“The days are long and the nights are cold.”
~ Christine Chalquist, formerly homeless
Jamie didn’t want to leave the Vagabond Coffee Shop. “It’s nice to be inside,” he said. “Thank you very much. It’s like going on a trip and looking out the window, so pleasant. Makes people like us feel normalized”
Jamie and his friend Sean were there as part of the third Take a Hungry Person to Lunch Day. Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, the event partners those in need of a meal with others who want to provide them one. More important, the participants sit down to lunch together and talk, sometimes for hours.
About 40 folks showed up at the church in the late morning, were greeted by Reverend Dana Worsnop , and heard from Sue Brinkmeyer and Kathy Powell, the organizers of the event through the church’s Lift Up Your Voice program. “The holiest work we do,” said Reverend Dana, is human depth of meeting.”
Christine Chalquist, a former corporate VP who was on the streets for years, shared her experiences. She emphasized how difficult it is to get out of homelessness when there is no place to sleep, shower, use a phone etc. “You can’t get ahead.” She was helped by doing service for others at the Harbor Church, and is currently housed and employed. “You feel beat up,” she said, “Less than. Every day.”
The group also heard from Macheel, who describes herself and living “on the fringe of homelessness;” she is trying to hang in there until she and her daughter finish school. She also credits the Harbor Church program for helping her, and giving her a place to volunteer and be of use.
As Chalquist also said, homeless folks want something to do and a way to give to others. She now volunteers with the UU Church’s Park Outreach program, taking clothing, blankets, and personal care items.
After some logistical instructions, and a blessing by Rev. Dana, the group drove to two local parks. There were a few difficulties – some of the people were initially reluctant – but everyone found lunch partners.
At the Habit, Mario was having lunch with Andrea and her father Al. They had read about the event in the Breeze. They were learning about Mario, who is “an entrepreneur and a scholar” according to Al.
Also at the Habit were Rev. Dana, Woody and Jim. Woody said the subject of their discussion was, “Me being an idiot.” (He gave permission to quote that.)
Down the street at the Vagabond, Ronnie, Maura and Dave were talking about “life on the street.” Jim, Janette, Don and Suzanne were discussing what benefits are available (Jim worked for the county.) A few other groups were chatting amiably and enjoying large quantities of food. The Vagabond staff knows many of the homeless by name; the owner, Jolene, came out to greet the customers personally.
Jamie and Sean were discussing “taking over the world” with Sally and Alan. Sean is looking forward to getting his retirement soon and being able to afford a place to live. Jamie is full of praise for the agencies that help him, from the One-Stop drop-in center, to the people at the UU church, to the local police – especially one officer who gave him a bike when his was stolen. Though they have many tales of the difficulties of street life, it doesn’t seem to have made them bitter.
As Sally said, looking across the table at her new friends, “Everybody deserves a good meal.”