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The hardest thing about looking homelessness in the face is how *intractable* the problem seems. Like, money on the scale any of us can produce isn't going to solve it.
Friday night I stayed late at shul to help clean up, so I was one of the last people to leave. As I was walking toward the bus stop, a man called, "Excuse me!"

I froze, because it was getting dark and it was a man's voice, but I'm also from the Midwest, so I turned to answer.
It was a family--a man, a woman, a little boy, and a massive stroller. "Do you know where the nearest church is that isn't St. John's?" the man asked.

I was looking at them at this point, but not *seeing* them. I had a bus to catch.
I wasn't really *listening,* either, or I would have wondered why someone was asking about churches at 9:00 on a Friday night.

So I shrugged and said, "sorry, just left my synagogue, not really a church expert."
"I'm sorry to bother you," the man said, "but could you Google where the nearest one is? My phone is dead."

Normally, if a man asks me to stand there and google something for him after dark, hell no. But this guy had a family with him.
And then I actually looked at them. The massive stroller was two strollers jerry-rigged together, with suitcases in it. The woman had sunk down to sit on the grass, rubbing her feet. "I don't think any of the churches are likely to be open right now," I said. "What do you need?"
"There used to be a shelter at that one," he pointed across the street, "at least I think so, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore."

Part of me groaned silently. I'd had a stressful day, shul had helped me chill, I wanted to go home and have a peaceful evening.
And part of me, not gonna lie, really wished I hadn't looked, had just apologized for not being able to answer the question and walked on, because as soon as I looked, this became a "well, I guess I'm going to miss my bus, I guess we're doing this," situation.
But on the other hand, one can't pray hashkiveinu, the prayer for a safe night's sleep under a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace, and then just walk past someone in need of actual physical shelter and a safe night's sleep.
So I sat down on the grass by them and started googling. "My phone's at 18% and the battery's pretty bad," I warned them, "so our googling time is a limited."

It's harder than I thought to find info about what shelters are in the area, & during what hours they accept people.
(Like, we have setups that tell you how many parking spaces are open on each floor of a ramp--would it be so hard to have a site for each county that lists where the shelters are and how many beds are open right now?)
I was starting to despair of getting any sort of useful info before my battery went when the rabbi came out. I was enormously relieved, both because A Real Adult and because a whole second phone.
"Rabbi," I said, "do you know where the nearest open shelter is? His phone is dead so he can't search, and I'm not having much luck."

"I don't," she said. She turned to him. "Do you want me to just get you a hotel room for the night?"
He demurred, said oh no, you don't have to do that, but there was a little boy and a baby in the stroller, and two exhausted parents.

I started googling hotels, willing my phone battery to last because I wasn't sure how long the buses kept running and I might need a Lyft.
Rabbi's dogs were thrilled that there was a child to play with. Rabbi asked the little boy if the toy he was clutching was the dad from the Lion King. "What's his name, again?" she asked me, well aware without having ever been told that I've seen that movie like 9000 times.
Pretty sure she was teasing me a bit. My Hebrew name means "lioness." I had nerdily spent a while talking a few Torah studies ago about how lionesses specifically held a privileged place in ancient near eastern thought because their habit of adopting the young of other species...
...gave them the reputation of being mothers par excellence--protectors of the vulnerable, who take in other creatures and raise them to be brave as lions, metaphorically conferring royalty on them. It might be why there's a Hebrew word for "lioness" without a male equivalent.
So anyway, pretty sure she was sort of laughing at me that I wanted so badly to go home, but the universe had contrived to put a child in need in front of me clutching an actual, literal, lion toy, and I was clearly not going anywhere.
There was a lot of googling, we found a hotel room, Rabbi gave them the cash we had on hand from donations from the previous night's yeshiva session, but weirdly the hotel didn't take credit cards over the internet, just reservations.
So we made the reservation, and they went to catch a bus to the hotel (since the stroller wasn't going to fit in her car), and she told them she'd meet them there to pay for the room. She offered me a ride home since it was on the way.
And in the car we talked about how all this was doing was getting them shelter for one night. She could have cleaned out the tikkun account and maybe it would have kept them housed for a few more nights. It's not going to fix the problem.
Our community is building a tiny house for a homeless encampment. That'll give one person or family something a little better than a tent for as long as they're allowed to stay there. All that effort and money, and it's not going to actually fix the problem.
And I hear people say, don't give money to panhandlers, you're just doing it to feel good, it won't fix the problem. And I think, who feels GOOD about this? We're just handing out bandaids to try to staunch severed arteries.
It's a simple calculus--the need is immediate. If I have cash on hand, I use it to address what I can.

But every time, the size of the problem is so stark and so overwhelming, and it makes it obvious how systemic the problem is.
And it just reinforces my sense that as a society, we must WANT there to be homeless people, we must WANT our actions to be reduced to "helping" rather than "fixing."

Because as futile as anything I can do on an individual basis is, or even on a small community basis...
...we all fucking KNOW this is fixable on a societal level.

There is zero reason for anyone to be without shelter.
And, I dunno, usually I'm abstractly angry about this, and this weekend I'm concretely, non-abstractly angry about it too.
No real point here, honestly. Just helpless fury.
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