I woke up this morning feeling really sad about all of the new homeless families that are cropping up throughout Central Oregon and the rest of the United States. These are our neighbors who have lost their homes due to the sudden rise in their house payments or to the massive unemployment rate. Families who do not do drugs, who have played by the rules, who take care of their kids ... regular, everyday people ... people who could be me.
What would it be like if you didn't have a home, no matter how humble? Would you pack up your stuff and put it in a storage unit or a relative's garage, or would you just leave it in the house and walk away? I was watching Lisa Ling on Oprah the other day, and that is what a lot of people are doing. Just leaving everything, even their family photographs. The people who come and clear out the homes so the banks can resell them just fill up dumpsters and take everything to the dump. Good stuff; sentimental stuff. Kids bikes, clothes, lamps and couches, dishes, etc. It makes my heart sink.
There is a train of thought out there that possessions are not important, but they are important to me. I'm not talking about having a fancy car, boat, house ... items that may be impressive to others, but the sentimental stuff that I have in my house ... my grandma's dresser, my great-grandparents kitchen table, things that have memories attached to them. I know that I could live without them and I would HATE to lose them in a fire, but I wouldn't let them go to the dump.
The other thing that I don't understand is how people are abandoning their pets. Some are left in the vacated house without food or water until a neighbor figures out what is going on and gets help. Some are dumped out in the woods. The lucky ones are taken to shelters. Are pets a luxury item? I keep mine until they die. Is that because I have never been homeless?
But back to this problem of families out on the street, which is only going to get worse in the near future. How can I effectively help?
A long time ago, helping homeless families was my passion. Way back when our church was still alive, my friend Glenda and I talked everybody into helping out with the Interfaith Shelter Program through St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene. It was one of the first programs of it's kind and became a model throughout the country. Individual churches opened up their buildings for a week and homeless families stayed from 4:00 p.m until 8:00 a.m. They were fed and had a warm place to sleep. There was a program coordinator from the Interfaith organization who was there to help with problems. In the morning, a volunteer used the Interfaith van and drove the kids to school and the parents to the day shelter (if they didn't have a car). There was one grade school that a lot of homeless kids attended. At the day shelter, the others did laundry, hung out, the young kids played, the parents looked for jobs and used the phone to set appointments, etc.
We were good at it, our University Street Christian Church family. We hosted twice, and it was life changing for us. To be honest, back then (early 1990's) there were a lot of drug and alcohol issues and/or poor decision making surrounding many of the families that we served. I think the homeless population has changed to include more and more families who have lost their jobs and are unexpectedly out of their homes.
I would like to point out here that Eugene has it together for helping its homeless. Maybe that is why they have so many in that area, and some people may even have migrated there to receive help. When I moved to La Pine in 2001, Bend was just beginning to address the homeless problem. Bend now has the Bethlehem Inn and a homeless shelter for adults. Good! What does La Pine have, though? I don't really know, and will have to do some research on it. I need to anyway, for the work I am doing on my Southern Deschutes County Community Resource link.
When I was in college, I focused on homeless school children, doing research and writing papers on how being homeless effected them, with strategies on how to support those children. They tug at my heart, those little kids without a house. I have always had a soft spot for them, and I want to bless them.
So now what? I have some experience, and know how to organize and set things up for helping those in La Pine, but I get a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach even thinking about the enormity of the task. Instead, for now, I would rather start small. I am thinking about making Homeless Kits for those going into shelter, and those who are living on the streets. Bags with blankets, hygiene items, useful items, snacks, toys or games, etc. -- whatever fits the person's age and needs. These kits won't solve the homeless problem, instead they are a reminder that people do care, and that the recipients are not forgotten.
Anybody out there want to help? If you would like to help me spread a bit of comfort and joy to those down on their luck in our area, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Isaiah 58:7-12 :"I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don't hide from relatives who need your help.
If you do these things, God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. "Yes, I am here," he will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Your sons will rebuild the long-deserted ruins of your cities, and you will be known as "The People Who Rebuild Their Walls and Cities."