17 November 2014

Homelessness, HomeWalk LA, and being Grateful

Our crew for this months' homeless outreach including
Yn Susan, Me, Fr. Vazken, Meline (Harout's mom), Sonig
and Kevork (Harout's aunt and uncle) and Ani T.
If you tuned in to last week's episode of the Next Step with Fr. Vazken, or if you're friends with "In His Shoes" on Facebook, you've no doubt heard about our homeless outreach last Thursday evening.  I've talked out our In His Shoes homeless outreach quite often....in fact I feel like I'm talking about it all the time.  But it's important.  And I wanted to mention what a beautiful gesture it is when a meal is donated in memory of a loved one to those who have no way of repaying the kindness.  A couple months ago, the Hamparian family donated the meal in memory of their daughter Cathia.  This month the meal was donated in memory of Harout Mekhdjian by his family.  We've had many other donors who have donated in memory of a dear father and husband, sister or a mother.  And in all these instances, I can tell you that the families leave the shelter after a night of service feeling uplifted.  This past week was no different.

We arrived at the shelter at 5:00 p.m. to prep for a 6:00 p.m. dinner.  After unloading the car, we started cooking.  There were mashed potatoes and stuffing to be made.  Harout's mom and aunt and uncle were offering a prayer of Thanksgiving for their son and nephew's life, by preparing a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings for the shelter residents.  Together we worked.   We all had our jobs.  I have never made such a huge pot of mashed potatoes...it was something like 28 cups of water, 14 cups of milk, 8 sticks of butter, and packet after packet of mashed potatoes!  The turkeys were prepped ahead of time and kept warm in the oven.  There was cranberry sauce and gravy to go with the potatoes and stuffing.  Salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  As we worked happily in the kitchen, I noticed a little girl looking at us through the window.  The kitchen at the shelter has a glass window where we can serve and pass the meals over.  And this little girl was watching us.  If she were a bit taller she would have been able to press her nose to the glass, but she was still a little too short.  She answered with a nod when I asked if she was hungry.

The shelter is home to families...and this month we had a record number of children.  The little
girl looked familiar.  I normally remember the kids from month to month and I like to surprise them by remembering their names.  But I couldn't remember her name or when I had seen her last.  But her face stumped me.  As we were cooking, the residents starting returning to the shelter, which is closed during the day as the men and women go off to look for work, and the children go to school. Some of the children were playing together in the main room while we cooked and I saw a mother with a baby in a stroller.  I had definitely seen her before and then it all clicked.  Last year, my siblings and our families had "adopted" a family for Christmas fulfilling their wish lists for clothing and gifts.  The little girl was four last Christmas but was tiny wearing only a size 2 toddler.  Now at five, she had grown a little bit more, but was still small.  The family that we adopted - who were then in transitional housing after  a fire had devasted their home - were now back at the shelter.  The mother, who was very pregnant last year, had had her baby - Gabriel.   I went up to her and reintroduced myself.  She remembered.  After commenting on how her children had grown so beautifully, I asked what had happened.  Plain and simple, she answered the funding for housing had run out.  Without that, they found themselves back on the street.  With four children, and having nowhere to turn, she came back to the shelter.  Grateful as she was to be inside, the shelter had no beds for them, and so for the time being, they were being allowed to sleep on the floor of the waiting room on blankets.  

I really can't imagine what I would do in this situation if I couldn't rely on my family or friends.  It would be so scary and difficult to be homeless just by myself, but throw my young children into the situation?  I don't know how I would manage.  I didn't know what I could possibly say.  I asked, "What's next?  What's going to happen?"  She didn't have an answer  She was hoping for some type of program that will help them get into housing.  "Hopefully," she said.   For the time being, she was grateful that they had a roof to sleep under and were off the street.

One of the things I've noticed about Ascencia is that because of it's small size, the residents all become a part of each other's family, sort of.  It's not uncommon to see the children sitting with their friends while the mom's sit and talk together at their table over dinner.  It's intimate enough for parents to keep an eye on their kids and for the children to feel safe.   Her younger children seemed unphased by all they had been through.  I'm guessing it was because this type of trauma had become their norm.  They sat with some of the other children, eating, laughing, playing with their food like children do.  Angel, her son, remembered me and came up asking me if I remembered his name.   I needed a hint and asked what letter it started with.   Once he said "A", I remembered.  And then Chris and Lauren who have been there for the past few months asked me if I remembered their names too. Of course I did.  : )  I worry about these kids during the month.   I wonder how this will effect all of them.  The one that I fear is most affected is the teenage daughter who is about 14 but already looked mature and street smart for her age.  I noticed that she was sitting with the women, listening to their talking and complaints, learning about life from these women there who have no support systems and no one to rely on. These women who have been abused and neglected.  I think about my own teenage niece who has a loving family, is doing well in school, has interests and hobbies and parents that nurture and love her.  Even when you have everything going for you, being a teen is tough when you think about it.  So then what are this girl's odds of getting out of this situation unscathed given the emotional, psychological and physical trauma she's had to endure at a young age?

