Homeless Outreach Takes on Personal Meaning

The other day when I joined city and county officials regarding the homeless situation in our fair city, I was reminded yet again about the days I was living without an address some 45 years ago.

First off, I want to applaud So Pas for what it does to accommodate the homeless. Yes, it’s a tiny population compared with Los Angeles, which has thousands. We have 15, maybe.

Still, Holy Family Church and others here in So Pas provide a bridge for getting people off the streets. I am grateful for the generosity of this community.

As I was leaving the gathering at Holy Family, a man named Steve was walking nearby. Steve had just come from the church where he got his goods for the day.

Steve said the church offers the best services in the county. He said they offer the best food, the best clothing, the best referrals and even a hot shower all in a safe, comfortable environment.

I asked the obvious question: “What happened?” Steve told me as we walked along Fremont Street. He declined to provide his last name and I suppose he could’ve been providing misinformation. You always have to ask yourself why someone would make up such things. But you never know?

Steve had been sober for many years, I believe he said it was 16. He had been a successful CPA, working on Fremont Street just below El Centro. Then his wife, son and daughter were killed in a car crash. About a year ago, his father died. Steve said it was too much and he gave up.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I went back to crack,” Steve said. As in cocaine. He blew, once again this is what he said, $1.67 million and ended up on the streets without home, money or hope.

Steve also said he was scared to his bone marrow to be on the streets.

“I’m not cut out for this,” he said. “I’m not a street person. I sleep at the Pasadena main library because it’s the only place I feel safe. I’m so embarrassed. I used to work right up the street here. I just gave up. I’m so embarrassed.”

He’s been living this way for about six months. Ironically, that’s the same amount of time now that he’s been sober.

As we walked along the sidewalk, I shared my story in a general way. I was not homeless but once was. I was sober coming up on 41 years but once was not. I was employed now but once was not. And finally, I was hopeful now but once was not.

Steve smiled and said, “41 years, Oh my God.” I said God certainly had something to do with it. I told him that I was grateful for my life and that I had been given so much more than I deserved. I gave him my phone number and encouraged him to call. I shook his hand and we smiled at each other, knowing full well that he probably would not call.

As I turned back toward my office and watched Steve hustle down Fremont, I said a prayer that I always say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Talk soon.

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.