Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Culture Plunge

Counseling the Culturally Diverse. That is the name of the class I am finishing up now. Tonight is the last class. For one of our papers we had to do a culture plunge and then write about our experience. We had to go spend some time with a group of people that are not like us and that we normally would not spend time with. Some of the students choose to attend a different church, go to a jail, one of the girls went to a brothel in Nevada, one went to a lesbian bar. One of the students was hanging out with some friends from her apartment complex. What she didn't know was that they had a lucrative business selling illegal substances. The SWAT team brought her cultural experience to her.

The following is a blog adaptation of the paper I wrote about my experience.

In 1986 the Food And Care Coalition served 4,309 meals to the homeless, mentally ill, learning disabled and families on fixed income or affected by tragedy. In 2006 the number of meals served was 99,243. The Coaliton also makes bus tokens available on a limited basis to clients needing to use public transportation to get to appointments and employment. Aid for shelter and rent is available through a motel voucher system. Proof of employment, a rental agreement and monthly budget and no help in the past 12 months are necessary to be eligible. Vouchers for clothing through Deseret Industries are also available on a limited basis but blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, gloves, hats and socks are regularly available to those that need them.

The Food and Care Coalition has an onsite computer lab where clients can search for jobs, write resumes or attend workshops for training. For those clients enrolled in the Mentor Advocate Program there are also funds for Primary Care Network fees, prescriptions and other health related needs. On Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays hygiene products are available for pickup. Laundry services and showers are also available Monday through Friday with an appointment. Those clients needing an address for communication with families or employers are allowed to temporarily use the Coalition address.

I heard the furnace click on at 5:00 a.m. I lay snuggled in my nice warm bed for another hour until it was time to get the boys off for a scout trip. When I got up, my home was warm. Even the tile floors were a comfortable temperature on my bare feet. I stood in front of the refrigerator, gazing at the array of food, trying to decide what I felt like cooking to eat for breakfast. When I was done, I took a long, hot shower and dressed in clean clothes fresh from my dryer.

If someone is homeless in Utah county, there is no place to go for warmth and shelter. There is no place to be on a cold, stormy day or night. The homeless have no place of comfort to be when they are ill and want to stay in bed. There is no chilling on the sofa and watching the big game or other mindless entertainment hour after hour. Those without a place to live spend their time walking from store to store, gas station to bus station and back again for just a few minutes of warmth and shelter from inclement weather.

After I finished doing my hair and makeup, I sat down in front of my laptop computer, one of three computers available in my house. I checked my e-mail, wrote a blog post, checked the daily postings of my favorite blogs and then checked for orders or questions on my business website. After this, I picked up the kids' father from the car repair shop where he had taken our family suburban to be fixed. I was feeling rather put out that someone had slid on the slick road and crashed into it depriving us of its use for a week. The incapacitation of the suburban left us with only 2 vehicles to use.

The closest shelter available for use by the homeless in Utah County is in downtown Salt Lake City. For most of the homeless in Utah County, if they cannot walk somewhere, they don’t go. According to the FACC website:

More than 90% of clients served by the FACC are residents of Utah County.
11 homeless person died on Utah County streets in 2006 and nearly 50 state wide.
The FACC has served over 100,000 meals for 5 consecutive years.
There are nearly 3,000 homeless persons in Utah on any given day.
Clients who have received dental care through our charity clinic report a higher success rate in obtaining gainful employment.
The average annual household income for FACC clients is below $io,ooo.

Currently, homeless persons requiring shelter are housed in local motels with vouchers from various agencies, including the FACC.
Unsheltered persons resort to sleeping in abandoned vehicles, storage units, under trees or finding remote areas by local rivers and canyons to evade detection.

I choose to do my culture plunge with the homeless in Utah County. It was then that I discovered that there is no shelter in Utah County. I did find the Food and Care Coalition. Because I went on a holiday, the Coalition served lunch only that day, from 12 noon until 1 p.m. The community of volunteers in Utah County is so big hearted and generous that I was not allowed to serve that day. In fact, there is a three to five month waiting list to donate time or services.

I thought carefully about how to dress for my experience. I was pretty sure that a dress and heels or a suit would not be the thing to wear. I finally settled on a pair of jeans and a sweater and sneakers. I arrived at the Coalition 10 minutes before serving time. As I got out of my big silver Durango it occurred to me that I probably should have changed to a smaller purse. My big green faux crocodile one was going to stick out as would my nice black Marine dress gloves. I was a little nervous, not about being around the people, but because I was not sure how to approach them. I did not want it to seem that I was judging them or their condition or that it was feeding time at the zoo and I was there to watch.

