I stood on the sidewalk staring into the eyes of a two-year old that sat naked on the crumbling front steps. He looked me up and down while he drank his Pepsi while I wondered about his clothes, his parents and his future. We were there to deliver beds to a family that lost everything in a fire.
The wooden floors were worn and covered in dirt. The front door hung from only one hinge and had a missing window. Maybe it was my training in the Marines years ago or just curiosity, but I found myself scanning each room as I passed. Each room was the same as the last. Empty.
“Where was the furniture”? I thought. There was not a chair, couch, table, dresser or bed in the house. Nothing. The walls stood bare. For just a moment I imagined what it would be like to live there. I stared out the window and felt a sense of despair wash over me. I felt trapped. Hopeless. Alone.
I am proud of what our community has done for this family. This family of seven now has beds to sleep on. Progress has been made. But not enough. And that lack of significant forward movement has gnawed at me for as long as I can remember. I wonder at times if this is why I’m at Resources Unite, doing what I do, meeting the people I meet.
I am surrounded by the reminders of what could be.
I can still name each of the girls at the Florence Crittenton Center. We housed 52 teenage girls and 12 of their babies at any given time. That job in East Los Angeles 15 years ago is where I really began to examine my effectiveness as a social worker and the effectiveness of the work itself. I cringe when I think back of those girls and what we could have done for them instead of simply providing for their basic needs. We could have been so much more for them in such a critical time in their lives. We did our jobs.
I am sorry Dynasty, Desi, Shenell, Keena, Essie and so many others. You deserved better.
The girls needed an ongoing system of support. Like me and most everyone I know, they needed family, friends, mentors and anyone else to be by their side during the ups and downs of life. They needed more than beds.
Week after week we receive phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from people in need. Their needs are great. Sometimes we are able to connect them to resources and rally the community behind them and sometimes we cannot. Too often what we provide though is the band-aid versus the cure.
The people who need beds, repairs on their cars, a partner that does not abuse them, clothes for a job interview, a place to live and food all have one thing in common. They need to not feel so alone. They need people in their lives that can provide the hope they so desperately need.
There are severe consequences for allowing people to live with such despair and hopelessness; consequences for you and me.
Guns and physical abuse become the only road to power. Drugs become the only escape. Lives are lost. The future of the two-year old on the steps is never realized.