This has been a pretty mild winter Makes you want to sleep outside, doesn’t it? No? You can’t even imagine it?
Well, there are hundreds of people, men, women and children, who don’t need to imagine it because it’s their reality, night after night after night after night. These are the homeless people, one of whom tonight may sleep a few hundred feet from your warm bed.
Since 2005, the City of Pasadena, in partnership with several local community-based caring agencies, has done a one-day census in late January of the homeless people who sleep without any real shelter, exposed to the elements, along the City’s streets. This information is important for the Federal funding the City receives and in applying for other kinds of grants. The highest count was 1,137 in 2010; last year, the number was 772.* This year’s total has not yet been published, since the count was done just last Wednesday.
My daughter Laura was involved in that count, and I interviewed her in order to share with you what her experience was like. She has worked as a staff person at Pasadena’s Bad Weather Shelter for the past seven years, after working in a volunteer role five years before that. Over that time, she has seen the humanity of the individuals in our community who have no home but the streets. This is what motivated her to participate in the count.
“They teamed me with a man young enough to be my son and a woman old enough to be my mother. Our territory covered all the streets between Hill Avenue and Sierra Madre Boulevard, north of Colorado Boulevard and south of Walnut Street. We had one of sixteen zones in the City.”
How did you do the count? “We went through the area twice, first between six and eight AM, then again between eight and ten PM.” We looked in parking lots and alleys, under shrubs and trees, anywhere there might be a hidden corner. When we found someone, we’d show them our ID badges and tell them we’re with the City, trying to find out how many people are living on the streets. We’d ask if they’d be willing to answer a few questions.”
Did most of them do that? “No, only four. Some of the others asked how much we’d pay them. Others just didn’t want to be bothered. Between the morning and the evening walk-throughs, we identified fourteen different women and men who were living in our zone without a home. This was in a section of the City where you might not expect to find homeless people.”
Any people stand out in your mind? “I won’t use any real names, of course. I remember Donald because he was so friendly. I talked with him in the morning, and in the evening he was there again, and he called me by name, ‘Hi, Laura!'”
“John lived alongside a gas station. The owners knew he was there and felt okay about it. He was a vet with some serious issues. We referred him to receive a follow-up visit. It seemed too bad that this man could serve his country and then not get the services he needed because of government cutbacks.”
“Then there was the ‘Ghost Person.’ In the morning we thought we saw someone lying under some shrubs, but it was just a pile of folded blankets. We thought this might be someone’s reserved space. Sure enough, the ‘Ghost Person’ arrived during our night visit and set up his bed.”
From all your years working at the Shelter and now seeing these people where they try to settle down and rest at night, how does this make you feel? “First, I really appreciate that I have a home to live in. Any time it rains, I think of the homeless people I’ve met and wonder what they’re going through. It makes me feel bad.”
A lot of people feel bad, and that makes them pull away into their gated community so they don’t have to see these people. Why don’t you just stay away from homeless people so you don’t have to feel bad about them? “Because I have to do something. I can’t solve all their problems, but I have to try to do something to make things better.”
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Jesus, in Matthew 25:35-40)
— Pastor George Van Alstine