Thursday, August 18, 2011

Expect a bad aroma: Loaves & Fishes to close its Men’s Wash House for five days straight

The stench of bad leadership at Loaves & Fishes hangs in the air like a rotting halibut.
Men's Wash House: A vital service to allow homeless men to  keep  themselves clean with a shower, shave and clothing exchange.
Loaves & Fishes will be closing its Men’s Wash House for five days – the first five days of September – for reasons that have not been disclosed. A notice was put up in Friendship Park and at the wash house to that effect this morning.

A five-day period, during a hot summer, when homeless men cannot easily keep themselves clean is a significant disruption of homeless services. Being stinky out in public is a bummer. Loaves & Fishes really ought to find some empathy for the suffering of homeless folk. Or, ought to fire some of its reeking top-level employees and replace them with people who have a compassionate nature. In the past, the Wash House has been closed such that Wash House staff could take a single day off to go to a Star Trek Convention in Sacramento. A search of the Internet shows no evidence of a five-day, Memorial extended-weekend Star Trek Lollapalooza, though that could just be because it’s hidden behind a futuristic cloaking devise of some weird sort.

Anyway, the Wash House staff would never advocate for a long close; they care about their work and the guys they serve. Another possibility is that the water tank has busted, the building has been invaded by termites, and all the urinals and toilets have been busted up by gangsters dressed as nuns wielding bats – but still, it takes FIVE DAYS to fix merely all that? Or, it may be that Mark – the irreplaceable fully-competent-and-compassionate manager and Wash House Mr. Congeniality – is vacationing in Argentina. But, truly, there is no excuse. A five-day closure is unjustifiable, but IS the usual output from the never-stinting-at-being-meanspirited, disconnected-from-what-being-homeless-is-like Loaves & Fishes high-up management.

During the first three days of the Wash House closure, homeless men in the know will be able to go to the Union Gospel Mission for clean clothes and a shower. However, UGM does not have open hours, staff and facilities to compensate for the inavailability of the Wash House.


Blogger ckrd23315 said...

Seriously Tom? Loaves & Fishes receives no government funding and operates on private donations provided for the benefit of the area's homeless. More than 1000 people donate their time every month (volunteer = free labor = donating their time) to support the homeless through Loaves & Fishes. I'm wondering why your blog post isn't praising the services they provide. What if they just shut-down entirely? Would that be a better outcome for you?

August 21, 2011 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Armstrong said...

You bring up a lot of issues [some of them, perhaps, unintentionally on your part], but let me get to the last of what you said first:

Q. "What if [Loaves & Fishes] just shut down entirely?"
A. For starters, that wouldn't happen. A meteor isn't going to wipe out the Loaves & Fishes Mall. But, if everything did come to a sudden halt THAT WOULD FREE UP FOUR MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR TO BE USED EFFICIENTLY FOR THE BENEFIT OF AREA HOMELESS PEOPLE. And volunteers could be freed-up to do something more meaningful and contributory. By the way, it is a ridiculous circumstance that all these volunteers come to a place where so very many people NEED EMPLOYMENT.

Q. You write "Loaves & Fishes receives no government funding."

A. Loaves & Fishes has a complex of buildings that pay no property tax. In this way Loaves & Fishes very directly gets government support that is no different from government funding. [It is similar to corporate-jet builders getting a reprieve from paying taxes.] For my part I very much wish Loaves & Fishes did get other government funding and with it a mandated obligation to serve nutritious meals; to properly abide by safety regulations [where else in Sacramento could a completely dead three-ton tree fall and almost kill a half-dozen people other than in L&F's Friendship Park?]; and cleanliness rules [On weekends in the past, and probably now, there is no place for homeless people to wash their hands before a weekend meal.]

Loaves & Fishes is a disgrace. What is amazing is that so little gets accomplished with so much money. But there is an explanation of that: The Administration at Loaves & Fishes is breathtakingly incompetent. North Korea has more-compassionate leadership.

August 21, 2011 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger ckrd23315 said...

I'm curious what makes you think that the 4 million dollars freed up would go to help the homeless if Loaves & Fishes closed their doors. That 4 million dollars is only allocated to fight homelessness because L&F is out there advocating for it. That 4 million (or at least part of it) could easily go elsewhere.

It is not unusual for non-profit organizations to have tax exemptions. I'll grant you that if a for-profit business occupied those buildings they would generate tax revenue, but this is hardly the equivalent of "government funding." I guess you think the government could spend 4 million dollars more efficiently ... in California? I seriously doubt that!

Ultimately you and I are on the same side here. We want to see people being cared for efficiently, effectively, and with compassion. Your points have merit, but I wonder if attacking the hand that feeds the homeless is the right approach to helping the homeless. Can we at least acknowledge that they are filling an important need in the community, even if they're not fully living up to your expectations?

August 21, 2011 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Armstrong said...


Again, your supposition isn't realistic. Loaves & Fishes isn't going to *POOF* disappear, as much as that possibility is an intriguing one.

BUT, allow me to point out that San Antonio, a similar-sized metropolis to Sacramento -- but much poorer -- raised $100 million for its Haven for Hope. See So maybe it is the case that Loaves & Fishes is COSTING Sacramento $96 million rather than bringing a relatively-paltry $4 million to the aid of homeless folk.

In any case, management of Loaves & Fishes is a thorough disgrace.

ckrd, I have no great objection to L&F getting a tax benefit, what I object to is its self-righteous claim of getting no benefit.

Certainly, Loaves & Fishes IS feeding homeless people. But since so very very much more could be done if the organization was properly managed it is a sad, sad waste that truly results in lives not being salvaged.

August 21, 2011 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger tamee martini said...

i used to be homeless and camped out lots of places in sac.. the orchard... the river.. tent city.. ive reintergrated into life for the past two years and let me tell you tom.. if it wasnt for loaves and fishes i wouldve gone starving..LOTS of times..sister libby was always kind and compassionate to me and my husband. i think your giving l and f a bad rap.. who cares about the politics.. we are talking about people here... i thank God for l and f ... they were there when we needed them .. thru our addiction and even now we keep in touch with sister libby and the many friends we made on the river.. stop bein so mean tom.. lighten up ..K?

August 29, 2011 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Armstrong said...


I do understand that if Loaves & Fishes was suddenly fully absent, a lot of people would in a world of trouble.

But is THAT the criteria that should be used? Comparing Loaves & Fishes to having nothing?

I know men who have been barred for life from L&F whose conduct at the mission was no different. But at the mission, they are motivated to save people rather than control them.

Yes, of course, Libby ACTS compassionately. But that is just one of her performances; she is in shape-shifting performance for each of her varying audiences. [See "Libby Fernandez: NOT a friend of the homeless."

As for the politics, the weird commutarian/ Dorothy Day / Catholic Workers Uhion politics of Loaves & Fishes alienates conservative involvement in understanding and helping the homeless through secular means. In San Antonio, Texas, the WHOLE of the metropolis is united and is much more responsive to homeless needs. THEIR example is -- in many ways, at least -- what should be followed. [btw, I am decidedly NOT conservative; I'm a traditional liberal.]

I do understand your gratitude toward L&F, but, truly, other people have suffered mightily directly because of Loaves & Fishes. Sacramento could be doing better than having L&F at the center of its homeless-help effort. Indeed, it is incredible bad luck that Loaves & Fishes exists. If the Delanys hadn't come along, a much better homeless-help charity would have come along in the 80s.

August 29, 2011 at 2:15 PM  

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