The Team does more than hand out donations.
by Jill Forman
Every Tuesday, rain or shine, they are at Plaza and Mission Parks. The Park Outreach Team is there to make life a little better for those who often have no home, who spend their days in the parks and their nights…who knows where? A good half of the Team has been in the shoes of these folks, and knows what they need.
They hand out wipes, socks, tarps, donated clothing, toiletries, female hygiene supplies. One man in Mission Park only wants books; he gets those too.
What they don’t hand out is food. Even bottled water and granola bars are now forbidden items for them to give out. When they first started, it was summer 3 ½ years ago and temperatures had been over 90 degrees for three days in a row. Two individuals, Rob and Kathy, went around handing out water. Rob had been homeless and had recently inherited a small amount of money, and he used that to buy supplies. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura adopted the program under its Lift Up Your Voice, a grassroots advocacy program dedicated to serving the homeless.
Kathy, a member of the UU church, is now the chair of the Team. She says she does this work because her immediate family is represented by the ones she serves: the homeless, addicted, mentally ill, jobless, and disabled. “I do this for others, because others have taken care of me and my family.”
Another stalwart of the team is Roy. A native of Ventura, he was in Special Education and never finished school. Disabled, he was homeless for seven years while waiting for housing. He knows “everybody” in the parks, because he went to school with them and has known many of them for 50 years. He hugs them, asks about their families, takes them to appointments.
Chris, another member from the UU church has this to say, “I go with the park outreach team because I feel that it is important to look homeless people in the eye and listen to them to acknowledge that we all are equal and deserving human beings.” She has had her share of personal tragedies understands what that can do to one’s spirit.
Macheel comes “…more for me, to get outside of what’s going on in my life.”
Gail, always on her bike with a big smile, used to be homeless; she works with the Team “…because I can, because I love Kathy, she has done so much for me and I’m grateful.”
The Team does more than hand out donations. They listen if someone wants to talk. Patiently, as on a recent day when a young woman tells a rambling story. A man close by, bundled up in coats and a sleeping bag despite the sunshine, yells out, “I have a cold, don’t want to talk.” He is given some wipes and socks, left silently next to him on the bench.
Written by Roy Foster, formerly homeless and now a member of the Park Outreach Team, inspired by the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service
Where is the love when the rain hits me from my head to my feet
Where is the love when there is no place for me to sleep
Where is the love when I hold a sign to get me something to eat
Where is the love when I am behind bars and it looks like for keeps
Where is the love when I want my mom to sing me to sleep
Where is the love when there is no place safe for my kids to sleep
Where is the love when I’m on my knees trying to warm my hands toward the heat
Where is the love when the doctors take my feet
Where is the love when I need a house to keep me safe from the creeps