My Brother’s Keeper

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I am at war with the Las Vegas City Council.  I am so upset with the passage of the second recent law designed to fine and incarcerate the homeless that I find myself unable to write about it right now.

I need to calm down to prevent my blog from turning into a manifesto.  In an effort to find peace, I am saying the Prayer of St. Francis a lot, I am rereading Walden, which may or may not be wise and I have participated in a lot of protests over the war on the poor. I include my family whenever I can.

On January 20th, I am participating in a protest on Fremont Street that may end up with me spending the night in jail. As you can imagine, I have mixed feelings about this and I came very close to chickening out. That’s when I realized that January 20th, sounded awfully familiar and I started scrolling through Facebook. This year, January 20th is Martin Luther King Jr. Day which is significant for obvious reasons but it is also the same date, three years ago that I heard the name Daniel Aldape for the first time.

Whenever I feel frustrated with my efforts on G Street or when my faith in humanity dwindles, I remember Daniel Aldape and how he changed my life. It comes as no surprise to me that the memory of Daniel Aldape is what will give me the courage I need now.

There once was a forty-six year old man that came to Las Vegas. He was from the Chicagoland area and had grown weary of the freezing winters.  He was a White Sox fan.  He loved heavy metal.  He hated having his picture taken.  He was a notorious flirt.  His father, his step-mom and his sisters loved him deeply.  He was saving money to go home for his sister’s wedding.  Those are the important things to know about Daniel Aldape.

He was also homeless.  Due to a combination of mental health issues and alcoholism, he had been without a home for large stretches of his adult life.  This is what is often referred to as chronic homelessness.  Those are not his defining qualities.

His family never gave up on him. They gave him a cell phone, brought him to their homes for holidays, brought him food, made sure that he had warm clothing and they kept tabs on him, the best that they could. They didn’t want him to live that way but they couldn’t stop him either. No matter how much you love someone, they have to accept the help that you offer.

There was more potential for work in Las Vegas. There were no freezing winters and he wanted a fresh start.  Two months later he was found violently murdered in downtown Las Vegas.

I didn’t know Daniel Aldape.  That is the first question people ask when they learn of my involvement with his case.  When I read the single paragraph in the newspaper on the afternoon of January 4th, 2017, he hadn’t yet been identified.

Homeless Man Beaten to Death in Downtown Las Vegas

I read the blurb which just reiterated the headline. It didn’t have his name or anything about the victim so I wondered if I knew him.  I contacted a few other long-time volunteers that I know and asked them if they knew who he was. A few other people reached out to me to ask if I know who he was. On Monday night we asked everyone in line and no one was sure of the man’s identity.  If he was sleeping on the street, in downtown Las Vegas for long, someone in that line would have noticed his sudden absence.

A week passed and the police hadn’t named the man.  I called a friend at the police department and they told me that they hadn’t been able to track down his family so they were holding off a little while longer.  I was concerned and I was curious who this man might be.  I felt shame and guilt that this man had been murdered while he slept in my town.  Just a small, unreasonable but unrelenting ping that “we” should have kept him safe.  Every human should have the right to sleep without fear of harm.

What if they couldn’t find his family? What happened to the homeless when they died? What if he didn’t have a family? If none of the volunteers that I knew were aware of him, maybe no one was.

Deep in my heart there was something else eating away at me.  The second anniversary of my brother’s death was quickly approaching.  My heart was still aching but more than that I was still angry.  I was angry at my brother for living a life that lead to his untimely death.  I was angry at myself for not being vigilant or compassionate or firm enough with him.  I was angry at myself for falling apart when he died.  I was angry at him for not being there for me while I fell apart.  I was angry that he’d broken my mother’s heart, my heart, the heart of everyone who knew him.  I was angry for a lot of reasons and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t yet want to let go of that anger.  At the time, it felt like letting go of my anger would be letting go of my brother.  It felt like once the rage was gone, all I would have left of him was his glaring absence.

I wasn’t ready to forgive my brother yet but the more I thought about the death of this stranger, the more I felt a parallel between the two men.  Both men had suffered from alcoholism and both had died way too young in an unfamiliar city.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would have felt if no one had been able to contact my family.  What if it was Jimmy, alone and unclaimed?

