I have spent the last couple of weeks preparing and delivering meals to homeless encampments and shelters. This is an education! Each encampment is different, with its own population, atmosphere, and support system.
I have delivered food to: Tent City 3 (77 people on N. 125th St.), Camp Second Chance (25 people on Myers Way), and Mary’s Place Family Shelter (women and children on N. 130th St.). I delivered a complete meal with beef stew and salad, prepared by a church; burritos prepared in my own kitchen; and pasta/bean soup prepared in the kitchen of a Zendo (Buddhist congregation).
At each destination, I found people who combined sadness with hope. These are folks who, at least, are not sleeping on the street, have other people around them for support and companionship, and who, upon my arrival, were receiving food from strangers. I did meet some people for whom desperation and chaos were obviously lurking just beneath the surface of their current, stable, circumstances, but where I’ve been so far, the systems are working.
I’m doing this to get a picture of what the situation is “on the ground,” as it were. One can read about homelessness, affordable housing, shelters, encampments, and sweeps, and still not understand what is going on. I want to hear the stories of the people who are “experiencing homelessness” and the people who are doing what they can to “help.”
I put “help” in scare-quotes not because I doubt that people want to help and are helping, as I do and am. It’s clear, however, that the “help” that is available is not adequate to the problem that we, as a society, face. Why not? What exactly is the problem? What does good “help” look like? How much does it cost? Who is available to do it?
These questions are being addressed at the level of public policy (i.e. in the legislatures and budgets of governments at all levels), but thoughtful individuals who are engaged in being helpful should develop their own understanding. That is my current project. More to come…