Today was a special day. I got to tour a homeless shelter very close to my home here in CA. The reason for the tour was two fold, but before I go into detail, let me relate to you the scene that greeted me as I drove up in my brand spanking new sports car, a car that I wished I’d left at home, and was met by a scene of such depravity, it made me ashamed that I actually belonged to a race called humanity, but incredibly proud to meet people who actually care and are trying hard to right this terrible wrong called homelessness.
I’ve had various dealings with the homeless throughout my life, from working closely with those who carry a real desire to get back on their own two feet, to assisting many charitable organizations who would like to raise money in the hope of ending homelessness, to simply being deliberately homeless myself, for a week. My biggest grievance with the human race, is that we allow homelessness in the first place. I look around, especially hard, in this area in which I live, Silicon Valley, and I wonder, often out loud, HOW CAN THIS BE??? There are so many clever people here, so many in fact, we are swamped by a ‘billionaire’ glut, spoilt for choice when naming someone who has redefined our modern planet with technology to die for, and yet, just in our small county alone, we have 7000+ people who are continually homeless and who have very little chance in their lifetime of ever being anything else. If you take a pen and draw a circle outside of this county, that number is multiplied by ten for every 20-40 miles it’s expanded. So pathetic, so ridiculous and so very frustrating.
When I arrived this morning, surrounded by a scene commonplace on many of today’s street corners, the thing that immediately struck me was how surreal the shelter seemed. There it stood, slap bang in the center of a prosperous neighborhood, (prosperous being perhaps the wrong word) where restaurants and large chain-stores occupy a huge mall and where droves of people line up daily to spend liberally on goods they really don’t require and feast on food they really don’t need, as they do, all over America, right in front of those who can’t and never will. The have’s and have nots, all together, although very separate, co-mingling in sprit alone, or perhaps never at all. My instant reaction when I got out my car in the parking lot, was to double check that the car was indeed locked and that no one was looking at me as I walked the 20 yards or so towards their reception area dressed in my Levi’s and my Nike shirt, standing out like a beacon amongst those would be watchers, all with lives that are supported generously by others and all dressed in clothes that were once worn by others, all living an existence we (as non homeless) hope is only ever lived by others. There was no malice in their stares, no jealousy, at least not that I could see, and a general acceptance that I was just another rich, lucky, comfortable fucker who was here to do something that might just help them all out one day. Although no one intimated that fact and no one even spoke to me, I felt I was being regarded as a somewhat of an interesting morning addition to another somewhat very uninteresting mundane day.
My tour guides, two wonderful ladies called Liz and Cindy, greeted me at the door and proceeded to escort me all over the shelter showing me everything from the kitchens to the sleeping accommodations, to the courtyard, where, on any given day, most of the residents or those who are just passing through, are able to rest, contemplate and chat amongst themselves, trading stories, experiences and perhaps a cigarette or two, in an effort to make the acquaintance of a new friend. Their safety, nutrition and and perhaps even their sanity, guaranteed, if not for ever, then certainly just for today. Veterans made up a large part of this complex, some watching a movie, some assisting the permanent work force, and some just taking council from those who are their to give. This was not paradise and indeed this was no party, but what it was, what it always will be, hope!
With my tour complete, I bombarded my hosts with a multitude of questions, each one carefully chosen in order that I might find a way to help, to assist, to raise money and awareness for a cause I deeply relate to and sincerely believe in. By the time we finished we had a plan, if not cast in stone, good enough to make me go straight to my doctor and take a TB test ( a requirement for anyone who wants to work there) in order that next week or the week after I can be passed fit to undertake volunteer service in the center’s kitchen. They serve 250 to 500 men and women a day in that kitchen, depending on occupancy, and this folks, is where my new challenge shall begin. My aim, my ambition, my desire, is to help this shelter and perhaps some others, to attain the proper funding they require to once and for all rid this city, and then all other cities, of the homelessness and despair that has blighted our landscape for too long.
Look out for more articles on this matter, coming soon and in the meantime, if you see someone who is genuinely homeless, please try and help them out. A small gesture can often go a very long way.