Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lend a Hand Where You Can

The Philly Future team is asking area bloggers to consider posting a note on homelessness, and to spread the word on an event next Thursday. For more information see the excellent first person account on the philly future home page.

In my blogger profile I refer to myself as a community activist but I haven’t talked much about it. Homelessness is a big problem and it is easy to ignore it because it isn’t something you can solve with research or marches or ribbons. It is a problem that is solved person by person, one at a time, one hand helping another. It requires not only money but also personal involvement. A lot of people I know have a homeless guy, someone they look after to some degree, if only to take note of on their daily journeys.

Last May I wrote a post about my homeless guy. In it I refer to some volunteer work a group from my office does. About six years ago someone from the office signed us up and one or two days a month we take a couple of hours and open cases of canned goods and boxed mixes and put them in paper bags to be distributed to the working poor and street people. Many people can remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. I am one of them. It was our day to bag. After hearing the news the team decided to go ahead to the church to work because unless the world ended people would be wanting their food on the regular distribution day. Someone else from work came to find us to tell us our building, heck the whole town, was shutting down and we needed to collect our stuff. I was, in fact, holding a box cutter when the person told us how the planes were hijacked. I didn’t use one again for years, preferring to tear the boxes open.

One of the street guys who has worked with the program longer than I have, went through rehab again last year. It seems to have taken this time. He’s in an efficiency apartment now, and trying to track down his grown children, whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to for years. It is amazing to watch the transformation in him.

City street people are easy to see but the suburban homeless are more furtive, sleeping in their cars, or part of a network of informal shelters. Many churches participate in a traveling homeless shelter. They band together by geographic areas to house homeless people who seek help from a particular group that sponsors the effort. For a week or two or a month the church will host one or two or three individuals or families (usually a woman alone or with children). Church people will sign up to bring in the evening meal and eat with the guests, two other people will stay in the church that night with the guests. During the day they go to a day shelter or work or school. I can’t easily do either of those services, but I sign up for the laundry team. A few weekends each year I wash the guests’ bedding and towels.

Some quilters make “ugly quilts” to distribute to the homeless. Other formal and informal groups make contributions in whatever way they can. I know people who simply make an extra sandwich a few times a week when they make their lunch and hand it out to whomever they see on the street. Sometimes simply meeting someone’s eyes and saying “hello,” can make a difference.

A fast food chain near where I live has adopted a local homeless guy. He sweeps up around the store and keeps his stuff on the store grounds. You can often see him at a table in the corner. I assume he gets some food in return for his work. The kids like burgers and fries so we take them to that store once a week. Someone told me I should write the manager a letter telling them why I picked that place, to make sure there are some positives to balance out the negative letters they surely get for befriending this guy.

What I am trying to say here is that everyone, regardless of their relative talents and financial status, can do something. Find a way that you can reach out to someone or provide some support to someone else who does.

Here is one way you can help:
The Young Friends of Project HOME are holding an important event, this Thursday, October 27, 5:30pm to 8:00pm. It's an opportunity for young professionals in Philadelphia to learn about its efforts and to network with one another. It's a chance to connect and to help.

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