[Hpn] Denver, CO - Homeless for the holidays, and every day - Denver Post - November 08, 2003

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Sat, 8 Nov 2003 07:55:44 -0500


Homeless for the holidays, and every day

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By Cindy Rodriguez - Denver Post - November 08, 2003

Denver, CO - Three weeks from now, when we're hopefully all
sitting at a dinner table with people we care about, getting
ready to chow down on turkey, stuffing and other yummy stuff,
we'll say a prayer.

For many of us, it'll be the only time all year we've said grace
before a meal. And it's during that pause, to reflect on what we
have, that it'll hit us.

What about those who won't have turkey?

Who don't have family?

Who don't have a home?

And that thought will gnaw at us until we write a check to a
local charity or start thinking ahead to the holiday giving.

Maybe we'll buy a toy for a poor kid and casually mention it to
others, so we can feel good about our deed.

That's fine. There are enough of us who give at this time so
most poor kids will have a gift to open at Christmas. And most
homeless folks will get some kind of Thanksgiving meal.

But then there's the rest of the year. The Sunday, Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday when we ignore
the homeless holding signs. Those days, we pretend we don't hear
the teen on the corner begging for a quarter "to catch the
bus."

We size them up. In a flash, we decide they are lazy or drunk.
We say we'd rather give to a shelter but then forget to send the
money.

That's how many of us think most of the year.

But now, at holiday time, when we feast and buy all kinds of
expensive toys and gadgets for our family - and buy a few for
ourselves - we feel charitable.

It's the time of year Brother Larry Gosselin calls The Guilt
Season.

Gosselin, one of four brothers who cook breakfast and lunch for
an average of 50 homeless people a day at the Franciscan
Brothers of Mary friary, 707 Lipan St., isn't complaining,
though.

There are days when the food donations are so low, they have to
invent new soups to stretch out the food they have.

But on Thanksgiving Day, the brothers and dozens of other
volunteers will serve more than 1,400 meals to homeless people
and poor families who will stream into South Broadway Christian
Church, 23 Lincoln St.

And volunteers such as Wayne McClimans, a groundskeeper at a
local country club, will help deliver takeout boxes of turkey
dinners to people living under bridges and sleeping in cardboard
boxes.

People like Alyce Lanning and Mary Ann Hillard, both in their
70s, will help coordinate that effort. Judy Smith, a
stay-at-home mom, has been coordinating the volunteers for 17
years.

It's touching. So many people donating turkeys, collecting
canned goods, offering to cook and serve.

But in January the flood of goodwill turns to a trickle.

One of the saddest things Brother Larry told me was one of the
items people donate during the holidays: sleeping bags.

He said it matter-of-factly: "They donate underwear, hats,
gloves, sleeping bags."

Homeless people certainly need hats and gloves. Most people wear
them. But a sleeping bag? I equate that with camping.

I know the people who donate the sleeping bags are being kind
and don't want to see the homeless shivering on layers of
cardboard boxes and newspapers. But "sleeping bag" struck me.

It's like giving up. We can't give them a warm bed, so here's a
sleeping bag that'll get soaked in the snow and rain.

I've owned sleeping bags that claim they're warm when it's 20
below zero. You know what? They're barely warm when it's 30
degrees out, even if I'm wearing layers of high-tech clothing
with names like polypropylene.

Brother Larry put it into perspective. "We have roughly 3
million residents in the city. And about 10,000 homeless people.
That's 3,000 people for every homeless person. You mean to tell
me they can't give enough so they can have a place to sleep?"

He said of all the homeless people he knows, and he knows many,
he can't think of a single person who really wants to sleep
outside.

They may tell him that the first time they meet him. They talk
about loving the freedom. But they don't like freezing. They
don't like waking up and finding two dozen mice scurrying away,
creatures who nestle against their bodies, looking for warmth.

And they're not all alcoholics. Many have mental problems. Some
are what Brother Larry calls "simple-minded." They can't hold
down a job. Others are struggling with a depression so deep,
nothing seems to help.

Like one man who comes to the friary for lunch nearly every day.
Eight years ago, he lost his wife, son and daughter in a car
accident. Before the accident, he earned a healthy salary and
owned his own home, Brother Larry told me.

The accident not only took away the woman he loved and his kids.
It also took his reason to live. But he clings on, one day fine,
the next day falling into an all-day crying spell.

Any one of us could be him. And we'd want more than just
a sleeping bag.

Cindy Rodríguez at crodriguez@denverpost.com .
Denver Post source page: http://tinyurl.com/u6kh
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