Another Perspective on Our Homeless

September 04, 2015

By Rev. Michelle Magee

Last fall I accepted the invitation, brought to the Santa Paula Ministerial Association, to be part of a community task force on ending homelessness. I shared that day that I have multiple forces that bring me to want to be involved in such a group. At the church I serve, we experience some of the unpleasant effects of the chronically homeless who spend time on the property when no one is around. Secondly, I was first and deeply immersed in ministry with homeless and borderline homeless people while serving as a missionary in Buenos Aires, at a soup kitchen. There I learned about some of the intricacies of balancing mercy and enforcing some ground rules, and how some people are ready for help and others just aren’t. How everyone has a story for how they ended up there, and most of them will break your heart. How working together with different agencies can help make a difference in people’s lives. And thirdly, my cousin had just recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. We were gradually learning stories from my aunt about times she had wandered away on her own, a symptom of that particular condition. While she is not homeless, any time she might wander she could certainly be mistaken for a homeless person. And I wonder how she might have been treated at those times, my own flesh and blood. 

I have been participating with that task force, which is now called Project H.O.P.E. Santa Paula. We have worked on developing clear goals for reducing homelessness. We have brought different agencies to the table together to brainstorm strategies for different situations and even certain individuals. I am aware as a citizen and as a pastor that there is a lot of frustration in Santa Paula, especially in the area of the chronically homeless, many of whom have mental health and/or substance abuse problems. And even though I would truly love to end homelessness here, I know that is not a realistic goal. Among the chronically homeless, who are often the most visual face of the homeless, there are people who are ready for help and there are always some who are not. 

I want to communicate, however, that there are many on the edge of homelessness, about to be or newly there, who could benefit from services which are hard to come by in Santa Paula. I do not intend in this article to outline all of those possibilities; more specific information about Project HOPE will be coming to the City Council in mid-September. But I hope to encourage the citizens of Santa Paula, that investing in services and even some form of housing could benefit all of us. Because even if there are individuals who won’t be ready to leave a homeless situation, there are scores more who will be able to take advantage of services and leave homelessness or never become homeless, by receiving a little help when they need it. Which we know is beneficial to the whole society: more children who stay with their parents in a stable environment; people who are able to keep their jobs or find work because they have an address and just that less stress; people who are employed pay more taxes and contribute more to society than those who aren’t. And so on. 

There is frustration even among our group for how very slowly progress can be made. Yet I have hope (pun a little bit intended) that if the citizens of Santa Paula decide that we, together, can make a difference, then big things can happen, lives can be changed. It will take a lot of us working together, and yes, time. I look forward to what can be accomplished! And in the mean time, how about thinking of the homeless you come into contact with, as though they were a cousin.   

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