For more than 30 years La Puente Home has been offering a roof and food for people who needed them desperately. Perhaps a few lowlifes have slipped in, looking for free handouts, but compassion doesn’t demand IDs. A few restrictions do exist, like how long the free bed and meals can be enjoyed before time’s up or behavior is a danger to other guests and local residents.
As the shelter’s program has expanded, activities have come to include guidance for those in danger of falling through the cracks of life, providing learning experiences and fun for children, obtaining funding, and smiles and hugs when they are most needed and wanted, or even when they aren’t wanted.
The homelessness count in rural San Luis Valley was 950 or 206 for each 10,000 people, when enumerated by La Puente’s Lance Cheslock and reported five years ago by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Nationally, the totals have been decreasing somewhat, thanks to programs like La Puente’s, but NEAH reported in 2017 that 175,000 people in this country were still sleeping “outside or in places not meant for human habitation,” which I assume could include under bridges, in cars, in illegal tents on public lands, in abandoned warehouses, and so on. On any given night in 2016, Colorado had 10,550 sleeping without a home.
“The poor always are with us” seems to me to be a pretty blasé remark about the world. While the Haves have always seemed to do well at the top of the pile, the Have Nots have enormous problems just to survive, and often not due to faults of their own making.
And the San Luis Valley is only one geographical island in Colorado, and the U.S. is only one of several land masses on the globe where homelessness exists and roofs and sufficient food do not. Conditions are worse in many places.
Besides the scourge of hunger, the UN reports, there now is the highest worldwide number of displaced people – 65.6 million – since World War II. Of the displaced people who are located within their own countries, there are 40.3 million.
Among the displaced persons, 12 million are in Syria, Colombia 7.7 million, Afghanistan 4.7 million, Iraq 4.2 million, and South Sudan 3.3 million. These figures do not include a current event that has seen hundreds of thousands fleeing in recent months from Myanmar to Bangladesh, which itself is one of the impoverished countries of the world. The UN is the main life saver in the camps. Closer to home, Venezuelans are forced to go to Colombia to obtain food and health care.
In this little column, it would be impossible to describe all the effects of warfare and terrorism, displacement of populations, dire hunger and poverty, while the majority of us prefer to avoid seeing such conditions.
Not driving to Alamosa so often these days as I age, I am no longer very familiar with all the changes on streets there, but I have read about problems expressed by neighbors near La Puente and the dialogue that has taken place in that neighborhood. It occurs to me that a different location for serving meals, except to the resident guests at La Puente, might solve some of the anxiety that neighbors feel.
Let’s face it. Life has changed in the Valley’s towns and countryside with the increase in crime, drug sales and use. My own place was robbed twice in 2016, and I was told that the perpetrators probably were drug users who sold the things to buy drugs.
The good old days of walking to the post office or even the mailbox without locking up are gone. We have good reasons to be vigilant about strangers in our neighborhoods. Change your locks and use them.
But that doesn’t mean we should lock up our hearts and minds, too. When we see strangers, we can at least smile at them. Who knows if someone is hurting from a sorrow or trouble we will never hear about?