When it rains it pours at PUM and I don't just mean the cloudburst that drenched our little house on Market Street and all its front-yard inhabitants. As I've already mentioned, things happen in waves at PUM--there's California ID Friday and clothing Tuesday and food bag Wednesday. These aren't official designations, it just seems like on some days, everyone comes to PUM for the same service. Today client after client approached the front desk with a sad story about how all their belongings were gone. At first, Susan, one of PUMs incomparable case managers, and I assumed that there must have been a sweep. A sweep is SDPDs attempt to enforce an anti-camping statute where they bring trash trucks and to a block that's known for homelessness and discard everything that's left on that block--tents, shopping carts full of belongings, bicycles, etc. In fairness, they post a sign on the block two-days in advance of a sweep but still after every sweep we are inundated with clients who lost all their belongings and are in desperate need of replacements.
After the third client came with the same story we asked the obvious question, "Which block did they sweep this time?" The answer: "It wasn't a sweep. It's way worse! Homeless stealing from homeless!" Desperate times call for desperate measure for some I suppose and sadly, theft among the homeless is a sad reality, still it's unusual to hear of a dozen inter-homeless thefts in one day. It's difficult to express how devastating it is to have all of your belongings stolen to someone experiencing homelessness. Imagine if a house fire destroyed everything you owned, including priceless and irreplaceable family heirlooms. Then imagine you have no money or insurance to purchase replace even those items that could be replaced. Because our clients have so little, what they do have becomes very, very precious and when they come to us after a theft or a sweep, they are literally starting from square one. One 22 year-old man even had his shoes stolen; now remember that freak downpour and imagine how miserable he was.
Now admittedly I am PUMs resident bleeding heart and on days like today I'm probably not the person to have up front making decisions about who gets what services. Like all homeless service providers, we have very limited resources and a VERY high demand so there are "strict" guidelines (quotes mine) about how often our clients can get services; specifically it's once a month for clothing and once every three months for hygiene kits. Now as long as our clothing room remains generously stocked by donation from kind people like you, we can usually make exceptions to give emergency clothing in these situations. However, hygiene kits are expensive. Unlike clothing which is generously donated and food bags which we stock with items we purchase at the food bank at a much-reduced rate, supplies for the hygiene kits (travel-size soap, shampoo, and deoderant) are exclusively bought and paid for by PUM.
I know this and have been reminded...frequently...that hygiene kits aren't to be given out more frequently that once every three months...no exceptions! But like I said, I'm a softie and I know how much our clients who are sleeping out of doors appreciate being able to brush their teeth in the morning. Besides, how can anyone be expected to better their situation by finding any kind of work when they have permanent morning breath? So I gave away one premature hygiene kit...then another...then another. I think it was on the sixth illicit kit that I finally got Susan's attention. Now I wouldn't say she got angry with me (Susan isn't the angry-type) but she did sternly say, "No more."
So, dear blog reader, I'm writing this plea to you: If you have a heart for the homeless, which I know you do or you wouldn't have read this far, and if you don't want me to get fired from my unpaid, volunteer position as receptionist at PUM so that I can keep bringing these blogs to you, then please click the button below and tell Susan that you will contribute a hygiene kit...or two...or 100. And if you ever happen to find yourself in possession of extra hotel toiletries, we'll gladly put them to good use too!
Chelsea Asaro is a long-time San Diegan who resides in Scripps Ranch with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Chelsea is a steering committee member and volunteer at PUM. If you'd like to meet Chelsea, come by any Wednesday and you'll find her cheerfully manning the front desk at PUM.