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Dose of Reality

September 12, 2010

When we all get busy with our lives, working, eating, sleeping, following our daily routines, it is easy to take it all for granted.  Two things happened this week that made me stop and reflect on just how much I fall into this trap.

The first, we have all heard about, was the explosion in San Bruno.  I can’t begin to comprehend what it is like for those that lost loved ones.  Homes can be rebuilt, cars can be purchased again, but the lives lost can never be brought back.  One minute families were in their homes doing what they probably do every day and WHOOSH, they were gone.  When we sit in our homes we expect to be safe, we expect when we come home our family will be there, safe.  This tragedy reminds us of just how fragile life really is.

The second takes a little more explanation.  Friday I was asked to take part in a documentary for Costco to tell my part in the story of Clarence Fowler.  Twenty years ago Clarence was homeless.  He had just been released from Elmwood Detetention Center having been arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Palo Alto.  At the time of his arrest he had been living under a bridge for about two years.  The bridge is just north of Stanford shopping center as you enter Menlo Park .  Back on the streets, he went to a community services agency for help.

At the time I was a pastor in Los Altos and had been part of a group of churches that started the Alpha-Omega shelter program.  The program was simple.  Every 30 days a participating church would take in the group of 15 homeless people, pre-screened by community services, and would feed them while they spent the night in the church.  The idea was, over a 90 day period, to give people in the program the chance to find a job and a place to live.

Clarence was admitted to the shelter program and in a short time we got him a job mopping floors at Costco.  He was doing well and as his 90 days were coming to an end I realized he didn’t have the resources to be on his own.  So I invited him to live with me.  A simple gesture of faith in another human being.

Today Clarence is a manager at Costco and will celebrate his 20th anniversary there fairly soon.  He owns his own home in Mountain View and if you were to ever meet him you would have  no clue as to what he has been through.    Friday we met again to tell his story, ironically filmed under the same bridge he had called home for so long.

What I was reminded of is just how close all of us are to being homeless.  When we started the shelter we looked at just who the homeless are and who could we actually help.  We learned there are three categories.  The long term homeless, who want to be left alone, just give them three meals and a cot.  The homeless who have only been on the street a short time, who with help can get back on their feet.  The third category should give most of us pause.  The pre-homeless, anyone who does not have at least six months salary in a savings account.

It would not take much for something to happen that would put many of us on the street.  Without resources to carry us through we would be homeless.  Can this happen to people suddenly and without warning?  If you doubt, just drive over to San Bruno and look for yourself.

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