I just returned from a visit to a small encampment of people who live without permanent housing. These people have guts. They show a strength and resilience that I don’t know that I would have in their situation. This small community of our brothers and sisters suffering from a lack of housing is located in your city, and in my city. They live in every city in Orange County.
I invite you to talk to them. Listen to their stories. Then ask yourself how many people who have homes are a paycheck or two away from homelessness? Any one of us could experience an unexpected medical crisis, a bad divorce, an accident, serious depression or an addiction problem. The problems of those without homes are human problems, and these folks are no different than those of us who live in a dry, warm house or apartment.
When you land on the street things are going to be rough. In Orange County 210 people without a home died in 2018, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Incidences of hypothermia increased this winter with the storms and cold weather.
I heard stories of harassment. I listened to stories of sexual abuse perpetrated by those who hold positions of trust. Basic hygiene needs can quickly become complicated situations on the street. If the public restrooms are locked at the park, and you don’t have any money to go to a fast food restaurant or a convenience store, there is no place relieve yourself. Clothes become wet and moldy during the rainy season. Theft happens out of need. Alcohol and drug addictions are fueled out of despair.
The people I spoke with were warm, funny and hospitable. They were open and friendly with me when they had no reason to be. I asked several people what they would say to you, dear reader, about being without safe shelter in Orange County. Here are their messages. “We are just like everybody else.” “When we stay in the shelters, we get sick.” “We need porta-potties and open public restrooms in the parks and other places.”
We, as concerned citizens, need to keep political pressure on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and city officials to increase the number of clean, safe shelters and permanent housing options. Each of us can combat NIMBYism, advocate for realistic measures to deal with human waste and put ourselves for five minutes in the other person’s shoes. Doing the right thing requires that many of us move away from stereotypes and quick judgements, and get out of our comfort zone to help.
Here is a request from a member of this small but vibrant community, to those who can help: “They need to remember that Jesus was homeless.”
The Rev. Rayna Hamre is Unitarian Universalist Community Minister serving in Orange County. She lives in Huntington Beach.