I really had nothing to fear, though. I walked over to where the clients were lining up waiting for the door to be unlocked. I sat on the low brick wall next to one of the waiting men. He asked me if I had ever been there before. I told him, “No, I am writing a paper for a class I am taking. I need to experience a culture or way of life that is different than the one I live in everyday. I decided that I would like to know more about the lives of the homeless in Utah County.” He shook my hand and introduced himself as Troy. A woman came over to join our conversation. She would not give me her name. She took out a comb and began to comb her long blonde hair so as to be presentable for her meal. As I talked to them about what the homeless might need, she spoke about what “they” need. Not once would she say “we”. I found that interesting.

Once the door opened, Troy and the others around me made sure that I understood the procedure; go in, sign your name, sit down and a volunteer will bring you a tray. I spoke to the lady in charge and asked if it would be ok for me to hang out in the dining room as they served, and she told me it would be ok. One of the clients was asked to give a blessing on the food. I think it was one of the most sincere expressions of thanks to our Father in Heaven that I have ever heard.

There was a long line and limited seats so I did not sit down until the line was gone and there was an empty seat. As it turned out that empty seat was next to Troy, so I sat there. I asked him about where he lived and what he did during the day. He told me that he is able to stay in a small apartment not far from the Coalition and that he got daily jobs from the temp. service that allowed him to pay his rent and purchase a few of the necessities. We then talked about “normal” things that he likes to do. He likes to read, take walks, talk to his mother, but she lives in St. George so he can’t do that very often. Then he was through eating and he left.

Moroni was sitting across from me. He asked me why I did not accept a meal. I told him that I felt that it would be rude for me to take one because I did not need it and if I took food that I did not need, I would be taking from someone that did need it, but that if it was rude for me to not be eating with them, then I would eat. He just looked at me for a while and then said, “You’re not like other people that come here.” “In what way?” I asked. He said, “You have a kind spirit. You care about us and who we are. Not like others that come here and try to tell us what to do and how your way of life is better and that we need to change to be like you. You are a good person.” (I was thankful for that, I had spent the morning listening to the kids' father list my many faults- once again as he does whenever I am in his presence) We ended up talking for another 45 minutes. Well, actually, Moroni did most of the talking and I just listened.

People continued to eat and leave and others took their place at the tables. There were grandmothers and grandfathers, men and women. One of the women had hair to her waist and I am sure that it had not been combed in years as it was one big snarl from the nape of her neck on down and it smelled as if it had not been washed in that same amount of time. Even if she were to make an appointment at the Coalition for sanitation purposes for everyday, she would need to shave her head in order to once again have a lovely head of hair. Beauty services are not available or affordable for her and her hair probably keeps her warm.

The clients that broke my heart the most to see, however, were the children. It was a holiday, a day off from school, and the sun was out and it was not freezing as it had been the week before. These children should be laughing and playing and possible kicking a soccer ball or riding a bike. Instead they were stopping at the Coalition for the only meal they would have that day and then they would go with their mother to try and find a place to sleep and keep warm for the evening. Perhaps they would go back to a bare apartment with no television or Wii to play with. And still they would try to stay warm for the evening.

Again, from the FACC website:
The FACC offers an important outlet to the community wherein the public can participate in charitable service activities and become better educated on the root causes and solutions to poverty.
The FACC has distanced itself from entitlement based programs. Our philosophy encourages clients to move from a sense of entitlement to ownership and personal accountability in the services they receive.
Our charity dental clinic sponsored by the FACC and Share A Smile Foundation embodies this philosophical shift by requiring able bodied clients to "bank" service hours in return for dental services donated on their behalf. We believe that such programs will bless both the giver and receiver.
Decorative banners, flower baskets, sidewalk cleaning, and garbage removal are just some of the services performed by FACC clients enrolled in the agency's work training program entitled CREW (Community Reinvestment Employee Workforce).
The FACC initiated a Utah County study on homelessness in 2002. Since the completion of the study (Brereton & Woods), over 20 site visits have been made to other facilities throughout the country to investigate, learn, and capture best practice ideas of how to successfully mitigate homeless needs. Combining these findings with our own initiatives will result in the construction of a new facility beginning in 2008.
(the facility is due to be completed this spring)

I got in my big silver Durango and headed home a changed person. I will no longer see the flower pots that decorate downtown Provo in the spring and summer and not think of those that I met this day. When the holidays approach, I will no longer think that perhaps I should take my children and volunteer somewhere and then promptly forget about it. We will be volunteering, and spending time serving those that need us. And in the process we will become better for having known them and letting them bless our lives.

