Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween and Homelessness

On Saturday evening we had the privilege of attending the Lucas Arts Halloween Bash held in downtown San Francisco.  We excitedly prepared for the event, primping, making last minute costume alterations, etc. with our 4 year old daughter.  (Our littlest one was staying home for the evening with Grandma.)  As we approached our destination we drove under a freeway overpass and saw a woman wearing only a t-shirt on a chilly Bay Area evening, walking with a jogging stroller not unlike one we have at home.  She was clearly strung out on something.  Our hearts dropped thinking there was a child in the stroller.   Thankfully after a few seconds it was apparent that there wasn't.  We parked, entered the party and had a good time.   When getting into our car to leave, we noticed there were several carts and boxes put up as makeshift homes along the sidewalk that weren't there before.   There was an older woman, that looked to be my mother's age just sitting and staring into the darkness.  I wondered if she was someone's grandma.  Driving home,  the San Francisco streets were filled with a mix of costumed party-goers and the homeless.  Sometimes it was hard to tell them apart.

Living in sleepy Marin County, we don't see much of this, yet we are no strangers to it.  We spent most of our adult lives, (to date) in Los Angeles where homelessness runs rampant.  In Los Angeles, most people turn a blind eye.  They are in a sense, "desensitized".   It's not entirely their fault.  When one looks into the situation, it truly seems helpless...even from a standpoint of wanting to help.  To offer a solution, one must know the root of the problem.  Pondering the problem of homelessness is extremely overwhelming.  It involves so many facets, the breakdown of the American family,  lack of funding for mental illness, etc., etc., etc.,   All I know is that every human being should have the right to a clean and safe bed, at the very least. 

Pregnant with my 2nd daughter, just before we left LA, I did some on-line research of LA's skid row after hearing about an awful story involving the death of a baby.  (Someone official had authorized a homeless man to take care of an infant and within 24 hours she was dead).    I wanted to help in some way.  The thought of people, especially children and babies living and dying down there was unbearable.  "Down there," meaning less than 20 miles away from the snooty neighborhood where we lived.  (Zip Code: 90211)  While trying to find a way to get involved, I met dead end after dead end.  So I bought a bunch of socks off of Ebay and drove them to a downtown shelter on Christmas Eve day.  It was something, but not enough.  Certainly not a step towards a solution.

Here are some things I learned while living in Los Angeles.  1.  Skid Row is like a 3rd world country and in many respects worse;  riddled with violence, drugs, and unthinkable living conditions.  (It's only blocks away from the fancy financial district of downtown LA.)   2.  Cities around the country pass out one-way bus vouchers to homeless persons.  The destination on these one-way bus tickets?  Los Angeles.   Maybe because it's warmer in LA or maybe the cities don't want to deal with the issue.  Out of sight, out of mind?  I'm surprised the city of LA is OK with that.  Are they getting some funding by providing this "service?" If there is funding, I wonder if it is getting allocated in such a way to help the homeless? 

Recently I learned that many cities have skid rows, much like the one in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately things have gotten worse with the economy.  We as a country not only have the homeless problem we had 5+ years ago, but we now have tent cities springing up all over the nation, filled with people that had their homes foreclosed on, people who lost their jobs/unemployment benefits, etc..  These new tent cities are said to be filled with ex-members of the forever shrinking middle class.   Old homeless and now the new homeless.  John Edwards wasn't the strongest presidential candidate but I truly appreciated his bringing awareness to the issue of homelessness in America.  It was on his radar.  His presidential platform.  I haven't seen this discussed by anyone else to date, yet the problem has gotten worse.

Eradicating homelessness should be on all of our minds.  Why don't we ever hear about it?  I posted a video I came across on Youtube.  (There are several to look at).   I posted this one because not only does it give "a face" to the homeless, but also it has intermittent information about homelessness in general.  Awareness and education might be a good start to end homelessness.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSaIMMetVUI&feature=fvwrel 

One thing to remember is that we are all human.  We are all connected. 

I will gather socks and other necessities again to donate. This year I will be adding cloth diapers to those supplies.    If I figure out something else more useful to do, I will post it.  

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