Adopt a homeless Angeleno

NICE AND WARM? Got enough to eat? Not addled by booze or drugs, or saddled with some mental disorder? Maybe you've even got a house key on your keychain?

That's terrific. Really, it is. You might even be solvent enough to sit down this time of year and send off a few bucks to a good cause. Helping the homeless, for example.

Ever mail a check when you saw the ads in November, telling you how your $16.20 can feed 10 people for Thanksgiving? If there's any day the homeless might actually get enough to eat, it's Thanksgiving, and perhaps Christmas.

As for the other 363 … here's an idea. By next Christmas, maybe the city or county or some group with chops and nerve could get a new program up and running, and you can make out your check to "Save the Homeless."

First, a little back story. You know those heart-rending charity ads: a doleful little face from Africa or Latin America or India, orphaned, ailing, illiterate, hungry, or all four, and an appeal for you to part with just $20 a month to "adopt" this child — not a Madonna adoption, but a compact to help finance a young life. The closer comes from an unthreatening guy in a sweater: "Thankfully, there's an answer. For $20 a month, less than a dollar a day, you could change someone's life."

Now imagine the kid's face morphing. It's no longer Little Juan a continent away but Big Dave a few miles down the 10 Freeway, on skid row.

"His home is a cardboard box. His car, a shopping cart. He spends his days collecting cans for the recycling money, his nights hoping he doesn't get attacked. For $50 a month — less than two bucks a day, money that can't even buy a designer coffee — you could help change his life."

I won't blow smoke up your Christmas chimney. Lifting the lot of an adult street person in Los Angeles is a complex undertaking, and certainly more expensive than helping a child in a country where five bucks a day is handsome take-home pay.

So what? The incalculable benefit would be creating ties between an Angeleno who's never laid eyes on skid row and an Angeleno whose whole universe is reduced to skid row.

There are about 90,000 homeless in Los Angeles County, maybe 10,000 on skid row. They're not space aliens, they're not overseas — they're just over a few hills from you. Save the Homeless could make them real, one at a time.

Just the way you'd save those faraway children, for your donation you'd go to a website and choose the homeless person you'd like to help. (What, you think that's demeaning? Having to defecate in a doorway because you have no alternative — that's demeaning.)

You get a photo, a life story and updates on your adoptee. Maybe he's celebrating one month of being clean and sober, and you can relay an encouraging message.

Maybe it'd become the chic thing, comparing notes and photos among your friends:

"Hal, my homeless guy, just finished his 12-step program." "Well, my homeless lady, Ellen, is moving back in with her sister and taking another shot at her GED."

And, truth be told, sometimes it'd be, "My guy Thomas got busted for crack — I think it's his third strike."

I'm not being flippant. And I know that a grown-up, messed-up homeless person doesn't have the cute pathos factor of a needy little kid. But not all homeless people are hard to bring back to life and hope.

I asked longtime skid row workers Nancy Berlin and Molly Lowery for a couple of real-life examples. Here's how I would place them on a Save the Homeless website:

"Tania worked for six years at a rent-a-car company. With her salary and her husband's, they could rent an apartment, take care of their two kids, ages 2 and 7, even buy them bikes. But when her husband abandoned the family, one salary wasn't enough. Tania's apartment? Gone. Her car? Gone. The kids' bikes? In storage, until she can bail out the bikes and bail herself out with the job. She's in training to be an X-ray technician. Your concern and your $50 a month could make a difference."

Or this: "Once his dad found out he was gay, the closest thing J.W. had to a home was the psych ward. Then he hitchhiked here from Texas and found a downtown corner to live on and men who paid him for sex. At night, people driving by threw bottles at him. One morning, someone peed on him.

"He hit bottom. Once he went into a shelter, he began taking his meds, began working in the kitchen, and finally was helping to run the place. Now he's got AIDS, and he needs your help."

We don't know how Tania's story will turn out, but the ending of JW's story has already been written. AIDS killed him. He was 29 years old.

Fifty bucks to link us one to another.

Fifty bucks to connect someone who's concerned with someone who figured that could never happen again.

That's my idea of a faith-based initiative.


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