My journey with St. Francis Center began almost 10 years ago, while attending school at the University of Southern California. I wanted to help, but wasn’t ready for direct service, so I worked in the offices. When I began as a staff member, I was happy to be helping administratively, but was still a bit weary of our guests. It was my second week, and the week before Christmas. I squeezed my way through the long line of homeless men and women waiting for a warm breakfast and the chance to get out of the cold. In an uncharacteristic moment I blurted out “Merry Christmas!” and immediately felt a sense of guilt. Merry Christmas? On the streets, with no family or feeling of hope? What a stupid thing to say. That is when it happened. A guest immediately retorted “This is the best Christmas yet.” My misunderstanding of the homeless, and my feeling of stress about conversation was blown out of the water.
“I need somebody else who can smile with me through all of the problems that happen during the day because at the end of the day, I got nothing to look forward to,” said one of our homeless guests recently.
I’ve never looked back. Now every morning as I walk up to the Center my favorite part of the day lasts for 5 minutes. Make eye contact. “Hi. How are you?” Have a moment of conversation. Repeat. That is the spirit of St. Francis Center. Our Homeless Well-Being Program has provided practical resources to alleviate the day-to-day suffering of the homeless for almost 40 years. We understand that being homeless goes beyond not having food or a place to sleep. It involves feeling alienated from society. Our service is not complete if we don’t make our guests feel completely welcome. By providing them with a warm meal, a place to take a shower, respite in hot and cold weather, access to health care and most importantly a “hello” we renew their hope and give them a start to get back on their feet.
In addition to our served meals and Health and Hygiene Services, we also offer the homeless our Mail and Cell Charging Services. We provide our mailing address for the homeless to use and keep a mailbox for each individual and help our guests stay connected with family and friends by allowing them to charge their cell phones during our programs. Being homeless involves much more than not having a bed to sleep in: it means not having a permanent address for job applications, financial assistance and family contact. The inability to even rent a post office box severely alienates homeless people from the rest of the world and keeps them from re-entering society. This service rekindles that connection and creates needed stability.