I have 4 children. For those of you that know me, you know how much I love my kids. Around this time every year, I seem to get a little more contemplative. They’re getting older, I’m getting older. From the end of July through the end of August, in a 6 week span, they all celebrate a birthday. This week, is my youngest’s birthday and with each kid, I remember the moment they came into my life, a part of my family. Like most mothers, I find myself thinking about what makes each kid special, how they’ve enriched my life simply by being born and sharing who they are and where they fit. Each child has a place in my heart and I can’t imagine my life without any of them, special events like holidays or celebrations wouldn’t be the same without them. I’m not saying that I’ve never had a family event where one of them wasn’t in attendance, I’m saying that if they were absent – they were missed. Their conversation, qualities and presence was missed. I thought about this quite a bit this week. I commute about 35 miles into downtown Los Angeles 5 days a week to the financial district. I’ve worked in the same building for a little over 13 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes, architectually, economically and demographically. Downtown has changed. Lots of companies are now vying for the privilege to cater to the executives and their families that have moved into the city to be closer to their jobs. I guess that’s a good thing for them and for revitalizing the area. Along with the folks that have moved in and changed the demographic, and the companies that have moved in to cater to them, there’s another steady and growing population. There are the many homeless people that were there before the lofts were revitalized, new apartment buildings erected and the “young, hip and wealthy” moved in. It disturbs me that with all of the improvements the area has gone through, there is an entire population of have nots that live on bus benches, push their entire lives in shopping carts. Talk to themselves, beg for money for a mea, etcl.
I think about some of these people and as each year passes, I wonder about them personally. How they came to live on the streets? Were they missed by their families? Were their mothers missing them the way I know I would be missing mine? I know from talking to some that drugs were the catalyst for their descent. Others, I’m sure that mental illness played a part – though I wonder if the onset of the mental illness was apparent before their present living circumstances, or as a result from being on the street. I can’t imagine living on the streets – especially in the downtown area and not needing therapy, medication, hospitilization or all three. I see the haunted, vacant stares, and know that I would look the same way; many are hungry, hungry enough to search the trashcans in search of a meal; the begging, the air of utter despair – I see these individuals and I wonder who’s child this was and if they are missing them? If it’s their birthday? I wonder if their family’s heritage and traditions are lost or dying on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. If they had children, grandchildren that they’ve never had the opportunity to know, and in turn to be known.
Most people ignore them. They are frequently unacknowledged. I wonder how I would react if I were asking for help, only to have most people act like they didn’t see me.
At times like this week, I think of my own children and how I would miss them if they became a member of this segment of the population of people; the “unseen” that walk and live on those streets, here and all over the country without an anchor, without a family or a support system? There are some programs in place, I know, but not nearly enough. The Los Angeles Mission is nearby and does offer some services. I know that the Fred Jordan Mission mostly helps the growing number of poor and homeless families. I think that holidays are when most people think about the homeless. I think about them mostly around this time of year. The time of year when my kids are another turn another older. When I’m feeling blessed that I’ll have the opportunity to wish them a Happy Birthday. Wondering which of the men and women that I see and have seen are having a birthday this month too? I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know if there even is a solution that would work across the board and help these folks with even the basics. A clean bed, food to eat, shelter. I’ve heard that there are probably more than a few homeless people that won’t get help at these establishments because they either don’t feel safe, or can’t keep the small amount of personal belogings they own with them.
I know one person in my life that sees and acknowledges these people. She thinks of them and she tries to make a difference. She lives across the street from me and she is what I describe to the son of mine lucky enough to claim her as “the jackpot of mother-in-laws” but really, we all have benefitted from her compassion. Just knowing her and there are people like her in this world. Twice a month, after asking companies, individuals etc for donations of food, paper products etc. She spends a day cooking whatever ingredients she’s been fortunate enough to purchase or is donated and takes it to feed the homeless and hungry. There is some comfort in knowing someone personally that sees a need and steps up to the plate.
I hope one day, I am able to be counted among her ranks. Someone that is helping to make a difference, someone that hears a plea from those that are frequently “unseen and unacknowledged” and answers the call.