Tag Archives: volunteer

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.”

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On Exploiting Hopelessness

In addition to the steep learning curve associated with a new position at work, I have been preparing to teach a course titled, “Apology, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation,” for the Master of Dispute Resolution program at our West Los Angeles campus.  It is a fascinating and ever-timely topic in this world of ours with no shortage of moving literature, including the book I saved for last, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, by Simon Weisenthal.

Weisenthal survived the Holocaust and gained fame as a “Nazi hunter.”  The Sunflower tells of his being summoned to the bedside of a dying Nazi soldier while a prisoner in a concentration camp where the soldier confessed his deeds and asked for forgiveness.  Weisenthal offered only silence.  Soon afterward, he questioned his response, and in fact, ends his section of the book by placing the reader in his place and posing the heart-wrenching question, “What would I have done?”  The rest of the book shares answers to the penetrating question from fifty-three people around the world, from the Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu.

Two days after finishing the book, I finally visited the Museum of Tolerance in L.A. and didn’t know whether to be amazed or embarrassed to notice that it was described as “A Simon Weisenthal Center Museum.”  Um, perfect timing?  Although it addresses a variety of topics, the heart of the Museum is the Holocaust Exhibit that guides visitors through the development of Nazi Germany and the terrible atrocities that followed.  It was sadly fascinating to learn that the Nazis began as a few guys sharing burgers in a beer joint, but what struck me most was the statement that this humble beginning grew to such perplexing power to influence fellow citizens to carry out unspeakable acts because they “exploited hopelessness.”

Well, my first inclination was far too easy: Write a blog lamenting how terrible it is to exploit hopelessness and title it, Exude Hopefulness.  But there’s a problem.  Exuding hopefulness is exactly how you exploit hopelessness.  Promise hopeless folks better days ahead.  That’s exactly what the Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and lots of other folks are doing at this very moment.

Hopeless people have to be wary, I guess, but I suspect that wariness is not high on the to-do list of hopeless people.

So, for the sake of the world, I have two thoughts to offer instead.

First, remain hopeful.  You.  Don’t tell others to be hopeful.  You remain hopeful yourself.  Losing hope is too dangerous, and we are susceptible to such terrible things.

Second, remove the reasons others are hopeless.  Actions over words.  Hopelessness is not to be used.  It is to be subverted.  Love people.  Seek justice.  Feed hungry folks.  Give someone a job.  Volunteer your time and your money.

Humanity is both capable of and susceptible to terrible things.  But wow, the possibilities for good are limitless.