Fun pics from HomeWalkLA 2014 with
my husband Ned, niece Madi and dear
friend Nancy
I don't have the answer, but I can't sit back and do nothing either. And so we walked.  This past Saturday, Team In Her Shoes participated in HomeWalk L.A.  This is a  5K walk/run organized by United Way.  It was our 7th year participating.  And this year there were a record number of us walkers:  13,000 of us took to the streets of Los Angeles to raise money and awareness for the homeless of our city.  I want to thank those of you who donated to my walk!  This year's walk generated $1.3 million dollars to be used for helping LA's homeless population.  With the money raised, 1,300 families will be housed!!!  I hope and pray that our little family in Glendale will be able to reap the benefits of our efforts.

As we walked through the streets we learned about homelessness in our city.  There are 40,000 documented homeless men, women and children in LA.  If you count the undocumented in with them, it is estimated that there is closer to 53,000.  It's heartbreaking, isn't it?  Everyone deserves a home, a place to feel safe.  53,000 of us here in our city don't have that luxury. When you look at the even broader picture, the statistic is even more staggering. The National Center on Family Homelessness reports "One in 45 children experience homelessness in America each year.  That's over 1.6 million children.  While homeless, they experience high rates of acute and chronic health problems.  The constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experience also has profound effects on their development and ability to learn."  

So where am I going with all of this?  I don't have the answer.  Well, I guess that's not really true. What we can do...what we can ALL do is to keep them in our prayers.   AND we can extend the hand
of friendship and love to them as our brothers and sisters.  I understand.  Not all homeless people are friendly, but most are used to being invisible.  When I get off my bus in downtown, it's 6:45 in the morning when I start walking the few blocks to work.   I've got my headphones in as do probably 80% of those that I pass.  There are homeless individuals who are just waking up from a night on the street.  I can choose to keep my headphones in and pass them by acting like I don't hear them asking for help.  Or I can take the headphones off and address them.   I can't always help, but I can always acknowledge that I hear them.  I can always say hello and listen.  I can always show them compassion and treat them as I would want to be treated.  Last week, I challenged my readers to get involved in their local shelters.  Offer to serve or cook a meal, donate clothing, adopt a family for the holidays.  Remember always that without our own support systems (our family and friends), it would be very easy for us to be in their shoes.  So lets help by walking in the shoes of those that are suffering, and offer a helping hand whenever we can.  It's what we're called to do. 

Finally, last week I said I was going to share a Thanksgiving list with you.  Stuff to be grateful for.  I
What if it really happened?  What would you have?
actually started doing this last month and have continued well into this month and will take it beyond. I've been trying to do FIVE a day, and I'll tell you, it's really changed my perspective so much on all that I have in this beautiful life.  So here I will just share some of them with you in the hopes that you'll share some of yours with me!

So here;s my Gratitude List so far:

I am grateful for....

1.  This beautiful day that God has put in front of me.
2.  Our beautiful grandchildren Arek and Grace who bring so much joy into my life.
3.  The ability to swing a kettle bell and bend my knees today (I have arthritis and some days the inflammation is terribly painful...but for today, the knees are good!
4.  My mom and the relationship I share with her
5.  A boss that listened to me when I told her my job was unfulfilling to me unless I could be creative.....and allowed me to work a 4 day week and keep my benefits, so I could spend time growing my business.  Or the fact that she doesn't flip out when I tell her I'm going to be late when I have to take mom to the doctor.
6.  My faith...that teaches me love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness of others (although I'm still working on being loving, compassionate and forgiving of myself)
7.  My husband who truly is my understanding and caring partner
8.  The relationship I share with my children.  I am blessed to be close to both my daughter and son.
9.  Cloudy mornings that are so beautiful and chilly
10.  Music...and it's ability to color my life with memories
11.  Running water/plumbing:  I am always reminded of how lucky I am to have clean water, plumbing, the ability to shower and wash myself when I see my friends on the street.  
12. My sister, brothers, and their spouses.  The support and love that we give to one another makes life so much easier.
13.  Good coffee
14.  A variety of healthy beautifully colored fruits and vegetables
15.  Friendly people at the bus stop that make my wait nicer
16  My health!
17.  The ability to buy groceries and pay my bills
18.  A phone that allows me to see photos of my grandson and how quickly he's growing
19.  Bright, sunny and windy fall days like today
20.  Heating that makes my home warm and cozy on chilly evenings
21.  My kitties who love me unconditionally
22.  Dear friends to share life's ups and downs with
23.  Healthcare - I've seen both sides of this one, and life is so much easier when you have health insurance!
24.  The ability to create, visualize, and actualize a project to completion
25.  Curiosity that keeps me wanting to learn new things and figure out stuff

------I'll keep adding to the list daily and I hope it will encourage you to take a look at all that is beautiful in your lives too!
 If you'd like to share your list (or anything else with me), or if you'd like more information about sponsoring one of our homeless outreach meals, please email me at anushnoor@gmail.com or you can find me on facebook too!  Or feel free to leave your comments!

Also, we're full swing into our Thanksgiving canned food drive.  If you're in our local area of Glendale, CA and would like to participate, please bring your dry and canned goods to our church by next Sunday, November 23rd.  We'll be boxing up food and turkeys for Thanksgiving distribution on on Thanksgiving eve. 

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