It is difficult to describe the heartbreak I feel as our Winter Shelters close. This weekend 450+ souls were asking, “Where can I go?” The very sad part is that many of these folks have never experienced homelessness before. We saw our economy crumble during the months the emergency Winter Shelters were open (Dec-March). Now as they close, these fearful folks will be on the streets for the first time in their lives.
Friday evening I stopped by the Burbank Winter Shelter to be a part of the very special meal of chicken and ribs our kitchen prepared for the guests. California Assemblyman, Paul Krekorian was there with our other faithful volunteers serving the special meals to the guests at tablecloth covered tables. That night many folks were asking me, “Where can I go?” One of our guests–a tall, handsome, and very polite man–asked me to lead them in prayer before they began eating. I was touched by their spirit of thankfulness even as they were about to face absolute homelessness. Another man called me over to his table. I thought he wanted another plate, but instead he thanked me and said that our Winter Shelter staff was incredibly helpful.
My wife and I visited the West LA Winter Shelter Saturday night. There, I asked Lucy, a lovely redheaded woman to come to URM downtown today so that we could assist her. She responded, “I can’t come downtown! The last time I did I was attacked on the street!” I asked the same to a lovely older woman, Annie, and she agreed to come down and give us a chance to assist her in finding housing. Another fellow hugged me in the parking lot and thanked me for the Winter Shelter.
With a real unemployment rate of 20% in Los Angeles, I have been pleading for help. I have been hoping against hope that Governor Schwarzenegger and other leaders would recognize the emergency we are in during this Great Recession—that they would keep the National Guard Armories open and continue the Winter Shelters year round. Unfortunately, no such leadership or help has come forward. Instead of finding partners to step up with an emergency plan to assist, we find ourselves battling some neighbors and a Burbank City Councilman just in order to open the Burbank Winter Shelter again next year. As a result, the majority of the 450+ people at our Winter Shelters, along with many others from Winter Shelters in the area, will find themselves without a roof tonight.
To add insult to injury, on Sunday I received word that the Sergeant on duty at the Burbank Armory decided to close one day early. Our staff found out at 3:40pm when they showed up to go to work. Our team scrambled to move the folks quickly to our downtown URM gym for the night.
Though my heart is breaking, I am also burning with a bit of (I hope) righteous anger at leaders who seem to be caught like a deer in the headlights instead of responding to the needs of fellow human beings. We at Union Rescue Mission are doing what we can. We are leaving most of our Winter cots up at our downtown facility, though we absolutely do not have the funds to do so. Our faithful staff are meeting with people that we referred from area Winter Shelters, many of whom are rightly scared to death of life on the streets. We are doing our best to assist them in finding a place to go.
Please pray for these precious souls. Pray for our leaders to wake up to the emergency we are in. Pray for Union Rescue Mission and our response. Pray for me. Thank you.