Pastor’s Letter 2022 December

Dear Siblings in Christ,

This month I wanted to share this writing with Greg Suzuki following our experience as first-timers of the Covenant House Sleep Out fundraiser.  Taking place over one night in both Northern and Southern California, it is one of the biggest fundraisers for Covenant House (CH) which supports young adults, mostly aged 18-24, assisting them in moving off the streets into safe housing and providing all-around supportive services.

We went to Levi Stadium in Santa Clara and gathered with over 120 other fundraisers.  Three CH alumni shared their stories, and we heard from many of the leaders of the organization.  We learned that they are not only building new locations, but adding affordable/transitional housing as well for the young adults who are ready to launch beyond the communal living of CH.

When it was time to sleep, we thought we would be sleeping down on the turf in the stadium, but quickly learned we were sleeping on the plaza level – on cement.  Both of us brought just a sleeping bag – no yoga mat, no padding, no cardboard (all discretionary); we wanted to know what it was like for those who sleep outside in the cold with only a sleeping bag – sometimes less.  Neither of us were prepared for how hard and cold sleeping on cement would be.  Some lights were also left on all night, there was a constant hum from electrical equipment, and some people remained talking after it was time to sleep which was frustrating.  I was warm enough on every part of my body, EXCEPT my feet – the extra pair of socks I had weren’t enough.  I never knew how cold my feet could get. I told Greg I was sure it would take all day to finally feel my toes.

Neither of us slept well.  I turned and tossed most of the time but I know I slept, albeit very little.  In the morning, before we had to get up at 5 am, I could feel anger rising in me hearing people talking before we had to get up.  I could feel my exhaustion as I packed up my things, and gathered with others, thankfully to something warm to drink.  I was so grateful, especially my feet, for the warm heat in the car.  And I was so grateful to go to my bed to sleep.  I tried to get up to go to work – first at 10 am, then noon, then 2 pm.  It was simply not possible.  Finally, at 4 pm, I got up, ran an errand and returned to bed about 8 pm.

I thought all day about those who go to sleep with noise and lights and cold and hard surfaces every night, who often get up very early as the noise and light of the next day come, only to pack their few things, try to find some place to keep warm, find some food and begin to think about where they will sleep the next night.

Even if one finds a tent and some warm clothing or blankets there is always the fear of it being stolen or taken away.  There is no space to think about getting a job or housing.  There is little space to think about where to wash your clothes, brush your teeth or wash your face or body.  

Greg: One thing Pastor Pam said really struck me: she could see how experiencing conditions like this could lead to mental illness. I thought about how living on the streets and the constant stress it causes would negatively affect both the mind and the body. Even though I experienced just one night sleeping out, I can imagine how the stress I felt multiplied over and over could lead to mental illness or substance abuse, or push someone with mental illness into an even further decline.

What has changed most in me is the depth of compassion and empathy for those who have become lost to our society.  To recognize how far one has fallen to become homeless, without family and friend support, without any way to produce income, or enough income, to have a shelter, let alone acquire food, clothing, basic hygiene care items and live from hour by hour, dependent on others’ kindness and suffer others’ cruelty is psyche and soul wrenching.  I can speak more profoundly, even from just one night out, how important it is that we offer adequate housing and all-around supportive services so that no one will fall this far before their basic human needs are recognized.

I’ve thought about all the people whom Jesus encountered who were ostracized by their communities, at the bottom of the rung of society, left to fend for themselves and how compassionate Jesus was to them.  Jesus not only healed them of their illnesses, he cared about them deeply, and I would guess looked in their eyes as human beings who had been abandoned by the community of which they were once part.

Greg: I was also deeply moved by the resilience of the youth, who through Covenant House, have persevered and are building new lives for themselves.

In the end, will we do this again? You bet!    

Rev. Pam & Greg