Everyone has something to give, but what do they leave behind? A legacy of some kind, perhaps just a moment of kindness.
As I was walking by the bus bench near my office I encountered a thin bearded man who I have heard several times ranting about his troubles with the police. A conversation with him started and I started to hear again the litany of alleged offenses the police had committed against him, breaking his arms, imprisoning him. He was taking them to court. Becoming more and more agitated, he got into more and more details. I didn’t want to just walk away, but what could I say? To me working in the garden cures all ills, so I just said what came to me, “Sounds horrible, but it seems like it’s ruining your life, dwelling on this every day. This is a beautiful day, go to the garden, pull some weeds, enjoy life.”
A few days later he appeared at the door to my office with a little picture he had drawn of our building, the Tudor style St. Clair Building. Well done, in color, it has a folded frame around the edge. He explained in detail how he had done it and there was a note written on the back. I pinned the drawing in the showcase of historical information I have about the building. As he left he informed me, “Lately I have been nice to the police and they have been nice to me.”
Kindness going two ways.
On Monday, I was on the bus for the Friendship Shelter tour of low-cost and supportive housing projects. The first stop was Alice Court, the craftsman style complex across the street from the Glenneyre Street parking garage. The city participated in providing these 27 efficiency apartments for single low-income residents. Three of them welcomed us to their homes. The tastes and interests of each were reflected in the décor and arrangements inside. The apartments were homey and comfortable; the residents were engaging and proud of their homes.
The next two projects were supportive housing for mentally ill, formerly homeless, similar to the project Friendship Shelter is proposing for our city. Staff spoke of the role of onsite managers, and mental health professionals who work with the clients/residents daily. Visiting with residents was heartwarming. After all, as Helen Cameron of Jamboree Housing explained at an earlier workshop, “They aren’t homeless any more. They are simply residents of an apartment. We provide the support they need to live independently.”
Entering Niecy’s apartment is a residential version of a walk through the San Diego Zoo’s butterfly garden. Butterfly artwork, plants and miniature fountains surrounded us, along with a collection of colorful New Orleans masks on the wall. “Having this apartment has meant everything to me,” Niecy said, and she handed out a brochure to sell “Flowers by Niecy.” It was hard to believe she had ever been homeless, or mentally ill. Another resident had devoted her apartment décor to the USC Trojans. One resident was returning to his apartment after a long stay in the hospital, clearly happy to be home, weak and clearly in need of the support the facility offers. Each person so unique; each with his or her individual personality and needs. We could see that the staff was prepared to optimize the experience of living there, addressing the demands of each resident’s illness, and guiding them to a healthier life.
Several residents of Laguna Canyon participated in the tour. Even though impressed with how the projects operate, they questioned how such a facility could physically and aesthetically fit in the Laguna Beach setting, especially in Laguna Canyon.
We may get the impression Laguna Beach is the only area that is trying to address homeless issues. It turns out many local cities and the county is also doing their part. Cameron and Dawn Price of Friendship Shelter cite 1,600 supportive housing units already existing countywide with another 400 that will be opening in the next four years. There are projects in Irvine and San Clemente as well as Friendship Shelter’s 18 scattered-site supportive housing apartments throughout south Orange County. Having 40 in Laguna Beach is not out of balance.
Those who want to help the homeless, canyon residents and protectors, people concerned about the city as a whole, so many earnest and well-meaning people each seeing the situation a little differently.
Surely with kindness a solution can be found. When we find a good resolution and improve our community we leave a legacy for the future, and we create the setting for the homeless themselves to contribute, as did the man who brought the drawing to my office.
A legacy: shouldn’t everyone have one?
Well said, Anne! Glad you went on the tour. And thanks for busting the myth that “Laguna is the only community that does anything for the homeless.” We are trying to do exactly what is commensurate with our population size, and other communities are on track to do the same. If everyone does something, we will help Orange County reach its goal of ending homelessness. It is a reachable goal.