A couple of weeks ago I made a delivery to a mental health facility in Oakland, CA, at about 6:30 pm. As I left the building and entered the parking lot I was approached by a homeless woman asking me about the facility. I told her it was a place for mentally ill patients. She asked if there was someone she could talk to. I went back inside where the security guard told me that he had already told her that there was a place around the corner for her. I came back out and relayed the information to her. She did not want to go there since she had previously had a bad experience there. She asked if I knew of a safe place for her to spend the night. Since I did not, I called a couple of friends of mine who had better resources.
I was given three phone numbers to try. I called the first one, where I was told that she would need a referral from a social worker before she could stay there. I called the second phone number where I was connected to their answering service and was told all the case workers had already gone home, and there was nothing that could be done to help her at this time of night. I tried calling the third number, but because I have an out of state area code, I was unable to connect. I was left as helpless as I had started. All of these calls took about 30 minutes, and I was back at square one. In all this time, the homeless woman got a little more comfortable with me and said I seemed like someone she could trust. I felt a deep need to help her, so I called one of my friends back and told him what had happened. He searched diligently for somewhere we could send her. Finally, he called me back with a referral to a church in Berkeley that would be opening their doors for the night for homeless people to stay because it was expected to rain that night.
I gave the homeless woman the information, and I walked her to the bus stop, where I stood with her for about 20 minutes. When the bus came, she grabbed a couple of her bags and I grabbed one her bags, and we started walking to the bus, but halfway to the door, she stopped and decided not to get on. Something spooked her, and I do not know what it was. I waited a few minutes longer with her, and we talked while we waited. She was very soft spoken, so I could not make out much of what she was saying, but what I did know was that she had her kids taken away from her because she had no home, and they were in foster care. I had gotten the impression that she had left a violent situation. She was scared of men, which is something I not only heard from what she said, but from what I had also observed. Perhaps it was the male bus driver that had spooked her, maybe it was his impatience, maybe something else. I asked her for her name, and she replied, but I did not quite catch what she said. I asked if it was Lori or Glory, and when I said Glory, she smiled and said something about that being in the Bible. So, just because she seemed to gravitate toward the name Glory, I decided that for me, that would be her name.
We waited, but I was holding my co-workers’ paychecks – in gang territory – and it was dark outside. I was becoming keenly aware of the time, with my chance to meet with my co-workers fast approaching. I wanted so much to help Glory, but it was becoming apparent to me that there was little I could do. I did not have money to buy her a hotel room for the night – nor even a little spare change I could offer her. The ironic thing was that though I had my co-workers’ paychecks, someone else was holding mine, so I did not have the ability to go to the ATM and withdraw money, and I do not have credit cards either.
I finally excused myself and hurried on my way to get to my car. As I left, I noticed another bus coming and hoped that Glory would get on it and use the information that I repeated to her about the church in Berkeley and stay there for the night. As I drove away, I noticed the bus had left, and she was still there. I was disappointed. I was afraid for her. I felt guilty. I felt angry.
I was disappointed because I felt that she would not make it in time to the church to get a ticket and spend a night dry and safe. Indeed, I was not sure she would even try to get there. I was afraid for her safety because this was gang territory, and she looked like an easy target with her three bags and a blanket she had wrapped around her. I felt guilty because I did not put her in my car and drive her somewhere safer. And I was angry because it seemed so ridiculously and overwhelmingly difficult to get her help. Why was it so hard for a sweet, fearful homeless woman, such as Glory, to get help for the most basic of needs – a safe place to stay?
This has been eating at me for the last couple of weeks. I know there are a lot of homeless people in Oakland. I see them on street corners asking for money and sleeping on sidewalks and under the overpasses. I see camps of homeless folk living off of freeway on/off ramps and in the trees that saturate some side streets. I do not know if they can all be helped or not, but there is a need to try. The facilities that are open to the homeless are fewer than needed with limited beds available. People searching for a place to stay the night do not always find these shelters safe and would opt to stay on the streets, which in my opinion are just as bad. And what I found out was that some of these places require one to have a referral from a social worker. REALLY?!
Glory seemed very sweet, a little afraid, and certainly in need. Her request was simple: a safe place to stay the night. Why is it so hard to provide shelter for those in need? Look, I know it takes money, but money abounds in lots of places. For example, the average person has probably donated to a charity or cause of some sort at least once in his or her lifetime. We donate to all kinds of things. Can we not find a charity to help the homeless people with shelter and at least one warm meal a day?
You touched my heart, Glory. May you be blessed and protected.