Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Homeless and Interfaith Youth Work

It's been a full week, and it's not even half over! On Monday I had lunch with Melissa and Shawn, a homeless couple that Kathleen and I have been trying to help find shelter for the past few years. A few weeks ago I offered them money for a security deposit, but landlords won't accept them as tenants because Melissa was evicted from an apartment six years ago when she was married to a rather disreputable man who left her for another woman and refuses to divorce her. Melissa has been homeless ever since. Living on the street has been very detrimental to her health.

I can understand why landlords would hesitate to take Melissa as a tenant: she is crippled and must use a wheelchair, and would be difficult to evict if she stops paying rent. But it's still a sad, and I would say, immoral situation when homeless people can't get a place to stay even when they have the money to do so!

Later Melissa called to say that she is on the top of the list for Section 8 starting on Sept 16. She has been waiting for three years to get Section 8. There was a hitch, of course: they need her birth certificate and she has no money. So I sent her the money along with a letter of recommendation to her social worker (who is too busy to see her).

It's really hard being homeless, esp. if you don't have a friend or advocate. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out in an editorial in this Sunday's NY TImes, Americans have adopted punitive policies towards the poor and homeless that are costly, immoral and stupid. We spend tax payer dollars to pay police to hassle the homeless with punitive fines for jaywalking and sleeping on the sidewalk. We throw them in jail for petty offenses and them charge them for toilet paper and other "services." These punitive measures are costly and make matters worse. She ends by saying: If we can't afford to help the homeless, we should at least stop spending money to torment them.

On a happier note, I met with Milia Islam-Majeed, Exec. Dir. of the South Coast Interfaith Council, to talk about interfaith youth work. We came up with a program that will include homeless feeding at my wife's former church (Walteria UMC), a beach cleanup on Earth Day, and another Tall Ships Sail. It feels good to have such a program that will encourage young people to feel compassion for the poor, concern for the environment, and a sense that people of different faith traditions can work together to make this a better world. I am also pleased that we have a program worked out well in advance so we can begin publicizing it this fall.

What keeps me balanced for work like this is my daily practice of prayer and meditation. On Tuesday morning I went to the Self-Realization Fellowship to meditate, where I was pleased to see a very good turnout.

At noon on Tuesday, I had lunch with Thomas Hedberg and Philip Freeman at Govinda's, the Hare Krisha restaurant in Culver City where they serve excellent vegetarian food prepared (s the Gita says) "in the mode of goodness." We talked about the World Peace March and how this group might participate in the USC Gandhi event that's being sponsored by the Parliament.

In the evening I went to the Hollywood Bowl with two Quaker friends and we enjoyed "Mozart under the Stars." What an enchanting evening!

Today I went to communion at St Augustine's by the Sea and heard a reflection about Sister Clare, Francis' female counterpart. Apparently her last words were: "Thank you, God, for creating me."

As Quakers would say, that Friend speaks my mind!

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