One of the few things that brought me solace in the weeks after my brother’s death was his wake.  All the people that loved Jim gathered and we said a Rosary.  For the first time since his death I felt like I was doing something helpful.  Surely God would hear our desperate prayers for the repose of his soul and welcome him.

Who would pray for this stranger?  Who would pray for his soul?  Was there anyone to mourn him?  Was there a family somewhere missing him?  Was there a family somewhere suffering?

I didn’t know how to find this man’s family or how to lessen their suffering.  I didn’t know his religious customs or if he even had any so I fell back on my own experiences.

I could host a candlelight vigil, down on G Street before our regular Monday night serving.  If all I could do was have this man lifted up in a chorus of prayer, it was something, at least.

I contacted two of my go-to people, Shawna Gonzalez and John Davis and we worked out the details. I ordered candles and flowers. We passed out flyers and Father McShane agreed to preside. On January 20th the police finally released his name so on January 21st we held the memorial.

I’m not sure how the media found out about it but I’m glad they did.

While I was trying to figure out how to give a stranger a dignified farewell, a family in Chicago was desperately trying to find their loved one. They were calling hospitals and jails. They were panicked and they definitely were suffering.

They had given him a phone but it came up missing. He always found a way to call home and check in. It had been nearly a month since they had heard from him and they knew something was terribly wrong.

The morning of January 22nd, out of pure desperation, Danny’s sister called the morgue. That is how they learned of their brother’s death.  They had to break the news to their father and mother.

That same morning, after they had learned that their brother was gone, and that his murder was unsolved, they searched for information on the internet.  Among the blurbs from the Review-Journal and the mugshot of their brother, they saw a video of me, telling them that we would mourn for Danny because he deserved to be mourned.  They immediately found me on Facebook.

Danny’s father came to get him just a few days later.  They kept me updated about Danny’s trip back to Chicago and when I announced it the following Monday night, there wasn’t a dry eye on G Street. Danny was going home, he would have a real funeral and his family would be able to mourn him properly.  He wasn’t going into one of the unmarked graves scattered around the city.  In such a terrible situation, this was the best case scenario.

The truth is that Danny’s memorial wasn’t just for him.  It was proof to the scared Las Vegans sleeping on the street that we saw them. It was a promise to them that we see them as people who deserved to live and die with dignity and respect.  It was a promise that we would strive to make their lives and even their deaths more dignified.

On February 3rd, David Dunn was murdered, with the same kind of weapon, just a block away from where Danny was killed. He was also homeless and was also sleeping when he was attacked. Unlike Danny, he had been in Las Vegas longer and was quickly identified.

At this point, our vagrant friends were starting to panic. The cops had recently raided an encampment, so people were afraid to sleep in groups and afraid to sleep alone, for fear of being singled out the way that Danny Aldape and David Dunn were.  City hall was ruthlessly trying to pass “urban camping” laws to keep the homeless away from the prettier parts of downtown.  The shelters were already filled to capacity. There was no safe place to sleep.

On February 22nd, the monster responsible for the deaths of both men was caught beating a mannequin with a hammer. The police had staged what looked like a potential  victim, near the same intersection, wrapped up tight in blankets and for fifteen minutes, the monster lurked there before he pulled out a hammer and tried to end a third life.  He was caught, arrested, released in an effort to follow him to more evidence and rearrested. They couldn’t find any evidence linking him to the deaths in his apartment.

He plead guilty to attempted murder and on August 22nd, he was sentenced to eight to twenty years in prison. I attended the sentencing with his family. While the monster won’t technically serve any time for the deaths of Danny Aldape or David Dunn, he will spend the next twenty years in prison and people sleeping on the streets have one less danger to face.img_4964_original

That night, on G Street we had a special Thursday dinner in honor of Danny.  His family had printed Homeless Lives Matter t-shirts and had sold them to raise money.  They used the funds they raised to buy socks, underwear, hygiene items and food for the homeless in Las Vegas.  Now, when someone searches his name, pictures of the event they sponsored come up.

img_1762_originalI didn’t know Danny Aldape and because of the thoughtless actions of one man, I will never get the chance.  Now I know his family.  I know his legacy.  I promised his father the first time we spoke that Danny would not be remembered as a victim.  He will be remembered as a martyr.

