Okay, I am going to scream.

Heading home from St. Philip Benizi Church, this past Saturday night, Sept 25 at about 8:30 PM, I was stopped by the light at Commonwealth and Gilbert, when a woman speaking with a southern accent, knocked on my window asking for help.

After talking with her for a little bit, I turned off and around into the parking lot at the 7-Eleven over there.

She was barefoot and confused, said that she wanted someplace to sleep that night and above-all a shower which she said she hadn’t had in over 3 weeks.

Knowing well what the answer almost certainly would be but nonetheless deciding to try, I took her to the gate at the Fullerton Navigation Center 4-5 blocks away.

They of course told me that she has to be okayed by the Fullerton Police Department before they could do anything and then she would have to be COVID-19 okayed, meaning that they would put her up in a hotel then for 4 days while that took place. Okay, it sounded bureaucratic but promising.

The Fullerton Police Station at Commonwealth and Highland.  In Fullerton as in many municipalities in O.C. here are the true gatekeepers of who gets into a shelter and who does not.  Yet everyone denied entry into a shelter necessarily stays on our streets. Credit: Fr. Dennis Kriz

But then speaking with her southern accent she said: “But I was there at the Police Station yesterday and they told me that they won’t do anything for anyone who’s not from Fullerton.”

The security guard and some kind of a manager there at the Fullerton Navigation Center agreed. The manager gave me an outreach number to call but noted that there will probably not be much for any of us to do.

Okay, I figured to work on a “plan b.” Put her up at least in a hotel room for the night, so that she could get that shower and work on this the next day or even string it to the next day.

But as I’m typing into my Waze app “Motel 6” she tells me that she doesn’t have an ID anymore, so that the hotel room would really have to be in my name. Ay …

Well, she was hungry, I stopped over at the Little Ceasar’s by Brookhurst and Orangethorpe, got her a pizza and a 2-liter bottle of diet Pepsi. (Best deal for the buck).

While there, I called the outreach number that I was given at the FNC.  To my surprise, I actually got an answer at 9:30 PM. But unsurprisingly, I was told that there’s really nothing I could do for the person until possibly the next day or Monday.

I told the lady at the other end of the hotline: “Look this woman is barefoot, she has no shoes. What the heck am I / is she supposed to do until Monday morning?”

The poor woman on the other end of the line suggested that I take her to a hospital emergency room, that they may do a comprehensive medical check on her, and may then give her a place, in the ER, to spend the night.

I got back into the car and decided to try to get that Motel 6 hotel room. I thought, even of the possibility of renting two rooms, one for me and one for her — Motel 6s aren’t that expensive — and then calling the other priests that this was what I was going to do this evening.

I thought also that ultimately I could rent just one room perhaps in my name, leave her there and then just run back this morning to make sure she gets out.

The Motel-6 at State College Blvd just off of the 91 Fwy. If you can’t prove who you are (have an ID) then nowadays you’re going to have to sleep on the street. Credit: Fr. Dennis Kriz

None of this mattered of course, because the attendant at the Motel-6 (near State College and Orangethorpe) pointed to a sign she had on the wall for this purpose stating that it was the hotel’s policy that NO ADULT without ID would be allowed to stay in a room at the establishment.

The woman was of course mad at me that I did not lie and get the room for myself. But of course, I really didn’t want to do that.

Okay, I told her of the ER idea. She really didn’t like that, said that she tried something like that before and all that happened was that they took her in, locked her up in a psych ward, gave her pills for 2 weeks, and then kicked her out at the end of those 2 weeks anyway.

Nevertheless, I drove out to St. Jude and we continued to argue for a while in the parking lot at St. Jude’s Hospital (Harbor Blvd and Bastanchury).

In the end, she said: “Look, I don’t want to go there because all they’re going to do is pump me full of pills and send me away in a week or two anyway.”

Addressing the alternatives:

Our nuns would not take her. Certainly not at now approaching 10 PM and it’d be an uphill battle there, period.

We, the priests, would have no place for her. There are four of us in our four-bedroom house, we have no guest room. AND EVEN THOUGH WE HAD AN 80+-YEAR-OLD Korean American Male who was homeless who had slept at our place for a week this past spring while we tried to figure out what to do for him, having a barefoot woman in her 30s-40s at our place would not work this time.

I thought of going back, giving her my tent and sleeping bag that I had bought for my camping trip back in July. I always kind of figured that this is what was going to happen to that gear (as happened to my previous gear a few years back when we had homeless folks sleeping on our property at St. Philip’s).

Finally, I asked her, well what do you want me to do?

She told me, of course, to lie and get her a hotel room somewhere in my name. She told me: “I can point you to s-holes, that are so bad that I couldn’t possibly damage or walk off with anything.”

I said, that I can’t do.

The 7-Eleven at the corner of Gilbert and Commonwealth where this whole story began.  Note: The Fullerton Navigation Center is only about 4-5 blocks away. Credit: Fr. Dennis Kriz

So we decided that I just take her back (now nearly 10 PM) to where she knocked on my car window — by the 7-Eleven at Gilbert and Commonwealth, and call it a night.

Fortunately, it’s very warm these days. 90 during the day, 60s during the night.

And THAT’S where we left it. She threw what was the left of the pizza down on the ground, saying that this was not what she had wanted. And that was that.

SO …

There’s going to be a 30-40 something-year-old woman, barefoot, with a Southern Accent, walking around Gilbert and Commonwealth in Fullerton, for the foreseeable future until:

(1) she’s taken somewhere where she can be, hopefully indoors, with a shower.

(2) she dies.

And there’s a Navigation Center, that HUNDREDS OF US from our neighborhood lobbied for so that this kind of a situation would not happen again, FOUR BLOCKS AWAY.

Fortunately, “it’s warm outside these days,” and actually, these past mornings, it’s actually a little overcast, so she won’t be burnt to a crisp again … until the afternoon.

Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, Pastor St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Fullerton.

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