In San Luis Obispo County, according to the last Homeless Enumeration Report of Spring 2006, there were 2408 persons who were positively identified as being homeless.
I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of the homeless support services agencies and organizations here in SLO County. It isn’t that I have anything the work they’re doing. I applaud their efforts. However, I simply do not believe that the methodology currently being utilized by these agencies sufficiently addresses the needs of the local area homeless.
Collectively, these agencies only provide a meal, a bed, showers, and when possible clothing or perhaps even basic food staples. Other than that, in my opinion, there is little or nothing that is actually being done to help the homeless transition back into the community. And, as far as I’m concerned, the goal for addressing homelessness – not only in my community, but anywhere else in the country – should be to help the homeless become a part of their communities again.
Regardless of my personal opinions however, I do believe that there is a need for the basic services that they provide. The fact is that the homeless need to eat. The homeless need shelter – if and when they can get it. They need to have a place where they can shower and get cleaned up.
Unfortunately though, in SLO County there are only two homeless shelters: one in the city of San Luis Obispo and the other which is located in the town of Atascadero. All told, between the both of these shelters, there is perhaps a collective capacity to provide about 150 people with overnight shelter. Other than that, there is really no other place which offers shelter to the counties homeless.
In southern SLO County, there is only one location where the homeless can get a meal: The People’s Kitchen – which is currently located in a building owned by the county.
The People’s Kitchen has been feeding "south county" homeless for nearly two decades. However, they’ve never really had a facility of their own to do so from. The most recent location was "leased" to them because they were forced to move from a church they had been using due to complaints about the homeless from church "neighbors."
Late last year, after having lived in a tent for nearly 18 months, I became what I termed "transitionally homeless" – which is just a fancy way of saying that I was within reach of becoming housed. That period of being transitionally homeless lasted for several months – until I was able to secure a stable living environment.
Yesterday morning, while scanning the headlines, I came across an article in the SLO Tribune which mentioned that The People’s Kitchen was again in need of having to find a new location from which to feed the homeless. Their current lease option was due to expire on July 6th, but as been extended until July 31st.
As I read the article, it once again occurred to me that The People’s Kitchen – a homeless support services group – has, as an organization, been transitionally homeless the entire time that it has been in operation.
In those previous posts I mentioned my belief that if The People’s Kitchen had to cease operations that it could potentially have some serious side effects for the community by way of forcing the local homeless to adopt other methods of feeding themselves – including theft.
If a person becomes hungry enough, it doesn’t matter how strong their personal convictions are. And some would find themselves giving into the temptation to steal food if they have to in order to feed themselves. That’s just the reality of life. Let’s face it, everyone – housed or homeless – has a natural reluctance to starvation.
Because of that, it didn’t surprise me that part of the headlines for yesterday’s article read: "Some homeless people afraid they may have to resort to stealing and scavenging if People’s Kitchen doesn’t find new home soon."
The other thing that didn’t surprise me were some of the comments that were posted in response to the article.
One of the comments, posted by someone using the screen name, catriley said in part,
"Why should everyone else work for what they have only to have thugs stealing it? Get over yourselves and get back into society."
I noted in particular the offensive and inclusive use of the word "thugs" in the comment.
Considering that there some 817 homeless children in SLO County, I personally consider the word "thugs" to be, not only mean spirited, but inaccurate in the extreme.
Another person with the screen name dcantu offered their point of view,
"gosh maybe i should just quit my job and be homeless they seem to get everything handed to them! being middle class is harder than being homeless nowdays??"
dcantu, let me offer these words of wisdom – keep your job. You’re lucky to have one. There are approximately 8.5 million people in this nation who are unemployed due to job closures and the like. As for the homeless being given "everything" – if that were actually the case, it seems to me highly unlikely that they would still be homeless.
Someone calling themselves rhodes said,
"This is all about personal pride and the people who don’t possess it."
Actually, rhodes is correct. There aren’t many homeless I’ve met who have much pride left – especially since they are constantly being belittled by the rest of the community. Being derided and treated like some type of social disease takes it’s toll on a person’s self-esteem. Is it any wonder that very few homeless have the self-confidence to try and raise their standards of living?
Another individual calling themselves RastaSurf had this to say,
"So these homeless scumbags threaten to steal from us if we don’t feed them."
I’ve re-read the article over and over several times, and nowhere did I find someone "threatening" theft if they weren’t able to be fed by The People’s Kitchen. There was a fear that they might have to steal just in order to survive. But, I didn’t perceive it to be a type of ultimatum.
In the past, comments similar those would have caused me to become extremely angry. Now, however, they make me feel sad, old and tired.
I wonder though.
If these folks weren’t able to hide behind the anonymity of their online screen names and had to post their real names and addresses, would they still be espousing such hateful comments?
What lifted my spirit came from a comment left by Ciaffardini,
"Some people don’t realize that feeding the hungry works at least two ways: the hungry get fed while the people helping feed gain something also. It’s a win-win situation. More people should consider helping with a feeding sometime. They might get a fresh, wiser perspective on the matter."
Ciaffardini – whoever you may be: kudos and four gold stars.