By Lynn McCormick
Our Lady of Refuge SVdP Conf. President
Why would anyone wake up before dawn, wear layers of clothes, and walk a neighborhood they have never been to? It’s very simple………. to see Jesus.
I recently participated in the city of Long Beach’s Homeless Count. I can honestly say that I get excited to make the small sacrifice to live my Vincentian vocation. I truly want to “seek and find the forgotten or the deprived to show them my love”.
I am not afraid to go into the roughest, dark, and sometimes dirty places to see Our Lord. It’s a gift from the Holy Spirit to “find” the homeless sleeping in makeshift lean-tos, battered tents, and many times directly on the ground with a thin covering.
Does it break your heart to witness firsthand the suffering of others? Yes, of course. So why am I “called” to participate every year in the homeless count? Answer, it’s a “God thing” and a “Vincentian thing”. By no means, is this experience heroic or unusual. Hundreds of good people volunteer. For me, I want to count and interact with as many homeless as I can, to bring them the hope that people care about them.
After several cups of coffee, teams canvas their assigned neighborhood map. The count is very thorough and precise. We go down every alley, view every dark corner, and investigate every car/van that looks like someone is living inside. The teams are made up of 4 to 5 people of various backgrounds and experience to work together using an on-line app with specific questions. We bring them water, a bag of toiletries, and a gift card for some food. They are very appreciative.
The first homeless people we encountered were a couple that were living in an abandoned parking lot because of Covid. They lost their jobs and their lives became unstable. They stated that they are on “The List” for receiving housing. Our next gentleman was homeless due to a physical disability. He was so kind and gentle and was very vulnerable. We encountered a veteran in his late 40’s laying on concrete with all his positions scattered around him. He has drug and mental challenges. He broke my heart. The most distressing case was a woman of unknown age sitting on a ground with a blanket covering her head. She was fingering a nickel and appeared to have acute mental disabilities. She would not look at us and refused to participate in the count. She did not want help of any kind and just wanted us to go away. We documented her as a visual count and left her the supplies. We found people living in their cars/vans with no other place to go.
It was very validating to know what a difference Vincentians can make to someone’s life, especially, those who are on the brink of eviction and homelessness. I will always remember that being unhoused, in my mind, is the lowest form of human existence. What a blessing for us to help people avoid this catastrophe. Our benefactors need to know the good that is done with their donations. They literally have saved lives.
For the city government, the ultimate goal of the Homeless Count is to know how many people in our city are homeless and to get resources to these vulnerable people. My goal was to find Jesus in the poor and to give them empathy and hope. Being a Vincentian has changed my life. We all have a different role in our Vincentian ministry. We all do our part to find Jesus in the poor. I just did it at 4 am with a cup of coffee.