Sacramento Bee story from my experience on the streets ...
'It's hard out there'
A night on the streets teaches teens the truth about life of the homeless
Monday, November 20, 2006
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B3
By Todd Milbourn - Bee Staff Writer
Growing up middle class in Jackson, Nicole Ferguson didn't deal too much with poverty. Or homelessness.
She'd heard, like many unexposed teenagers, that the causes of homelessness were simple: that it is a matter of choice. Drunks living for a drink. Bums living for a government check.
But this weekend changed that. Ferguson was one of about 20 young people who spent Saturday night on the streets, trying to get a better sense of why homeless people are homeless.
Working with the Salvation Army, the group -- members of First Covenant Church of Sacramento in Rancho Cordova -- brought meals to the homeless in downtown parks. They slept Saturday night, bundled in sleeping bags, outside a B Street warehouse.
"You listen to people. You hear stories. You realize that you have a lot in common," said Ferguson, 19, who's studying to become an interior designer.
"You realize that you, too, can fall on hard times."
Changing perceptions -- that was the point of the night. The church has an active youth and outreach ministry, which strives to bring Christ's word to the streets and hope to the hopeless.
"We have so many stereotypes. We think these people are all alcoholic bums," said Josiah Watters, the church's outreach minister, who organized the effort to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday. "We're out here getting a taste for what life is really like. It's not so simple."
Homeless folks said they were appreciative.
Dennis Covington said life was pretty good for him back in the 1980s.
He had a good job as a security guard, a fine wife. Then his mother died. A bitter family fight over the estate ensued. That was tough on his wife, who eventually left and kept the house. The 50- year-old moved from Oakland to Sacramento to get away from the family mess.
"I meet so many smart people out here, people with big degrees, worked good jobs," said Covington, who's been staying at the Salvation Army for a couple of weeks to save up money to get a place to live. "You don't know nothing, 'til you talk to somebody."
Capt. John Brackenbury, head of the Sacramento Salvation Army, said he was heartened by the church group's effort. He said it's so easy for well-off people to look the other way when it comes to problems like homelessness.
"Christ was dealing with homelessness 2,000 years ago. We're still dealing with it today," he said.
"We're not going to eliminate it," he added, referring to the city's 10-year plan to eradicate homelessness. "But we are going to get beyond this idea that there's a Band-Aid approach. We got to get at the root of the problem."
The effort began Saturday with church members scattering around Sacramento, looking for homeless folks to talk to. They brought brown-bagged meals -- sandwiches, Capri-Sun and some fruit.
Nathanial Anisodon, a 22-year-old from Sacramento, said he met a homeless man at a downtown park who used to be a lawyer. The man told Anisodon that his life went into a spiral after his wife died, and he hasn't recovered.
"It's hard out there," said Anisodon, who spent some time in the Air Force.
"You realize that anything can happen."
About the writer:
The Bee's Todd Milbourn can be reached at (916) 321-1063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.