One of the historic landmarks here in SLO is the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. This city actually derives it’s name from the Mission. To say that it is a beautiful place would be an understatement.

Built in the late 1700’s, it is one of a string of missions that were built all up and down the California coast. Beside it’s main Sanctuary, there are also a series of out buildings that were used for various things.

Right, during the Christmas season, there is a Christmas tree and a type of "Santa’s House" were families can bring their children to talk to Santa so they can tell him what they would like him to bring them this year.  

Yesterday morning, as I walked through the "plaza" section of the Mission, there were already a lot of people moving about – some where coming out of the sanctuary, some where walking and talking as they looked at the tree or at Santa’s house, and others (who I think may have been tourists – but around here you never know) were taking pictures of themselves, their family and friends in front of the Christmas tree.

Sitting on one of the benches drinking a cup of 7-11 coffee was a gentleman who I happen to know is homeless. I’ve seen him around and have spoken with him on a number of occasions. Basically he has a quite demeanor. Doesn’t bother anyone. Doesn’t cause a fuss. Tries to maintain some form of "decorum" about himself. But because he doesn’t use either the day center or the night shelter does from time to time start looking a bit grungy.

From the times I’ve spoken with him I’ve managed to gather that he’s been homeless for quite some time now. However, because he doesn’t really have any type of employment skills, he hasn’t been able to find any type of jobs that would help him get ahead. Most of the jobs he has had have always been temporary work that lasts two or three days at most. "Between" jobs he recycles to put money in his pocket. However, because he recycles at night to have a better chance at finding enough aluminum cans and plastic bottles, staying at the homeless shelter at night is – at least for him – out of the question.

During the day, after he’s "grabbed a bite" to eat at 7-11 or one of the other convenience stores he’ll head over to the Mission for 30 minutes or so to have a cup of coffee and afterwards heads off to find a place to sleep for a couple of hours until one of the recycling centers opens, where he will take his cans and bottles to have money enough to live on the next day. This is pretty much is regular routine. And it’s pretty much the only life he has.

As easy as it would be to say that someone should do something to help this man, he is one of those homeless who seems to fall between the cracks of the system. He doesn’t have an alcohol or drug addiction. He isn’t a trouble maker; an ex-con; doesn’t have a mental or physical disability. He is just one among thousands upon thousands Americans who have found themselves homeless due to circumstances beyond their control and, who have never been able to find a way out of homelessness.

From what little I’ve been able to glean from some of my conversations with him, he once upon a time worked as unskilled labor for a small business that found itself going out of business and couldn’t find a job afterward. As a result when he could no longer pay his rent was evicted. He has never recovered and has been homeless ever since – and has pretty much given up all hopes of ever being able to leave homelessness behind.

Yesterday morning, as I saw him sitting there, I was extremely disappointed to see how many of the folks who were at the Mission during this season of "goodwill toward all men" looked at him with distaste. Worse than that were those who deliberately pretended he wasn’t there at all. As far as they were concerned, he could have been just a rock or an old tree stump.

He saw me as I headed over to where he was sitting. As I drew near, he stood up to "greet" me. I know he wanted to shake hands, but was embarrassed to because he had been "canning" all night and, although he had washed his hands, wasn’t sure if they were "clean enough" to shake hands with me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed several folks who were walking by look at me in disgust for talking with him, and with even more disgust as I passed him a few dollars.

The truth is that I felt sorry not for this man, but for those around us who couldn’t see the humanity in him; who couldn’t see that this was another member of our community regardless of his social or economic status. Just the fact that he was a fellow human being made him worthy to be shown mercy and compassion.

What made my heart sadder was the wish that I could have done more to help him…

  1. AnAmerican says:

    In my community there is a highly visible homeless female who can be seen walking all over town. We all know this lady and in fact many have stopped to talk to her and offer help. Other than setting up shop in the restrooms of office buildings she also has a quiet demeanor and goes about her solitude without any problem. During one of my conversations with her it is very apparent she has lost most of her hope of finding a life off the streets…in fact, she refuses to let others help her other than to buy her a meal or offer some money. The fact that she has lost hope is something that is just heartbreaking as she is well into her 60s and will not be able to survive this type of life indefinitely. That’s the thing that is hardest to understand ..when help is offered and refused. This is but one women in all the statistics of homelessness….but she is one that remains on the streets due to her own choice. And yes, it makes my heart sad each morning when I see her out in the cold braving another day on the streets.

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