Editor's Note – The following is an e-mail which Sharyl Lewis sent, in response to some questions posed by your webservant, who had just seen a news report about the city of Camden, NJ, tearing down a "tent city". There used to be a similar homeless camp outside the Hunt Branch Library in Fullerton which the city closed down.
That video broke my heart. While Camden may have thought it was the right thing to do, and I don't condone use of drugs and what that brings, there were certain people living there that felt safe, were clean, and had shelter. It was sad to see them take everything that they owned and just dump it in the trash. Beds, bikes that got them back and forth, clothing, etc. – GONE FOREVER – with probably not enough money to buy other stuff. I get so angry that people want to get rid of the homeless but they don't stop to use their heads. What if it happened to some of the people who were driving those bulldozers. If their home, beds and clothing was taken away from them and dumped in the trash, they might have a different outlook.
Rather they might try to find other means to HELP the homeless with temporary housing or organizations could create housing projects – but with guidelines to keep it clean and tidy or you are out. I remember the other story that you sent me about the hotel, I believe in Los Angeles, where there were supporters, money, personnel who knew how to handle homeless situations, and several people in political power put the kibosh on it. Just not fair to use your political power without using your brain first.
Many of our guests don't want to say where they sleep because someone might come and oust them out of it. Some people have said that they are allowed to sleep behind a Catholic church in Buena Park. Many sleep along the freeway. I don't think as many sleep under some of the freeway overpasses as they used to, it's just not quiet or safe. Some of them have cars, but sometimes aren't even allowed to stay in their cars because they are not allowed to park in most public places, even shopping centers. Some find temporary shelters, but most are on the street. Most parks will not let the homeless stay there. Then there is always the Baptist church that Wiley Drake runs, but there's trouble there also. We are never going to get the perfect homeless mix.
I know if the homeless would just clean up after themselves, people would accept it much better. Our guests, for the most part, are honest individuals who just want out of this situation. I don't know of any [really bad ones], except a couple of them who don't know any better, and most of that is due to mental illness. We have some people, just like this morning, who don't, in any circumstances, want to get along or just get agitated easily. We just tell them that we don't turn anyone away, but as long as they are in our church, they will watch what they say and show respect. I had to give a little extra love to one of the guys this morning. He was constantly commenting on how much another person was eating and how he set up his food. So we just talked, as I rubbed his shoulder, and told him that people are different and some have unique eating habits. It's their choice, and we can't change that, nor should we. He seemed to calm down after that.
There was one dear lady who writes beautiful poetry – she had lost two brothers to suicide in the last year or so. She was in a very emotional state and we talked about her brothers and how she wasn't sure they were going to heaven because of their choice to take their lives. I started to walk away, and I could see she was starting to cry. I turned around and just held her tightly for a long time. I can still feel her tears on my neck. It was a very moving moment for me. We all share the sadness of people we know, but this was different. Another moment to be touched by someone I didn't even know before today.
For the most part, these guests touch my heart every Sunday. Frequently, it hurts to see people in pain or stress or frustration. I personally don't know how they do it. One really nice guy got divorced, has to pay child support from whatever he earns, so he has no place to live. Many of them have more faith than a lot of us. To wake up in the morning and know that you are just going to ride your bike or walk from place to place with nothing in particular to do must get very boring. I would really like to start a community service program for them where they can clean up an area or do something to make the streets better. People would see that the homeless have value and want to give back to their community.
Oh well, we will just try to start with the shower/laundry mobile units and see how far that goes.
Sorry to have written a book. Hope I answered some of your queries.
Still Serving Up Agape Love