[Hpn] God bless our quality-of-life

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 27 Dec 2000 21:58:08 -0700


Monday, December 25, 2000

'The Night Lit Up as Day' on Skid Row

By ALICE CALLAGHAN

     It moved from East to West, over the churning underbelly of skid row,
past sleazy bars and squalid hotels, through the stench of urine and rotting
food to the ragged and underfed wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in
cardboard boxes. 
     Bethlehem is closed this Christmas. War between Israelis and
Palestinians makes it unsafe for mother and child, ox and ass, angels and
shepherds--even three Wise Men. They and we must seek the Prince of Peace
elsewhere. 
     The first memorial of Christ's birth is credited to Saint Francis who,
in 1224 near the town of Greccio, enlisted the help of a certain nobleman,
John by name. Hay was bought and ox and ass led in. It is reported that "the
night lit up as day." With plaster and plastic and styrofoam, we faithfully
re-create this memorial each Christmas, while avoiding inquiry into God's
current whereabouts.
     Down off Fifth Street, Myong McSween has been collecting aluminum
cans--her sole source of support since her husband, a former military man,
died. Myong is, she self-reports, "mental."
     One morning, serious trouble erupts. A few weeks before, a federal
judge issued a temporary restraining order barring police from harassing the
homeless. In response, police launch a retaliatory assault on skid row's
poor, "rebelling against the restraining order, bottom line," they say.
     Myong receives her fifth citation for jaywalking. Unable or unwilling
to produce ID, mentally ill Myong is handcuffed by police. Her anguish fills
the cold air: "Why are they doing this?"
     Seventy of this city's poorest receive jaywalking tickets. Fifteen are
arrested. Unable to pay the $77 fine for jaywalking, the 70 are likely to
disregard the citations. Warrants will be issued for their arrest.
     Myong uses her meager can money to pay three of her tickets. She is
convinced the city sends police to harass her because the city wants her can
money. In truth, it is because the city considers the homeless and poor of
skid row bad for business. Civil rights are for those who work in downtown
skyscrapers, not those who sleep, in rags, upon the public's sidewalks.
     Legend and faith have it that the birth of Christ was attended only by
an ox and an ass. In an unexpected place among the poor and unwanted, "In
the midst of two animals, Thou shalt become known" (Habakkuk 3:2, Itala
version). 
     Headlights briefly illuminate clumps of cardboard boxes on skid row:
"The night lit up as day." Motorists rush past on their way to churches
decked with the pungent fragrance of spruce and pine, resplendent in the
flicker of taper candles. Carols drift out car windows, sweet and plaintive,
into the darkness and cold. God is present. It is Christmas on skid row.
- - -
Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal Priest, Directs Las Familias Del Pueblo, a
Nonprofit Community Center in Downtown Los Angeles


Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

 
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