Tag Archives: homelessness

‘Tis the Season

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I love this time of year but am also the sort of person who sees the glass as half empty and half full all at the same time—a realist, if you will. So I realize that this time of year is all mixed up with positives and negatives. Merry Christmas to all, with some Bah, Humbug, too.

I love the giving. We share gifts at this time of year with family and friends, colleagues and strangers, even faceless people whose names we learn from angel trees.  We give a lot, and as we do we celebrate words like Believe. Hope. Joy. Peace.

And then we go and buy more and more stuff like it’s going out of style, which it is, but we can’t seem to help ourselves. I hate that part. The commercialism, the consumerism, and lots of other –isms that are better described as Greed. We crave More and can’t find Enough.

All that jumbled together in one season.

And then there are the people. Those merrily singing that it’s the hap-happiest time of the year, and those mired in depression. Those lavishly decorating cozy houses, and those sleeping outside in the dark and cold.

This entire semester, one of our amazing students planned an event she called, Sleep in the Square, that occurred this past weekend. The entire point was to raise awareness regarding homelessness in our local community. As she so eloquently put it, “A night for friends and strangers alike to gather and hear stories of those who have experienced homelessness, attempt to sleep while exposed to the elements of the outdoors, and encounter an evening filled with transparent cross-cultural conversations.”

We did all of that—we gathered, heard, attempted, and encountered. I was amazed by our students and their friends who slept out in the cold (pictured above the next morning), although I went home and slept in a warm bed for a few hours before returning for the closing liturgy of repentance and joy (there’s that dichotomy again!). The experience left me mixed-up just like the season, filled with love and hope, right alongside a sobering realization of my undeserved privileges and weakness.

Sometimes I feel that I should apologize for pointing out the dueling natures at this time of year—until I remember that the Christ-ian story underlying Christ-mas is exactly that kind of story.

‘Tis a mixed up season, one that reminds us that It’s a Wonderful-but-Messy Life.

The Homeless Count

FB_Shared_1I set my alarm at 4:15am last Thursday and predictably objected on multiple counts when the time arrived to rise and shine. But it wasn’t just the oppressive hour. My head pounded and my body ached after a terrible night of sleep, and the day ahead was scheduled to end seventeen work hours later. That I should stay in bed was obvious, but I slowly eased up and out of bed anyway and arrived at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church by 5am per my commitment.

I wasn’t alone. There were 25-30 volunteers there, including my friends David, Reese, and Steve from church, along with an impressive spread of coffee and pastries. I don’t do coffee, and I should not do pastries according to gastrointestinal feedback, so I declined the goodies, which surprisingly included the option of chocolate pie for breakfast. Or whatever the 5am meal is called.

After registration and a training video and a couple of speeches from law enforcement personnel, we were divided into groups and sent out into the morning darkness to conduct our portion of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. We church buddies found our way into a group all our own and armed with a flashlight, clipboard, map, tally sheet, and bottled water we drove to Point Dume and Zuma Beach to do our part to provide accurate numbers so that much-needed services may be distributed appropriately.

David drove, Steve navigated, Reese tallied, and I contributed insightful and entertaining conversation (or at least that’s what I told myself). We noted some homeless individuals, automotive “homes,” and located one encampment in our designated area. We were four of over eight thousand volunteers that turned out across Los Angeles to serve in this capacity this year.

I wish I could say that I got out of bed on Thursday out of the goodness of my heart, but it was undoubtedly an awful lot of guilt instead. How do you really convince yourself that you can’t get out of your warm bed in your spacious house to count homeless individuals because you feel sick and had a rough night’s sleep? I couldn’t figure it out on short notice at least.

And I wish I could say that this small bout of volunteerism revitalized my health and produced a day full of rainbows and cotton candy, but I felt pretty terrible all day long. Seventeen hours later I made it home and went straight to bed. And as I crawled into bed feeling achy and chilled and generally crappy, my first thought was of those folks who were homeless again that night. And how they probably felt.

So I’m writing a blog about it for no particular good reason.  A blog entry surely doesn’t make a difference. It would take a national commitment to collectively end homelessness, and don’t hold your breath. There is no national conversation, much less commitment; instead, there are mostly local conversations across the nation as to how to push homelessness into the next community.

But there are individuals who are engaged and trying anyway. I am impressed by those doing something to make a real difference one person at a time despite the odds. Maybe someday, I, too, will have that sort of courage that reflects the counsel of Mother Teresa who said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

Universal Ideals of Human Dignity

1I traveled to San Francisco last weekend with my friend and colleague, Ahmed, to represent our dean at the annual conference of the International Association of Law Schools and was humbled to gather with people from all over the world who are responsible for training the next generation of lawyers.  It is no exaggeration to say that the world depends on this good work.

Neither is it a statement of pride since I was obviously out of my element in a conference full of legal scholars.  This was particularly obvious when we were asked to divide into small groups based on our areas of expertise, and, um, I don’t have one.  But, I had to choose something so, given the choices, I chose “human rights” because, well, I’m for them.

But what an honor.  In two separate sessions, I sat in a small classroom with a handful of individuals who consider it their life calling to teach human rights to law students.  There were professors from South Africa and India, Australia and Italy, Russia and Canada, Indonesia and the United States.  Can you imagine?

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claims that “[h]uman rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” and purports to represent “the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity.”

I like that phrase—universal ideals of human dignity.

What I found surprising in the privileged opportunity afforded me at this unique conference was what that special group of people found surprising in their visit to San Francisco.  And that was the homelessness on full display in the short walk from the hotel to the conference location.

I have often been told that the poverty in these United States does not compare to poverty in the developing world, and I’ve traveled enough now to understand the proposition.  But please slap me if I ever fail to remember that the universal ideals of human dignity apply to the people on the American margins, too.