Homeless in paradise

This city hosts the Reagan Library, in the golden state, in the United States of America. It’s a small town, with small-town values, and several millionaires.

Bike ways and walk ways abound.  Our sole freeway links the city to Los Angeles and to Santa Barbara, while local buses run to every corner of the city, so you could drive, bus or train to (or from) just about anywhere.

There are well-tended public parks every half-mile or so, and a state-of-the-art senior center serving hot meals for two bucks. The library next door is free to all seven days a week, with wifi , and no one is kicked out for talking, or for sleeping.

At dawn this morning my dog Buddhi and I walked to a large park near the library where she can chase squirrels. She never catches one, and they seem to delight in teasing her, waiting for her to get just close enough to maybe catch one, then all scampering up trees just high enough to be out of reach and then turn to look down at the dog, laughing with that clicking noise squirrels make when they are dominant,

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure coming toward us, (us being me, the dog, the squirrels) and made out the approaching person was female, maybe in her late forties as her gait was weary and slow. To make her feel easy I leashed Buddhi and waited for the lady to pass.

As she got closer I saw I had been wrong… while her body did look middle-aged, her face was that of a teenager, blond hair, no make-up, no purse. I sensed there was something amiss, but kept my distance and only smiled as she walked by.

She came over to say hello to the dog, not so much as even looking at me as she knelt to the dog. Sensing her kindness Buddhi replied to her with great affection, standing to lick her face. She then looked at me and said, “Critters love me, ” and smiled.  Her face was clean and lovely, and I noted she was wearing loose-fitting pj’s and cloth houseslippers with no socks. (Sometimes neighbors will come out somewhat casual like this, walking their pets, but not here, not in this large park, so because of her appearance she ‘felt’ different.)  I asked the young girl, “You ok?” She said nothing, petting the dog, then softly said to Buddhi, “I’m ok, huh doggie? We’re both ok, aren’t we.”

I asked how I could help.

“Oh I’m ok, really. I got a car back that way, and my fiancee is coming to bring me some clothes, that’s why I’m here, we have an appointment and he’s late so I walked out here to see if maybe he was around. I’m ok. I like your dog. I have  a doggie too, but he stays in the car cuz he isn’t licensed.”

I asked if she knew about our city social services. She knew them well. “I went to that one down there a mile or so, and the one on the other side of town, and the food bank too. They can’t help. See I was on welfare and it’s all used up so I’m not eligible for help now.”

I asked if she needed food or drink or money or laundry help. “Naw, really I’m ok.” She looked at me for the  first time directly in the eye and said, “I get by asking people if I can clean their house, or yard, or something, whatever they need, but the past few months, seems like everybody is having a tough time now, not many people are able to help like they used to.”  I asked what I could do. ” Nothin’.. nothin’, It’s ok. I don’t drink or take anything and I’m not… I’m not a bad person.” I knew what she meant.

Numbering the homeless here this year, volunteers met one hundred ninety-six men and seventy-four women, including eighteen folks over the age of sixty-two, and nineteen who are aged eighteen to twenty-four.

It’s a small town, with small-town values, and several millionaires.