Do something. Show up and participate. I promise it is more than worth it.
15 years ago I made the choice to become a social worker. I specifically chose to work with the homeless population. My ever present hope is for the call that my services are obsolete because homelessness and poverty have been healed and erraticated.
One day I was at work in Monrovia and discovered that there was a man living in the parking lot of my office. I would bring him fresh clothes and food but everyday he still lived in the parking lot. I had fed him ; had clothed him, but I began to wonder if I had really helped him at all. Nothing I had done changed his poverty and homelessness.
I asked my boss to give me advice. I was told I put the man in my car and drive him to the city limits where he would no longer be in our service provider area. This was the help that a local Community Center waa willing to offer the man taking shelter in the parking lot. I couldn’t believe it. There had to be a better way, I thought.
The internet was still new and many of the resources you can find on it today (such as my own blog) we’re not in existence yet. I looked in the phonebook and asked friends and ministers and anyone I could find for directions and the way to help this man. I found nothing and it broke my heart and angered me.
This job was my first full time job out of college with my new and exciting degree. This was also the job that ended my dependence on welfare and public cash aid and medical and food stamps. I was the Information Systems Director and paid more than almost everybody else in the office because I had a degree. Previously I had volunteered at this agency. I felt a great deal of guilt that where I had worked for free I was now earning more money than my coworkers. I also felt survivor’s guilt. I felt like I needed to reach behind me and pull somebody else up into a state of self-efficacy. I knew depending on the kindness of others was it harrowing condition. It reminded me of the film A Streetcar Named Desire where in the character Blanche states " I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. ". Hopefully you will never know how terrifying it is not know where your next meal is coming. It is an emotional torture as much as a physical one. For me, I had a four year old daughter that I was raising on my own and finally had achieved a pinnacle of success. The homeless man was taken out of the area and soon after I left that agency to become an expert on homelessness.
15 years later I answer my phone at work and give out information for resources and services for low income Angelinos. I can do this with eyes shut and occasionally while playing Candy Crush.
I am heartbroken and horrified that I still get to answer these questions. As wonderful as it is to know which service providers are competent and to know the paths out of poverty that will be successful for my clients : I am sick at heart that there is still I need for these services. Part of me wonders about what is happening in the world where more people are homeless now and they were in 2008 when this recession began.
I have not been sitting still. I am following the news. I write my congressman. I make appeals to my political party. I meet the senators and congressmen and my representative and I tell them what is on my heart. But I am only one person. I am only one vote. I need you to put me out of a job. I need you to show up. Please, find the social service agency near you and give it your love and attention. Bring to it your skills. Help them reduce the number of people that they have to serve. Speak to your government. It is a government of the people by the people. If you don’t participate its not working correctly. You and I are connected here and on Facebook and are friends in real life. I know that you were angry that there are people on welfare and in poverty. I also know that you are angry at the people in poverty and not as angry at systems that keep them there.
Stop keeping your distance. Stop being angry for my arms length away. I am inviting you to put your voice and your mind into action. I am asking you to do good.