with long strands of white. His pants and coat were dark.

I didn’t want to wake him. It was well before 8 p.m., but how was I to know if this would be the only rest he would get that night? I didn’t stand over him and stare – it felt invasive to catch the glimpse that I did – but I saw so much in the few seconds it took me to walk past him.

“He had nothing,” I said to my husband when we were a few steps beyond the door that led out to the roof. “He had no blanket, no backpack, no bags. Nothing.”

And then came the silence in the car as we tried to process what we just saw. Wrestling with helplessness and guilt, we started to make our way down to the first floor of the garage. We spotted a young man carrying a broom and a dustpan. The wet spots and smell of urine in the elevator when we arrived; the wet, washed floor of the elevator when we were leaving; the man sleeping in the vestibule; and the anxious look on the attendant’s face as we passed him – it all made sense. Would the police come to escort the homeless man from the garage if the attendant called? Would the attendant let the man sleep there as long as no one complained?

I felt sad when I read about the second homeless man to die outside City Hall in a week’s time, but the sight of that man sleeping in the vestibule that night was personal. If you don’t want to be racked by helplessness and guilt, look away from the homeless. But if, like me, you happen to glance at a homeless person and see this person – really see this person – you’re screwed. You might be haunted into action.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

Invisible Capes

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If you’re going through a tough time, privately or publicly, may you outlast it. When you do, you might feel like you have nothing to show for it. If you’ve lost your job, your house, your spouse, or your family, the word, “survivor,” might ring hollow for you. Don’t do that to yourself.

“Survive” comes from the Latin word, “supervivere” – super (over, beyond) and vivere (to live). If you’re a survivor, you’re a superhero, even as you look for your next job, even if you have no roof over your head, even if your relationship didn’t last, even if your loved ones are no longer with you.

If you’re still standing, even if you’re leaning against something, remember that the days of your tough times are numbered. You’re a superhero; you need only one person in the world to know this – yourself – but I know it, too.

 

©Living off Island, writingwahine, 2014.