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Guest editorial: Church programs help homeless but it’s still not enough

By Carol Biederman

The Interfaith Shelter Network operates shelters county-wide, giving shelter and social services to those without housing during the winter months of the year. La Mesa churches house 12 to 15 homeless, men, women and families in their social halls and classrooms on a rotational basis of two weeks each. The services offered include help to find housing, medical and mental health care, jobs and job training.

The La Mesa Methodist Church is fortunate to have shower facilities for the participants. That these showers stand unused the other 50 weeks of the year has inspired the Methodist Community Outreach to sponsor a new program giving homeless free breakfast and a shower. The program is held once a month on a Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to noon at La Mesa First Methodist Church, 4690 Palm Ave.

A member of the San Diego Family Community Health Centers has been coming to help the participants find health care and give free blood pressure checks. Volunteers from the California Hair Design beauty school have been on site to give free haircuts. St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church and The Franciscan Peace Connection have been active participants in these breakfasts by sharing their time and food donations.

Congregations throughout La Mesa work together to feed children over the summer through the Summer Lunch Program of the Interfaith Council of La Mesa. Hosted at Vista La Mesa Christian Church located at 4210 Massachusetts Ave., the program provides a free lunch to kids 18-and-under from the time schools let out until they open again in mid-August. The whole family is welcomed, with food provided for adults by special donations. There are activities every day, with four special “Fun Days” scheduled on Thursdays every other week. The program is open Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., starting June 20. For information about volunteering, email Rebecca Littlejohn at pastorbecky@yahoo.com.

Feeding the Flock Ministry offers four cooked meals a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 6 p.m. at Calvary Church, 7525 El Cajon Blvd. with services following the meal. They also operate a Food Bank and Help Center which is by appointment. Call 619-709-2292 to make an appointment

Journey Church on 8363 Center Drive serves the many needy who come every day seeking food, housing, clothing and trolley passes. The Church operates a food bank with four monthly distributions and provides more than 500 families with hefty bags of groceries and food for over 100 seniors on fixed income. The thrift store helps the needy with clothing and household items while helping to fund the above ministries.

Our La Mesa County Library has been a godsend, allowing the homeless to use the computers and to get in out of the rain and the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer.

All these programs are helpful, but what La Mesa really needs is a shelter where these families and men and women can enjoy the basic human right of housing. Too many of our citizens have no place to call home. This is unacceptable in our affluent country of America. All Americans deserve more than a blanket on the sidewalk.

The homeless are as old as 70 and as young as 6. They have not always been homeless. They have lost jobs, been evicted, have developed health problems and have been reduced to sleeping under the viaduct, on the sidewalk with a blanket. Some elderly citizens have metastatic cancer with colostomy bags; others are veterans. The fortunate live in their trucks or cars.

Recently, a young homeless man was beaten up by thugs and after the ER set his broken bones, he returned to the street on crutches. There are families with children that struggle for weeks before they are able to find housing. Some have access to a homeless shelter for the night hours but must be out early in the mornings. Many tend to stay away from the dangers of living close to substance abusers and mentally disturbed homeless in the crowded shelters. Others must buy a cup of McDonald’s coffee in order to use the toilet. Where can they shower and attend to the basic necessities of sanitation?

Not all are high school dropouts. The homeless include college graduates with degrees and professions. At this point in their life they have simple goals — a sleeping bag, a clean pair of socks and underpants, a bus pass to get to job interviews. And most of all, job interviews to get to.

—Carol Biederman is a member of the Community Outreach Ministry of the La Mesa First United Methodist Church.

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