The CSM trip was great! Although it was only 24 hours, we learned so much and were all impacted in some way.
My favorite part of the weekend was the prayer tour. Lindsay, our CSM host, toured us around various parts of Los Angeles. At each stop she shared with us the history of each area, the issues each area is facing, and statistics to put it in perspective. After each visit, we prayed for that area.
We started the prayer tour in Hollywood. We all know it as a tourist destination, but for many it is where they go chase their dreams of becoming Hollywood stars. People from all over come to Hollywood with hopes and aspirations, but reality hits and things go downhill. Many people have had their dreams broken while waiting for their big break to come. And when they do not make enough for the area’s high cost of living, many end up homeless. Others may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, or turn to prostitution to make ends meet.
Lindsay also mentioned the large number of "invisible homeless youth" in Hollywood. You may not even recognize them as homeless because of their "ruggish" style clothing- many youths end up on the streets after leaving foster care, running away from home, skipping college, dealing with abuse or being ostracized as an LGBT.
We then made our way to the Pico-Union area. This area has a high concentration of people living in poverty. There is one elementary school where 96% of the children qualify for food stamps. Some are even homeless. While trying to do well in school they struggle with lack of sleep, poor nutrition, unhealthy family relationships, and many other problems. This is also the age group that gangs look to recruit. Gang members look to recruit children that are about 8 or 9 years old. Many children join for acceptance, protection, and a sense of family and belonging.
We ended the night in Skid Row. I have driven past it many times and thought I knew what it looked like. But that night, with every street we went down we saw more and more homeless people. With every person we saw and with every story Lindsay shared with us, the more my heart began to break. They are our neighbors. We drive past them every day. Some have been there for years, and the longer they stay the more likely they are to continue this way of life.
However, there was always a glimmer of hope in each area. Throughout the night, Lindsay mentioned several organizations I had never heard of that are helping the needs of these people. These organizations may be small, but they are run by dedicated volunteers and staff who sacrifice themselves so that someone else can be blessed. Some volunteers help people obtain simple things such as an ID card- this enables the person to obtain Medicare or food stamps. Step by step, these simple things can help the person obtain a job and/or housing.
Yes, there are plenty of programs and teams who have dedicated their lives and careers to fight the war on poverty, but what can we do? If we all did something small to help someone else in need we can also make a difference in that person life. It is the work of individuals who care that are creating waves of progress by being God's hands and feet. By meeting them where they are and by loving them is how Jesus reached the outcasts. They are often forgotten and overlooked, but these are the people Jesus went out of his way to care for- and urged others to do the same.