Monday, March 19 , 2018, 7:36 am | Fair 41º


Ken Williams: The Kindness of Quiet Saints Brings Light to Dark Corners of Community

It was a tough year.

Homelessness among children hit historic rates. Again we find ourselves at war in the Middle East, and the year ends with the tragedy of Michael Brown’s death. When the daily news causes our emotions to turn as gray as the gathering winter storm clouds, the memory of those who brought sunshine to those in need offers glimmers of hope in the face of despair.

Several years ago, two women gave me money to buy jackets for the homeless. They had decided to do this instead of giving each other Christmas gifts. They told me to give away whatever money was left over to the homeless. The hearts of these two women were incredible.

An interesting side to this story was that this lesbian couple reached out to strangers to bring joy to those without. At the same time, their LGBTQ community was under vicious assault by some who used religion as a cover for hate. The irony is striking. Here was a family unit turning their back on materialism to reach out to those who Christ viewed as his own while some, professing to be followers of this holy man, use the religion based on him to express their twisted and hateful nature.

One Christmas, a businessman and his son bought a ton of cold weather gear. I remember walking down State Street with them in a soft rain, carrying black plastic bags full of jackets, raincoats, ponchos and socks, searching out those who found the cold streets their home. In particular, we prioritized those suffering from mental illness. A teaching point for me was that these men were Jewish. It was not their holiday, but the spiritual values of these men spoke highly of who they were as well as their religion.

A good friend of mine contacted me when he heard that a brutal storm was approaching our community. He gave me money to buy hundreds of green ponchos. I will always remember the sight at the Farmers Market when I looked down State Street and saw a moving forest of green. It looked as if scores upon scores of trees had come alive and were on the move. My friend’s soul was the plant food that day.

Project Healthy Neighbors: For seven years, I was honored to shepherd this project with a group of incredibly kind-hearted people. This mobile medical clinic delivered lifesaving medical services to the homeless and poor. Our community came together to provide cold weather gear, socks, personal needs items, ponchos and, most cherished of all, new shoes. A shoe manufacturer/retailer from Los Angeles and Soles for Souls provided the bulk of the shoes. Local philanthropists gave enough money to buy what else was needed. Volunteers by the scores manned the three-day event. Professionals, including doctors, nurses, counselors and others, offered their services free of charge. All was done with love and respect for our guests. All providers and volunteers agreed that we received so much more than we gave. Sadly, this project is no more.

Jim was homeless for as long as I can remember. This one particular Christmas, he was fortunate enough to receive a large cash gift. What would you buy if you had gone without as long as he had? He gave the money to an elderly homeless woman. His spiritual values reflected highly on his Native American roots.

Summer. A mentally ill woman was slowly starving herself. She had a room at a local hotel. Her mental health issues kept her bound to the room. Terror awaited her whenever she set foot outside of it. A man, usually bare-chested with his own issues and riding one of those small bikes that look ridiculous when an adult rides them, would come to the hotel week after week to deliver a bag of food. He would go to the room and quickly depart. Week after week, this strange sight of generosity was repeated. What little cash he was able to secure was shared with another human being without preconditions.

Storyteller Children's Center in its infancy: The rent was due. Salaries needed to be paid. Our bank account was empty. The Board of Directors sat at Storyteller’s location by lower State Street. Dire straights were an understatement. A hat was literally passed around so we could collect enough money to keep the center open one more month — just one more month. Our mantra was month after month in those early days. Failure, the failure of adults to homeless children was not an option. Enough money was scraped together to keep the dream alive.

Time after time, Casa Esperanza was out of cash. Beds and, in those days, meals for the homeless were in jeopardy of being lost. But throughout, noble people with good hearts kept our moral values alive with kind donations.

Every city has more than its share of hateful people who despise and degrade those who are less fortunate than them, hardened people who judge without mercy or love. Yet our community in Santa Barbara, from rich to the poorest of the poor, is blessed with quiet saints who go out of their way to find ways to live their spiritual values. Honoring ancient texts and modern hearts, people who themselves struggle with the aches and pains of the human condition find the time and the means to soften the harsh conditions of the less fortunate. Doing so, they offer rare shafts of light in what appears to be an increasingly dark world, ruled by brutal violence and mindless commercialism.

Though there are no words to express the gratitude that so many have for hands unseen, let me thank each one of you for the lives you have touched.

Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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