Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lost Income, Lost Faith

His survey simply stated, "Lost Income, Lost Faith." He  is homeless, living in an abandoned building and he was eating lunch at the Open Door Food Kitchen on the day of the Summer Point In Time Homeless Count. But the thing is, his is just 1 of 50 survey sheets I tabulated today. Every one of those sheets represents a real person who was homeless on Wednesday July 28, 2010.

Volunteers and staff from local agencies counted 170 people who were homeless on that day. Emergency shelters were assisting 120 people and we found 50 living unsheltered. Both numbers represent the highest totals we have ever recorded in our community. Both numbers are very sad and distressing.

I talked to "Juan" for quite some time. He is the father of 5 children, all of whom were with him that day, eating at the Food Kitchen. His wife was working while he was taking care of the kids. Cute kids, very nice family. His oldest, a fifth grader proudly told me he was on the honor roll at his school. Juan told me how he moved to St Joseph for  a better job. Soon after he started the job he got hurt and had surgery on his back. His wife's wages couldn't cover their housing and everything else and they lost their place to live. She is fearing layoffs where she is now working, he wants to work but his back limits what he will be able to do. The family was living in their car. Seven people in a car, in the 90 plus degree heat.

Juan was able to get help for his family. He qualified for a program that helps people who lost jobs get back into stable housing. With help from InterServ and a local pastor the family was able to get out of the car and now has a place to live.

I'd like to just stop right now. End with the "feel good" story of the family of seven who got off the street. But then I look over at the pile of sheets on my desk. Those lavender colored forms that represent all the other people who are likely still on the street today. And I wonder how many people did we miss?

I walked through the woods that day, climbed a fence, poked around under a bridge. I found a place where a homeless person is staying. It's a cardboard box flattened out between a bridge pillar and some big rocks. You can't see it from the road, it's well hidden. There was a blanket in the corner and some toiletries arranged on the rock like you might arrange things on your bathroom sink area. This is someone's home. I left a bag filled with some soap, toothpaste and other similar items. That's about all I could do. Even if the person had been there I had little to offer him. The shelters are full the housing programs have waiting lists and he probably knows about the Food Kitchen.

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