Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Posted: May 24, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Discrimination, Friendship, Goals, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness

Several weeks ago I published a post that ended up with the title "In Search Of…" which, toward the end, I mentioned that I wanted of place where I could cook a grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of tomato soup. I imagine the reason I mentioned the grilled cheese sandwich is that I had been craving one for quite some time.

Everyone I had spoken to or asked about it didn’t seem to know of anyplace in town where I could get one. But there we would be, talking about grilled cheese sandwiches with our mouths watering like we were Pavlov’s Dogs.  

Some would think that the dream of getting a grilled cheese sandwich as lacking in ambition, but when you’re homeless any goal is a challenge – no matter how small.

Which brings me to homeless support service organizations…

Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I am extremely disappointed and disillusioned with the way the homeless are treated, not only in my community, but throughout our country. And, it’s not just because I’m one of the homeless. I strongly dislike the very notion that any group or class of people are oppressed and discriminated against for any reason whatsoever. It grates loudly against my conscience.

I know that homeless support service agencies get very little funding from government sources. Most of their financial support tends to come from the local community, but it’s just not enough. And, because there is a lack of funding, it seems to me that these organizations have a difficult time at find the right kind of people to hire. And although there are exceptions, it seems to me that most of the people who end up working for these organizations are doing it just so they have a job and don’t end up homeless themselves.

Which brings me to…

Yesterday morning I attended a meeting of the Homeless Services Coordination Committee at the SLO Public Library.

I had never heard of this committee and knew nothing about what they do, what they are about, or what they are trying to accomplish or not accomplish. However, since the documentary film Suckerfish was being shown, and José Lemus, the film’s director, had asked if I would show up, I did.

At first I thought that the committee was made up of only San Luis Obispo city agencies, but as it turned out, the committee, was comprised of representatives from various non-profit agencies throughout the county and even from Santa Maria, which is part of northern Santa Barbara County.

This committee meets roughly once a month to have a "dialogue" about trying to coordinate their respective agencies services.

The first item on the agenda was a program – which I don’t remember it’s name – that was geared toward providing emergency services to people who might become homeless as a result of natural disasters. Not to take anything away from that specific program – which I did find interesting – but I was waiting to hear what this gathering were intending to do about those who were already homeless.

The second item on the agenda was the documentary film, Suckerfish.

This was the third time that I had seen the film, and it had the same impact on me the first two showings had had on me and left me feeling quite the same: empty and lonely – and not because I was one of those who had been interviewed for the film. The emotions that it stirred within me were as a result of some deep inner-seated sense of social and moral responsibility with regards to the homeless.

Admittedly, I had been apprehensive about attending the meeting in the first place, because I had a suspicion that one or more of the people who work for the local homeless support service organizations would also be present.

As I said earlier, I don’t have a great deal of regard for a number of the people who work for these organizations. But, also as I said earlier, there are exceptions. As such, I was extremely pleased to see a few staff members that I believe epitomize what a homeless support service providers should be – one of whom came up to me afterward, gave me a hug and expressed to me that they were proud of me. I hope they know how much it meant to me to hear them say those words.

And that brings me to José and Mary – the film’s director and producer – who were kind enough to take me to lunch afterward.

As we walked to the restaurant we spoke of a variety of things, including what my thoughts of the meeting. When we reached the restaurant, the topics ranged from homelessness to trivia about the Maya, to their children, to my making jokes about my age and everything in between.

After we placed our order with the waitresses, somewhere in the conversation the topic of grilled cheese sandwiches came up. I mentioned how I had been craving one for quite some time, but had failed to find a place in town where I could get one. Several moments later, Mary excused herself from the table to speak to one of the waitresses and them returned to the table and the conversation went on.

Perhaps ten minutes later, the waitress approached the table and to my utter astonishment (and lasting delight) placed a grilled cheese sandwich in front of me.

I don’t seem to remember grilled cheese sandwiches tasting quite that delicious, but apparently they do. Talk about having a happy tummy! Mine was singing for the rest of the day.

Businessmen will tell you that if you want to be successful that you must have a plan, that you must set goals that are attainable, and that you must set priorities. Most of all, you have to move toward the direction of your goals.

Perhaps it’s peculiar that one of my goals was a grilled cheese sandwich. And, while that goal was met through the compassionate and giving nature of two people for whom I have the highest regard, the goal has been reached and I can cross it off my list of things to do. I still have quite a long list of things that I would like to accomplish and goals that I want to achieve. For me it’s just a matter of taking one step at a time, moment-by-moment, day by day.

It makes me wonder about the Homeless Services Coordination Committee – how many goals have they been able to cross off on their list of things to do?

I realize that their budgets are limited. I know that they have operating expenses: bills, salaries and wages to pay and so on. And I know that they have to expend time and energy at getting both the community and local governments to help them in their efforts to provide services for the homeless.

From what I heard at the meeting yesterday, there are a few ideas that are being tossed about. But are they feasible and effective ways of dealing with homelessness in our community? Or are there other, more realistic approaches available?

As for myself, I have my own ideas of how to go about trying to reduce the number of homeless in our community. They aren’t quick fixes. They will require true dedication and time – and money. But according to a white paper I read about a week ago, studies show that it actually costs a local community more money to provide services to the homeless than it does to help get the homeless back on track to a "real" life.

That’s food for thought – just as that grilled cheese sandwich was food for my body.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Michael, I would encourage your presence, thoughts, and ideas at the Homeless Services Coordinating Council Meetings. It is has been my understanding that anyone interested in bettering services for our local homeless population is welcome to attend. Who better than someone that is currently “in the situation” to discuss the “situation” bringing it to life and bringing reality to the table!

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