City Life: Shelter supports families in tough times

We should all be pleased that last month retail sales rose 6% over November 2009. And we should all be pleased that November's year-over-year apparel sales jumped 9.9%. If a rising tide raises all boats, perhaps it's time to start thinking about breaking out the oars.

That will be easier for some of us. Most of us who have jobs and homes and food and clothes have been holding back for the last couple of years, uncertain about whether we're going to be able to provide for ourselves or our families.

We're working harder to earn the money we spend. Hiring is very slow, with companies uncertain as well, and asking existing employees to carry the extra burden. Employees, grateful for the fact that they have a job, put in the hours or assume the extra duties and don't complain.

There are some who'd be eternally grateful for the chance to be able to complain about having too much work or putting in too many hours. They'd love to be able to take a coffee break with co-workers and chat about movies or their plans for the weekend.

They'd like to sit at a desk, drive a delivery truck or work in a retail store — anything — but, right now, they cannot.

This select group of local Americans defies your perceptions of the homeless. These people are not out on the street pushing fully loaded shopping carts around town, diving in Dumpsters and talking to themselves. In fact, if you saw these people on the street, you wouldn't think twice about them.

These people are waiting at the bus stop to get to a job interview, one of many they've had over the past few weeks or months. Landing a job when you're homeless has always been tough. Now, it's almost impossible.

Still, they keep trying. They are persistent because they are not quitters. Even more special, unlike many of us, they know when it's time to ask for help. During 2010 these people — parents, all of them — were victims of some catastrophe, the same type of disturbance that could happen to you or me. Some worked hard at their jobs but lacked seniority, so when layoffs came, they went. Some got sick and could not afford to pay their medical bills.

And sadly, some of them are women, the victims of men who hit them. Those brave women took their kids and left.

Everyone who wants your charitable donation this year is going to tell you the same thing: It's needed now more than ever and it's tougher to get. That is true. The difference, then, is deciding where to send your money so that it does the most good.

I have been writing for many years about the accomplishments of Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter, in Costa Mesa, and this year is no exception: Money is still scarce. But if you are inclined to make a donation this year — and I hope you will do so for any favorite cause — please finish this column because I want to make the case for donating to this exceptional organization.

At the shelter, families live on site. They eat there, get clothes and job training — even interview training. Kids are enrolled in school and someone makes sure that they attend and that they are doing their homework.

Being at the interfaith shelter is a close-ended deal. Families don't get to stay there forever, and they have a sense of urgency about getting their lives back.

I know it has been tough for you this year, but if it makes a difference, I'm going to let you in on a secret: There is a high probability that my 2010 has probably been tougher than yours in any respect, and I am sending the shelter some money.

If you want to make a real difference in the lives of people who are trying hard not to be a burden to society and to live the lives we often take for granted, please make a donation today to the shelter. You can donate on-line at or mail your check to Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter, 1963 Wallace Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92627, or call (949) 631-7213.

Thank you very much.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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