I think of Danny often. Whenever I face an obstacle to advocating for the homeless, I remember Danny.  When I don’t want to go to G Street because it’s hot or cold or I’m tired, I remember Danny.  When something trivial makes me feel like I don’t owe the world a thing, I force myself to think of Danny. On any given Monday night, I could be the last example of kindness that someone sees. We have lost many brothers and sisters to the violence and oppression of homelessness but to me Danny is always the one I’ll remember.

He was loved and watching his sisters speak of their brother with such kindness, with so many fond memories has helped me to overcome the anger that I felt toward my own brother.  Without meaning to, they have helped me heal.  Danny has helped me heal.

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Easy Peasy Lemonade Squeezy

 

img_4229We are in the middle of what I hope is the last heat wave of 2019.  As I write this it is 109 degrees out. We have had yet another record-breaking summer.  In August, we had twenty-four days with temperatures exceeding 105 degrees, that’s more than in any previously recorded year.

We are several days into an excessive heat advisory.  Kids have to stay inside for recess, everyone is advised to stay indoors when possible and the city has re-opened many of the cooling stations that provide temporary shelter and water to the city’s homeless population. Those shelters are only open during daylight hours and even with the sun down, the temperature rarely drops below the high-eighties.

The most popular items in the food line during the summer months are watermelon, popsicles and anything to drink.  Hot foods are less popular during this stifling heat for obvious reasons.

If you read my article in summer 2018, It’s A Dry Heat. you know that summer in Las Vegas is more than just unpleasant, it is downright deadly.  Heat sickness is the biggest enemy of the homeless in the summer. In 2017, sixty-two people that were identified as homeless died in Clark County because of heat exposure. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if people living on the street were properly hydrated.

In an effort to ease the suffering of those without air-conditioned homes to go to, I put out a call on Facebook requesting drink coolers and drink mix. I was not disappointed.

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Ask and you shall receive.

Two of my friends donated drink-coolers and several more donated drink mix. I cannot put into words how much it helps to get these donations. Whether it’s a fancy rolling cooler or a single packet of Kook-Aid, it is one less thing that I have to find the money to pay for.  I greatly appreciated any donations.

We got a lot of use out of our coolers so far.  I can make about ten gallons of flavored drink, minus room for the ice.  Not once since June, have I come home with anything leftover.

In a perfect world, the thirsty would only drink water.  Having acknowledged that, I want to point out that few people drink their recommended servings of water each day, myself included.

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A hard-working, very handsome volunteer.

Speaking for those of us that live in the desert, chugging water is the only way to survive the summer heat. It can be tedious though. Around the third glass of the day, I start wanting something different.  Depending on what drinks are served, the electrolytes can be helpful to those who have been sweating all day, too.

While those without steady homes don’t have the luxury of being selective, that doesn’t mean we can’t offer them more than the bare minimum. After all we want to nourish their bodies and their souls.  Which is why I decided to make fresh-squeezed lemonade for the people on G Street. Well, that and a great sale on lemons at La Bonita.

Find the recipe here.  Lemonade by the Gallon

 

 

 

 

The Egg and I

You can add this to the many statements that I never imagined I would make.

I am a chicken person.

What I mean, of course, is that I am a big fan of chickens. The animal, more than the meat they provide, although I appreciate that, too.

I enjoy chickens. I love watching them peck around my backyard. I love how frantic they get when a I throw them corn. I love the way that they run across the yard when they see me, like little Velociraptors. I love the way they squat to get petted.

I love them as babies, too. I love their soft, down-covered bellies. I love their cartoonish cheeps. We have four chicks right now. They’re almost three weeks old. Our kids get to name most of the chickens, as it inspires them to care for them.  For the first time recently, I picked my own chicken and named it.  I call her Attila the Hen.

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Jill, Attila, American Chicken and Super Chicken

These four chicks will double our flock, bringing them it to eight hens in total, providing we don’t have any surprise roosters.  Roosters are not legal within the city limits.  To the surprise of many, a family can have up to ten hens in the city of Las Vegas.  Laws about keeping a backyard flock of chickens are relaxing, as it becomes a more popular hobby, across the U.S.  

