Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Loaves and Fishes helps one, forgets one thousand?

Deanna Van Slate as pictured in the first Sacramento Bee article about her.
A story that spanned two recent days in the Sacramento Bee concerns a woman, Deanna Van Slate, whose automobile was impounded, leaving her suddenly homeless (and carless), out on the rainy streets.

More than being one-person’s story of being reduced to destitute homelessness, the news stories bring to the fore some things curious and troubling: the advantages of local celebrity status and concerns regarding Loaves and Fishes’ priorities and responsibilities.

No one cannot have feelings of sympathy for Ms. Van Slate. In the newspaper's Valentine's Day story, "Sacramento homeless woman finds some who care in her hour of need," the 50-year-old woman is pictured, in anguish, atop her motley belongings on the wet pavement.

The article recounts the woman's sad downward spiral, beginning with job loss in November; death of her housemate in December; and, more recently, loss of her apartment and the struggle to make ends, including car upkeep, meet with a paltry unemployment stipend.

But then Van Slate's luck had a fortuitous turn on Friday the 13th: a policeman impounded her car while Loaves & Fishes' Sister Libby and a Bee reporter she summoned were there to watch.

The policeman comes off as a snake in the article. Sister Libby is quoted saying, "There might be a law you are guided by, but where is your compassion in any law?" Of course, those words don't congeal into any exact meaning, but we get the gist and have to nod: Bad policeman!

Quickly, Loaves and Fishes dumps Ms. Van Slate in front of the mission, in a bad part of town, another picture is taken, and Loaves sets up a Van Slate fund to gather reader contributions.

According to the Bee's second Valentine's Day article, "Where to call to help homeless woman," people are told to call Sister Libby Fernandez to help the homeless woman - e.g., send money.

In the story the next day, "Homeless woman's story prompts offers of help," we're told that "the plight of a homeless woman ... has resonated throughout the region."

The story continues,
Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless – and brought Van Slate's story to light – was inundated Saturday with offers of help for the woman.

Sister Libby Fernandez, Loaves & Fishes executive director, said she had talked to about 150 people by midday Saturday. People offered help, ranging from cash to free accommodations for Van Slate. Some offered rooms for free for two weeks, some for a month, Fernandez said.

"There're all sorts of amazing people from our community who feel like they too are on furlough from the state, or losing hours from other employment, but still want to give somehow," Fernandez said.

Loaves & Fishes volunteers and staff members are working to recover Van Slate's car, and are seeking donations that would help pay her insurance, registration, towing and storage fees. They are also working with her to find employment and help her consider the housing options she's been offered.

Meanwhile, a local family is taking her in for the weekend.

Fernandez said her group also will continue to help Van Slate deal with past problems.

Van Slate was convicted of a felony count of burglary in 2006 and sentenced to a five-year probation term, according to online court records.

Fernandez said she is aware of Van Slate's issues. Van Slate had initially come to the attention of Loaves & Fishes through its mental health services program.

"I know her and she's trustworthy," Fernandez said.
And now, SacHo blog returns from Madison Avenue to the real world, where butts lie on the wet ground on cold nights. It's swell you care about Ms. Van Slate, Libby, but what have you done lately to rescue all those thousands who have similar sad downward-spiral stories and have been in a state of homelessness for more than a scant half a day?

What funds have you set up to pull them out of the pit of homelessness? What volunteers and staff members have been tasked with the responsibility of recovering the lives of Ivan and June and Mike and Angelica?

While you were away dancing in the kleig lights, Libby, the Park you are directly responsible for was a mud wallow. Your lunch today offered no vegetables other than tiny chards of carrot in a mound of lettuce.

I offer no solution. Again, nobody doesn't want Deanna Van Slate to have a happy life. But it may be that helping Ms. Van Slate is exactly what you should be doing, while someone is found to take proper charge of Loaves & Fishes.

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