The wife and I were helping serve dinner at a local homeless shelter with some friends last night, which we do monthly, and while we were there I witnessed an interesting series of events.
At some point during the evening a woman walked in the door of the shelter and right on up to the desk of the supervisor on duty. I couldn’t hear their conversation but from what I gathered the woman was seeking shelter for the evening. Unfortunately for her, the shelter is unable to accept walk-ins. They need to go though some form of intake during business hours Monday through Friday. I’m sure the supervisor informed the women of this and shortly there after the woman, probably a little frustrated, walked out the door to go who knows where.
Within a minute’s time a different women walked in the door and right up to the supervisor’s desk. I could tell she was a little perturbed. She had obviously brought the previous visitor in expecting that she would be provided with food and shelter. After speaking with the supervisor for a few minutes the woman, with a frustrated look on her face, walked over to me and a few others to ask us if we knew of anywhere she could take this woman. Sadly we didn’t have much to give her in the way of an answer. I informed her that they could call 211 and find out what services were available, but other than that was at a loss of what to tell her.
Reflecting back on this encounter I can’t help but wonder why the supervisor at the shelter was unable to provide the woman with any referral information. There didn’t seem to be a packet of any sort detailing service available. I would imagine that occurrences like this are pretty regular, so not to be prepared is pretty irresponsible if you ask me.
As near as I can tell, the best thing Los Angeles County has going for it (service-wise) is the 211 information line, but that isn’t enough. Every time I’ve mentioned the hotline to someone in need there seems to be a reluctance to using it. Perhaps they’ve been burned too many times by shelters refusing them service, but there should still be something more.
In my opinion shelters should be required to make some effort in helping those they are unable to help, even if that help is just a packet of useful information, or the use of a phone. I’m not sure how it is in other counties, but in Los Angeles County our services are disjointed and seem to rarely work together toward their common goal. That needs to change if we are seriously going to address the issue of homelessness.
Just think of all the people that could be helped with a just a little more information. If we can just get our shelters, soup kitchens, missions, etc. to work together a little more we’d have far fewer cases of having to turn people away and we could get down to the real business of helping people help themselves. That’s what it is all about anyway. Right?