People don’t realize that yards in Las Vegas aren’t all swimming pools and concrete.  I am not alone in keeping chickens here, in fact, in many established Las Vegas neighborhoods, if you listen, you can hear a rooster in the morning, laws be damned.

I started this journey, although I didn’t realize it at the time, when my oldest was just a toddler, and my daughter was still a baby.  We decided to buy our first house and we wanted a big yard.  The rental we lived in at the time barely had a patio and we wanted our kids to have space to play outside.  We ended up in a small house on 7,000 square feet of land.  That doesn’t sound like much to many Americans but in the mind of most Las Vegans, that is practically an acreage.

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Just a city girl and her flock.

When my oldest son turned three, we had a petting zoo come to the house for his birthday.  Seeing all those goats and chickens running around my backyard gave me ideas.  I wanted desperately for my kids to connect with nature but that’s challenging in a large city.  We went to the park, we went to the mountains for hikes when we could but it wasn’t enough.  It was surprisingly easy to convince my husband to go along with the idea of keeping chickens.  We ordered a small coop online, assembled it and went to the closest feed store to pick up chicks.  That was five years ago.  My kids no longer remember a time when we didn’t have chickens.

When we moved to our new house, there was already a structure in the back that resembled a coop so we added roosting bars, mesh doors and a ramp and now our chickens have more room than they know what to do with and the babies get the tiny coop we started with.  Our hens spend most of their time free-ranging in among the weeds.  They make compost for my garden, which was kind of pathetic before having chickens.  They till the garden soil for me between seasons.  They eat all the bugs in our yard and a lot of the food scraps that would overload our compost.  They make me happy.  The biggest benefit to having chickens though is the eggs.

We get so many eggs.  We select breeds that are good layers but not so prolific that they can’t sustain a normal life.  I don’t butcher my chickens when they stop laying because I can afford that luxury.  A benefit to having a backyard flock, instead of operating a farm is that I’m not trying to make a living through these chickens.  They are more farm animal to me than pet but as a reward for a lifetime of laying eggs and bringing me joy, I let them live out their days with the rest of the flock.  My hens are healthy, happy and well loved.  My dear friend Christina loves to tell people that if she is ever reincarnated, she wants to come back as a Krikorian chicken.

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Our eggs normally come in green and brown.  They turn much richer colors than white eggs, when we dye them on Easter.

We get about one egg a day, per chicken.  Currently, we get four eggs a day, which even for a family of five adds up.  We give eggs as gifts, I serve them en masse at G Street to our hungry friends, on occasion I sell them but mostly, we just eat a lot of eggs.  We have eggs for breakfast, even on some weekdays.  My kids love quiche and hard boiled eggs, which is lucky for me.  My oldest son even requests eggs on his burgers sometimes.  “Breakfast” foods are not a thing in our house.  My youngest is eating a ham, egg and cheese burrito for lunch as I type this.  I host Easter every year for my extended family and even for an Easter brunch, eggs are plentiful.

With a surplus of eggs in mind, I am sharing with you a very simple recipe for oven scrambled eggs.  It is great for a large brunch but just as great to serve to the hungry on G Street.  With so much protein and flavor, I can’t serve eggs fast enough in the chow line.

Find the recipe here.  Oven Scrambled Eggs

 

 

 

A Family Affair

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Photo courtesy of The Weather Channel

It’s been a long winter, here in Vegas.  It’s been snowing, which is very unusual. We had a snow day, which never happens. Temperatures have been low and the wind has been near constant.  No one here knows what to do with the snow and that goes for our homeless community as well.  We’ve been focusing a lot of our energy on supplying tents, blankets and warm clothes.

Hot coffee and soup have been popular foods.  In fact, soup has been so popular that everyone on G Street is walking around with four bowls and a belly full of soup.

My goal is always to fill the need.  The people we serve don’t need more soup so I put away my crockpot and started brainstorming.

Fortunately, my good friend, Lynn came by my house over the weekend with supplies for me to take to G Street.  Tents, hygiene supplies, a case of peanut butter and a few jars of jelly.  She is great at finding a bargain.  When the universe sends me peanut butter and jelly, I make sandwiches.