Food & Care Coalition. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 2009, from Food & Care Coalition Web site: http://foodandcare.org/services/direct_services.php


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That "Guy" said...

Wonderful. I too am sooo very thankful for my warm home and my job and the food we are able to provide for our family. I too keep thinking we need to go help at the homeless shelter or somewhere to serve those that are in need...and it doesn't get done. Thanks for the reminder...

ShazBraz said...

wonderful post Sandra. thank you.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I had no idea there wasn't a shelter in Utah County. I just assumed. Thank you for sharing these experiences.

I stopped by to remind you of the blog tour stop you're doing for me on the 26th, but got caught up in your touching blog!

David G. Woolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David G. Woolley said...

That's terrific. Self reliance is the way to go. It blesses everyone.

By the way, how can a homeless person be counted as part of a statistic listing them as residents of any place? 90% of homeless participants are residents of Utah County? What? That makes no sense. If they're homeless, they aren't residents. Aren't most homeless people drifters? Two months in Utah County, then five months in San Diego County, then a few more months wherever the food is free and the weather warm? So how long between drifting to another place do you have to stay in order to qualify for the statistical analysis? I always worry about stats like these because they tend to be agenda stats from someone who is trying to twist the arm of government for their cause.

The cause is good. But I never trust someone with an agenda who is willing to bend the truth. Just saying. No matter how teary the subject. Or heart rending. Someone's gotta watch your back for you.

Sandra said...

Hey, I never said it was the best program or that the stats are accurate or that the government had it right. I just wrote the paper based on my experience and the info I had at my disposal.

And yes, the homeless are for the most part drifters, so counting them as residents would be hard. That doesn't change the fact that a lot of people have no place to sleep tonight or a way to feed their family. No matter what the government is or is not doing, children are crying because their stomachs hurt with hunger. People are sleeping under a bridge hoping that the blanket has more cloth than holes and that it doesn't rain. And we that do have houses, and food, and warm blankets should do what we can to serve those that need it. And if we know a better way than the way that is in place right now, do we not have the obligation to use that better way?

I am sure that some of those that were served the day I was there did not really need the food. In fact I had one guy tell me that he comes by on days that he just can't stand being around his father anymore and needs to get out of the house. I think that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

One thing I do like about the FACC is that the clients are expected to help out- to do chores and take classes and learn skills. Limits are placed on what they are allowed to have and take without giving back or moving on. Is it a perfect system? No, but I don't know of any government program that even comes close to perfection.

Tristi- yes, Thursday right?

David G. Woolley said...

No question about that. When you're down, you're down. And you can use all the help you can get. And kids have no say in any of it.

On the other hand, keeping people down is something that parts of government programs have mastered. Give them just enough to survive, but don't make them idependent or self reliant. That puts the government program out of business. And though the poor will always be with us, the government has perfected a way to swell the ranks beyond what even Enoch may have intended by his prophecy.

Just saying...

Sandra said...

Agreed. Again. Twice in one day.

tawnya said...

Wow. David is...kind of heartless. Fun.

Loved the post. It is such a huge soap box of mine. I was once told that I only needed to give to fast offerings and serve my ward and that's all - the rest wasn't my problem. Ever since then, I've given all I could to whomever I could just out of spite (well, not really, but you know what I mean...I would have given anyway, sticking it to "them" was just a bonus). I hate that attitude and wish more people would actually practice their religion, go and help everyone they can.

Bah. I could write a novel on this subject. It touches such a nerve with me.

Noelle said...

Great post Sandra. I went with a friend not too long ago to serve food at the same place. What an experience! Thanks for sharing.

Sandra said...

Noelle, it is a great place to serve others, isn't it?

Tawnya, don't let Dave fool you- he really has a great big heart, I think he just doesn't want anyone to know it. In reality, his opinion is the same as yours. I still would love to sit in a room with the two of you and just listen. Really. It would be interesting as well as entertaining I am sure.

Dave, remember what I said about opinions? Meet Tawnya, my sister, who is almost more opionated than you and I put together (but I mean that in a good way, T)

tawnya said...

I often think that people don't think I'm opinionated. That I hide it well. I'm wrong, aren't I?

And...there's a good way to take that? :)

Sandra said...

Oh yes, there's a good way to take it. Being opinionated is much much better than letting everyone else tell you what to think.