Homeless 2016

February - June - August 2016

August 13, 2016

Showers for the Homeless today. I come home with a handful of stories and there's that - I come home. What to make of the young girl with her Scandinavian good looks, using language that made me blink, getting mad because a guy came and sat next to her and she didn't trust him - and it was time for her shower, but how could she leave her stuff with this man who might go through her things? And how the other women stepped up and tried to calm her down by telling her it's a public place, he is free to sit where he wants, and one of the big black mamas sits down in her chair and announces, "Ain't nobody takin' your stuff from ME." And how the girl went to her shower shouting to who knows who, "I've been trying to kill myself since I was seven years old..." She had a dog. An old dog with a white muzzle, "she's a therapy dog, I have papers." While the girl was in the shower, the old dog made her gentle rounds, letting everyone pet her. 

There was another teenage girl there with her mother. She gave me a flower she had made out of a strand of palm frond: "Nobody showed me how, I just started twisting the leaf and I made a flower!" She was so pleased with herself, her mother so proud. Why were they homeless? 

And then there was the very young girl, maybe 9 or 10, quicker on the ball than all of the grown-ups put together, darting about, making herself useful, helping me set up a table, helping hand out the men's clothes, the women's clothes... Who was she? And why was she there? In the classroom, she would be one of the helper kids that you would rely on in a heartbeat. 

There was the new volunteer, a big black man originally from New Orleans, come to live near his aunt and cousins for a while - both his parents had died in the past year. A teacher on sabbatical. He asked me if I was all right - he'd seen my face after the incident with the young girl and said, "If you need me, you just call - I have your back." 

And then there was the scrawny woman who shows up in skimpy tank top and tiny shorts, saying she was robbed of all her clothes except what she was wearing, and when I come back for her in the clothing room, one of the volunteers is giving her a hard time because she's trying to take extra clothes for her husband and two daughters, 'because they were robbed too" - and the rules say only people who are physically there can have clothes, and she appealed to me and I could make no headway with the volunteer who has been doing this for years and has heard all the stories and wasn't having any of it. But so what if it's a story? If there are no daughters or husband? The fact remains she's dressed in a tank top and tiny shorts and it is cold at night and who are we saving the clothes for anyway? Some other homeless person who is more deserving? I am so sorry I couldn't marshall my thoughts together on the spot. She was hustled out, the volunteer spitting after her to 'call the rector and complain, that would be good!' She whispers to me outside, "I thought this was a church?" I mumbled something about the rules. She listened, nodded and said, "Thank you, mama." When I came home, I cried for the lot of us - we who have so much, who can afford to play by rules, and those who have nothing and cannot.

June 11, 2016

Crazy day at the homeless shower program today at St. Luke's Long Beach : from the lady happily pouring handfuls of sugar over her head ("because I'm so sweet!"); to the one assuring me she was wearing a $100 jacket, very valuable - never mind the vomit down the sleeve; to the lady who would NOT get out of the shower ... finally she yelled 'Come in!' in answer to my knocking, which I did, thinking maybe she needed help - and there she was, stark naked under the running water, looking me in the eye, "You want me to come out like this?" Well, no. Then again, I was greeted with a huge hug from one of my favorites who wished me 'Happy Father's Day in advance'. I said, "That's nice, if I were a father." "Oh no," she said, "we each of us are half man and half woman, so the Happy Father's Day is to your man side." She made me smile. And it was such a gray, cold and miserable day, and yet how patiently they waited their turn, sitting out in the drizzle, smiling, gentle and mostly so polite. I finished my shift cold and damp myself, but I got to ride home in my car. I got to ride HOME. What a day.  

February 12, 2016

On this Saturday, the day before Valentine's Day, I have just spent a long morning volunteering for the first time with Long Beach Meditation at St. Luke's Church on Atlantic, five minutes away from home. St. Luke's runs only one of two programs in the city that offers a weekly shower to the homeless - as well as coffee, clean clothes and a free lunch. My job was to help run the women's side, writing down names on a clipboard, calling them out, reassuring people that their time would come, to be patient... I assisted a super organized young woman and relished NOT being the one in charge. Each person is allowed 8 minutes in the shower room, a timer keeps track and we bang on the door about half way through. Before they shower, they go to another room with more volunteers and get a new (clean) outfit and a towel. There is a lot of waiting. The atmosphere was one of friendliness and cooperation and care. There was a lot of waiting for us too, the volunteers. I liked talking to the people - I am so grateful for my English accent which through no effort on my part opens doors and seems to relax people. They can be frowning and on the verge of upset, and then I say something and they brighten and ask, "Are you from England?" and crisis is averted as we talk about that. I had no ideas in my head about what to expect from this morning. I didn't expect to enjoy myself so much, filling up the gigantic sugar bowl, the creamer, handing out tickets for free haircuts, helping a lady in distress find some Tampax, chatting to the young woman about her situation and seeing how her face lit up when she told me about her son who has a full scholarship at university in Pennsylvania, talking to the older man who said sadly he couldn't eat any of the free lunch (put on by another group of church volunteers) because he has celiac disease and is lactose intolerant and the list of things he can't eat is long and they were all in the lunch (hamburger macaroni cheese bake). I thought what the heck do you eat in winter on the streets if you are gluten intolerant? I learned they have a desperate need for underwear and socks, men's and women's. I know they ran out of long pants for the men. There was rumor that there was 'luggage' to be given away and everyone was excited about that, but it was only a rumor. Luggage with wheels is a big ticket item. As are blankets and backpacks. Little travel soaps and shampoos etc from hotels are gratefully received - volunteers put them in little bags, along with toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, chapstick. Floss for the women. How lovely to see them after their showers, clean and scrubbed, wearing fresh clothes.

Home now and I look with new eyes at my kitchen, so well stocked with anything I'd like to eat or drink at any time of day; my bathroom where I can shower or bathe or sit on a loo for as long as I please; my clothes - so many of them! And probably half of which I rarely wear. Sitting on the sofa, enjoying its comfort. Thinking of the gluten free chap who sank down into a hard wooden folding chair facing the sun, murmured 'It's so good to sit down' and promptly fell asleep. My cats are on the sofa with me - they are better fed and way more comfortable than any of the 150 people I saw today.

I feel sad, tired, grateful, sad. My thanks to Sam Hall for organizing this opportunity for LBM to help today. There is so much to do!