The following brothers and sisters of ours died “without fixed abode” on the streets of Orange County last month:
Steven James RENOIR (Dec 3), Richard Eugene MARRONE (Dec 7), Mitchell Andrew COPELAND (Dec 8), Allyson Cravens BARBER (Dec 9), Edward Henry OLAGUE III (Dec 11), Cheryl Anne ADAMS (Dec 12), David Daniel NELSON (Dec 18), Robert Bernard AIELLO (Dec 20), Frederick Espinoza LUCERO (Dec 20), Michael Lewis ALMASY (Dec 26), Michael CZAPLINSKI (Dec 30), Kevin Duy Khoi TRAN (Dec 31), Darryl Anthony BOSSIER (Dec 31).
As we reflect on these thirteen homeless people who died in OC last month, and there will certainly be new names of the homeless deceased next month, it would behoove us to reflect on the services that we offer them. There are about 12-20 people who come to sleep on our Church property each night, to almost everyone’s consternation, including our own, even though the Fullerton Armory less than a mile away is open again to provide basic shelter services – a meal, a mat, bathroom / shower facilities – and though the Armory has space for 200 people, its nightly occupancy is generally at less than 50%.
It behooves us, fairly, to ask why? One of the members of our parish Saint Vincent de Paul Society noted that the Armory could probably be filled with simply those sleeping around our neighborhood, including those 12-20 who sleep nightly on our grounds. Yet, to make use of the Fullerton Armory, one has to go to a bus stop miles away, leave most of one’s possessions there and then be transported to the Armory from there. Then they are asked to get up at 5 AM to be transported back to from where they arrived to spend the day… doing nothing until coming back to the prescribed bus stops to be transported back to shelter for the following night.
Does anybody reading this find it surprising that many, perhaps even the majority of the homeless people among us prefer to graciously “decline” such accommodations?
If we want to be serious about providing a shelter system for the homeless people around us, we’re going to have to find a way to allow them to bring their stuff (perhaps setting a one shopping cart/person limit) with them and then allow them something to do during the day, watch TV, have internet access, yes, get some meaningful job counseling. Otherwise we’re reduced to asking people who’ve already lost next to everything that they had to give up almost everything that they have left for a night on a mat bordered by five strangers only to be kicked out at 5 AM to do NOTHING when the night is done. Is there anyone honestly surprised therefore that drug abuse becomes a problem for people who quite literally have nothing else to do?
This doesn’t even begin to address the question of pets, which often becomes incredibly important in homeless people’s lives – they provide accompaniment, protection and frankly, increasingly A REASON TO LIVE.
I ask everyone to understand that shelters have to become 24 hour facilities or else we’re simply not being serious in responding to the homelessness problem in our midst.
Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, is the Pastor at St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church in Fullerton
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