You’d be surprised what an impact a sandwich can have. When I saw my topic for today, I was immediately reminded of one of my son’s favorite childhood books, “When You Give A Mouse A Cookie.” In the book, a child learns that a single act – in this case, a cookie handed to a mouse – can unleash a chain reaction that has unexpected and vast consequences. Making a sandwich, I am here to tell you, has similarly earth-shattering potential.
When Friendship Shelter began operating the City of Laguna Beach’s emergency shelter program in November 2009, we knew we would need sandwiches. We reached out to our faith and civic organizations with amazing results. In nearly 8 years, we have never once had a day without three meals available for all who turn to us for help.
When you make a sandwich, you make a difference. Life on the streets is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. Nutrition helps counter these effects. Moreover, your sandwich (or hot meal, or piece of fruit for breakfast) sends the message that our homeless neighbors are not alone. You’re with them. They matter.
The chain reaction your sandwich begins may have its biggest influence on you. When you make a sandwich – and if you take the time to deliver that sandwich personally – you look in to the eyes of a homeless person. And when you do that, you’re likely to notice not how different you are, but instead how similar. We all struggle. We all know someone who is challenged by unemployment, by mental illness, or by addiction.
And so, you’ll realize how much you have in common. Once that happens, you’re going to want to help solve the problem. At Friendship Shelter, we weren’t even a year in to operating an emergency shelter program before we began looking at solutions that could permanently solve the challenges our clients face. We recognized the complicated web of issues and problems that led to chronic homelessness. We realized that the most vulnerable people who turned to us for shelter had the fewest options. We began to look for an answer.
We didn’t need to look far. Study after study identifies Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) as the best practice for addressing and ending chronic homelessness. The model provides housing and ongoing supportive services for people who are chronically homeless. The goal is to house these vulnerable individuals and to keep them housed, creating a base of stability on which they can begin to rebuild their lives.
PSH is effective in that it ends – swiftly and finally – the cycle of homelessness. It is also efficient. By housing the most vulnerable homeless individuals in a community, significant cost savings are realized as their use of other public services (hospital emergency rooms, police services, jails, emergency response) diminishes.
In early 2014, Friendship Shelter launched southern Orange County’s first PSH program in nine apartments. It worked. Later that year, we added three more apartments. Today, we’ve housed 70 people and growing. Our collaborative partners have housed hundreds more. Together, we have the very real opportunity to permanently end the burden of chronic homelessness with this housing solution.
You can join us. It might start with a sandwich. Anyone can make a sandwich. You have no idea where it might lead you.
Become a volunteer at the Friendship Shelter or donate supplies.
HomeAid has been ending homelessness with Friendship Shelter since 1991, developing two homes and adding 42 beds for homeless individuals. Friendship Shelter programs are also recipients of HomeAid’s Community Outreach activities.