I had two loaves of bread already and plenty of paper bags.  For about ten bucks I picked up individual bags of chips, sandwich bags and seedless oranges.  Another dear friend, Annette, answered a request that I made on Facebook for drinks and brought me two cases of water.  She included a bag of Hershey kisses for our friends, just to be sweet.  So I put my kids to work packing 24 sack lunches.

I have a confession to make.  I don’t involve my kids in enough of my volunteering.  I have a terrible habit of doing things myself when it’s easier than involving my kids.  I’ve been working on it around the house but I haven’t done much to change this behavior when it comes to serving the community.

I tell them that it’s important but when it comes to serving, they are usually not as involved as they should be.  The problem with this is that I started my path into volunteerism, in part, to be a good example for my kids.

I am attempting to remedy this bad habit of excluding my kids by forcing them into hard labor.  Having them prep items at home is the easiest way to get them involved and should I be brave enough to bring the whole clan down to G Street with me, sack lunches are quick and easy to pass out.  There’s no chance that they will burn themselves or spill food everywhere.

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Of course if your kids are in charge of packing the lunches, make sure there isn’t a bag that just has two oranges and thirty chocolate kisses in it.  That can happen.

Since I still have peanut butter and jelly left, I will likely be making sack lunches with my family for a few more weeks.  While this meal is hearty and practical they don’t exactly say “lovin’ from the oven.”  My kids were occupied assembling so I had time to bake cookies while they were distracted.

Find the recipe, here.  Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

 

From Rags to Breeches

Just over eight years ago, I was twenty-seven years old and pregnant with my first child. My due date had come and gone and I was driven entirely by hormones and a strong desire to jumpstart labor.  I was sitting in a pew at Mass, between my husband and my sisters.  I should have been paying attention to the homily but I was restless and started thumbing through the church bulletin.

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Oh, those long ago days of awaiting my first born. I had no idea what I was in for.

I saw an ad that Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada had placed, saying that they were completely out of diapers to pass out to the public.  It had never occurred to me that Catholic Charities passed out diapers.  I hadn’t spent a lot of time before then thinking about diapers at all.  I wondered where someone would go if they didn’t have diapers for their baby.  What would someone do if they didn’t have the support system that I did?  Before I knew it, I was sobbing, loudly in the middle of a crowded church.

My husband and my sisters panicked.  They wondered if I was in labor.  Was I in pain?  Was something horrible happening?  I blubbered unclearly before slapping the bulletin into my sister’s hands.  “They don’t have any diapers! Babies need diapers!”  My husband and my sisters promised me they would donate diapers in a desperate attempt to stop my crying.  Thus started my crusade.

I went to my women’s group, the OLLV Women’s Guild to ask for help and they didn’t enjoy watching a pregnant woman ugly-cry either so they agreed to help.  That first year, we collected 1200 diapers and we were ecstatic.

That next Sunday, Monsignor Patrick Leary showed up to thank us for the donation.  Sadly, he didn’t show up at my Mass, that’s just my luck.  He told the parishioners that when our donation arrived, there were women in the waiting area, using gas-station paper towels and plastic grocery bags, as diapers on their babies, because it was the best they could do.

That may be the worst thing you have ever heard about babies without diapers but it is not the worst thing I have heard.  Diaper insecurity is a very real problem that few people know exists.

Thirty-two percent of parents in the United States have admitted to re-using soiled, disposable diapers.  One in three mothers can’t afford enough diapers for her children.  That is 5.2 million babies without an adequate supply of clean, dry diapers.

These children often suffer from delayed physical and cognitive development.  Otherwise joyous milestones like learning to walk become painful with chronic diaper rash or a urinary tract infection.

Diaper shortages negatively affect the whole family. A lack of clean diapers causes higher maternal stress and a higher risk of postpartum depression than even food insecurity.  Combine that with increased infant crying from related discomfort or illness and it isn’t difficult to see why these children are more likely to become the victims of child abuse.

I have been listening to and sharing stories about diaper insecurity for eight years and the sadness knows no bounds.  Luckily neither does the generosity of my community.  Every year, we collect more diapers.  The church, the school, the Knights of Columbus, RCIA, CCD, people from virtually every ministry participate now.  Our goals are met and topped every year.

I just hosted OLLV’s 8th Annual Diaper Drive for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and we sent 75,000 diapers to Catholic Charities.

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This is what 75,000 diapers look like. That’s right. I had to use pano view.

