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Thursday, August 28, 2008

To Most People, It’s Just Trash

Recently, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, Jessica Garrison reported about thousands of homeless living in trees, under freeways, in caves and on the fringes of wilderness in Southern California. To most people, it's just trash: A scrap of dirty blanket visible under some stairs; a glimpse of blue tarp peeking out of a bush; a bag of recyclables parked discreetly behind a concrete column.

But Courtney Kanagi, an outreach worker, has learned how to decode bits of urban debris that most people ignore. She knows what these signs mean: the crawl space beneath the stairs could be someone's home.

For those without houses, SoCal landscape offers many opportunities for ingenious solutions -- aeries beneath bridges, riverbed encampments, ad hoc tree houses with million-dollar views -- to the problem of where to sleep.

Spend some time with Kanagi or Homeless In America’s, Servants of the Father of Mercy, and you'll never look at the city's hidden corners the same way again.

Keep in mind that fewer than 20% of the region's homeless can be accommodated in shelter beds on any given night. That leaves 10s of thousands sleeping outdoors. That in itself helps to explain why so many have to get so creative in establishing shelter.

Many …
* Hunch in groups on the sidewalk or in alleys behind dumpsters.
* Others find a hidden stairwell or doorway, abandoned building or freeway underpass.
* Venture into the brush and make their own living spaces, or encampments.

One woman was found living with her husband and dog beneath a bridge in the San Gabriel River watershed. But don’t romanticize her situation. Her little abode next to the riverbed might seem out of the way and even peaceful, especially when morning sun etches the landscape with gold. But the woman, who is 34 but is missing teeth and looks much older, said she lives with pressing fear that police will force her to move or that gang members will menace her. And it's frequently cold at night.

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Anonymous said...

Our city has approximately 60 mission beds for men and 10 for women..(we do not have nightly shelters)...and we believe that between 300 to five hundred people sleep outside on any given night. And, people often ask me about the "romantic sense of freedom" this allows those forced to live outside. I remind them that these "camps" offer no bathroom facilities, access to running water or security from gangs or thrill seekers wanting to beat or kill the homeless. Then, there are the rats, the bugs, the heat, the cold and all the other brutal discomforts of these "homes". The truth is, when we see the physical evidence of homelessness in trash, we also equate the humanity there as trash. This is the tragedy of the human condition; we worship God at an alter rather than where he really lives: with the least of these.
Br. Ron Fender,
Brotherhood of Saint Gregory
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bro. Ron, Jesus is the King of all those who are cast aside and treated as trash. For me, it is worthy of contemplation to think about how Jesus was judged wrongly, he was rejected by all of society, even close friends denied him, was betrayed by a friend and found himself in the end treated as total dirt and an outcast. In light of that, it is no mystery as to why Jesus is 100% in solidarity today with all those seen as dirt, misjudged and treated wrongly. He has a special soft spot in his heart for them.