“I can’t be out here tonight. It’s not okay for me to sleep on the streets, I am far too vulnerable.” These words furiously flooded my phone late one Thursday night. We’ll call her Denise, and Denise has known the fear and anxiety of finding a place to sleep each night for four years. However, she has refused shelters and somehow manages to afford a motel or hotel each night. She prides herself on “hustling” $100 a day for a room. When I received her call amidst the panic of finding no vacancy with the UCSB graduation weekend, I was thrown into a choice of responsibility. This isn’t usually what I do, my role is partnering with shelters and other agencies to find permanent housing, not a one night stay at the Motel 6. The idea of it bothered me, but what do you do when called with an eager need? What responsibility do you take? If not me, how soon would someone else? I decided to find her that night and book a room. In our time together I discerned mental stability, intelligence, a love of culinary arts and her bunny “Lil Papa,” and a deep heartbreak of being “wronged” by her brother and sister and losing her father. There is more to her story that was unspoken, but for whatever reason there has been a perpetual inability to find vacant, permanent, and affordable housing in Santa Barbara. My own frustration grew. How has she managed to hop from motel to motel each night for four years and not find one stable housing situation? Why is she still here if that’s the case? How does she see the narrative? What has shaped her, or what has she allowed to shape her? I find it appropriate to lament the situation, but only after seeking the Lord’s heart on the matter and seeing that this was never His desire. He does not speak the language of guilt, shame, loneliness, and despair. He is not broken or selfish. He is a God of mercy and justice, of deep love that wants to see His world reconciled to completion.
There have been a few other encounters this month with women who have found themselves experiencing homelessness for years, and whether it be health problems, no family, or severe abuse, their suffering remains. This beckons long-term relationships and support. There can be no fear of failure or lack of persistence, for chances are we will be met with disappointment time and time again, but the greatest treasure is the cultivation of a trusting and loving friendship.
My time at Alameda Park continues, and I am grateful for the many partnerships and friendships that are being created. The Westmont garden is still providing a bountiful and colorful harvest in the summertime to go along with each meal. I have also been encouraged by the breadth of connections people have established and I want to affirm each of you to always engage, ask questions, and keep the connections going to find support for others! Thank you for your support and willingness to read this update.