 

Every year to close-out our diaper drive, the OLLV Women’s Guild hosts a baby shower.  Any excuse for a party.  We eat, we drink, we play bingo and we take a picture with the spoils we’ve gathered.

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My diaper crusaders.

 

When our truck pulled up this year, Catholic Charities had been without diapers for five months.  They pass out about 10,000 diapers a month when they have diapers.  That means by September the cupboards will be bare again.  Unless, we can convince the rest of the community to contribute as well.

I’m brainstorming and maybe you can, too.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for future diaper drives or collections, reach out and let me know.  Maybe we can diaper all the babies, together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Defense of Street Feeding

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The Corridor of Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In a blighted part of the city, that most people avoid, is the Corridor of Hope. Although the name wasn’t meant to be satirical, when you see the worn tents and cardboard lean-tos littering the sidewalks and empty lots, it is impossible not to see irony in the name.

There, in the Corridor of Hope, are the titans of philanthropy. Sprawling campuses, where all hands are on deck to help the homeless, the poor, immigrants, and addicts as well as helping with adoptions, providing cooling stations when the weather hits triple digits, offering healthcare and operating soup kitchens.

Just a few blocks from downtown, this particular piece of Las Vegas Boulevard is an area that no tourist would dare to tread.  With the exception of government-owned properties, there are few functioning businesses. It’s quite literally a shanty-town.

There are hundreds of people sleeping outside the gates of the charitable compounds. There are not enough beds, there isn’t enough food, there is not enough manpower and there isn’t nearly enough funding to care for all of these people. They stay in the area hoping to get in for a meal but the ugly truth is that there will always be thousands of people beyond the reach of these magnanimous mammoths.

There are groups like Safe Nest that care for victims of domestic violence, there is a drug rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities has a homeless to home transitional program but despite all their efforts, there is still no room at the inn for many. This is especially true for males, who make up about 75% of the chronically homeless, nationwide.

Sadly, no amount of shelters will get everyone off the street. It is easy for people to say that the homeless chose to live on the street and to dismiss them completely.  We must remember that they are human beings and that they have reasons for fearing the help that they are offered.  There is a vulnerability in homelessness that I pray neither you nor I will ever completely understand. When someone needs to be on guard twenty-four hours a day, paranoia creeps in. If you don’t have a safe place to rest, you become sleep deprived. The meager belongings that you have become all that you have to lose. When you include insult, abuse and intimidation, from other homeless, the cops and passers-by, it isn’t hard to see why so many vagrants are distrusting of everyone around them. It’s a survival mechanism.

There are teenagers, too afraid of being returned to abusive households to fill out any of the necessary paperwork. There are undocumented immigrants afraid of being reported to ICE. There are women too afraid of being discovered by their abuser to go to a shelter. There are mothers too afraid of having their children taken away. There are people with warrants for trespassing or urban camping that would rather be exposed to the elements and hungry than in jail. None of these people will go to organizations and deal with the bureaucracy on campuses that are teeming with patrol cars.

Safety can be a serious concern in facilities for the homeless, as well. There is no amount of security that can keep an eye on hundreds of people in one room, every second. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many people have told me that they will never return to a shelter because they were robbed or assaulted by other people staying there. Shelters nationwide have had issues with bed bugs, scabies and fleas which can make the struggle of homelessness even worse.  You cannot bring your pet and you likely cannot bring your stuff inside with you.

There are people within these organizations that think that “street feeding” (their words, not ours) which is volunteering directly with the homeless in your community, is part of the problem and that “street feeders” (their term, not ours) are the enemy. They believe that all acts of charity should be performed through designated 5013Cs and that a cash donation would go farther than a meal and a conversation. Believing that street feeders are the enemy to soup kitchens is like thinking that paramedics are the enemy of hospitals.

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The kind of  attention only personal interaction offers.

The unfortunate truth is that street feeders can’t take a homeless person from poverty. In most cases, we can’t provide jobs or shelter and we certainly can’t provide healthcare, drug rehabilitation or psychological treatment. Our main goal is to help each person that we encounter to make it to tomorrow. Today they may be too hungry, too hopeless or too high to believe that a better life is possible but a decent meal, a bottle of water, cup of coffee, a warm coat or a fresh pair of socks and the attention of someone who isn’t avoiding eye contact with them, can make a big difference. We can help provide them with the endurance to make it to tomorrow. Tomorrow might be the day that they get a job, get into a shelter or a program. Tomorrow could be anything but only if they survive today.

Major organizations can’t leave their campuses and seek out the homeless. They can’t refer to the thousands of people they feed in a day by name and they certainly aren’t allowed to hug them.

Volunteering at these organizations is a wonderful thing. You can host food drives, you can stuff backpacks, you can do a lot. What you can’t do, in most cases, is interact directly with the people you want to help.

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Who wouldn’t want a sandwich from these guys?

I want to see the people that I serve. I want to ask them what they need so that I can answer honestly when people ask me what food or goods they should consider donating. I want to look them in the eyes, so at least one person has acknowledged them that day. I want them to know that there are hundreds of people willing to give their time and talent to help each one of them. That is the difference between hosting a canned food drive for people that you will never see and putting food onto the plate of someone across a folding table.

I am eternally grateful for the amount of good work that organizations like Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the Rescue Mission do all over the world. They save lives, they help people survive homelessness and they provide transitional housing, empowering people to live normal, healthy lives.

Someday, I hope that everyone that I see in my line has the courage to go to these organizations and make meaningful changes in their lives. In the meantime, I will do my best to make sure that they don’t starve, that they stay warm, that they stay hydrated and that I ask them how they are.

Everyone should be helping those among us that need help. Both organizations and individuals serve our purposes and we both serve our communities. We should be able to do these things together.

“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”

Dorothy Day

 

It’s A Dry Heat.

If you ever want to test the patience of someone from the southwest United States, there is an easy, universally despised way. Just slip the phrase, “it’s a dry heat,” into conversation. Ovens are a dry heat and saunas are a humid heat. Which would you prefer to spend time in?

According to the 2017 Homeless Death Report, compiled by the Clark County coroner, one-hundred and eighty-nine people that were identified as homeless, died in 2017. Out of that total, sixty-two of those people died due to heat-exposure.

Reread that. Let it sink in. Sixty-two homeless people died because of heat-exposure, last year. Approximately one-third of the amount of homeless deaths that were experienced in Las Vegas last year, were the result of the weather. In a city that doesn’t experience much in the way of natural disasters, it doesn’t seem like the weather should be able to kill us but here we are, held hostage by the sun.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as of 2016, Nevada has the highest death toll of any U.S. state for heat-related deaths for four years running and we’ve seen a spike in deaths since then.

In an effort to more deeply understand the plight of my friends living on the street, I participated in a unity fast last week. For one day, I fasted per the Ramadan rules. Those rules are much stricter than the Catholic fasting and abstinence rules that I’m used to. I can easily afford to skip a few meals but spending a summer day in Las Vegas without water was no picnic. I had to lie down during my kids’ nap and by the time the sun went down at 8:00pm, I felt lethargic and dizzy. The next day I had a dehydration headache no matter how much water I consumed and believe me, I drank a lot of water the next several days.

Still, it was a blessing.

I got to take a tiny peek at the symptoms that people who suffer from dehydration experience. I spent my whole day in the air conditioning. I didn’t have severe sunburns, which are common among the homeless during the summer. I didn’t have heat exhaustion from relentless exposure to triple digit temperatures and I only went about a day without food and thirteen hours without fluids.

The city has cooling stations that are opened during the summer months and additional locations that open during extreme heat advisories.  I print the information off the city website and pass it out to everyone I see that is without shelter from the heat.  Sadly, there aren’t enough cooling stations to hold all the homeless in Las Vegas and those that are living on the street aren’t always capable of traveling to them.

Cooler

Many of our volunteers aren’t able to come to G Street to serve in extreme heat and others travel for vacation so every able bodied volunteer is more important during the summer months. It’s by far the most difficult time of the year to meet the needs of those that rely on us.  Luckily, those that aren’t able to serve can contribute in other ways. Last year, a friend of mine donated a big, pull-along cooler that I dubbed “the Hydration Station.” Isn’t it beautiful?

If a few hours without water made me “hangry,” imagine how pleased someone who spends 24/7 in the heat is when they get a cold bottle of gatorade and a smile.