Helping others is something we all know we should do. But most of us don’t do as much as we should, especially for those who are in most need of help.
Los Banos resident Steve Hammond is one of those people I admire for actually doing good things to help people. Steve and the Bethel Community Church, where he is pastor, have been helping the homeless in Los Banos since 2007, first with food, then with shelter and now with showers.
I was reminded of this when I read a recent Enterprise news story by Vikaas Shanker about Steve’s church working with Memorial Hospital of Los Banos to provide a shower on wheels for homeless persons.
All of us have encountered homeless persons. Some of us see them as down on their luck. Others see them as irresponsible. But we all recognize that being homeless is not a place where we'd want to be.
I talked with Steve the other day about his perspective on the homeless. “As a person who reads the gospels faithfully,” Steve said, “I believe that Christians have been given the command to help the poor. I'm simply doing what Christ asked of his followers.”
Over the past three years, Steve and other volunteers have helped more than 30 homeless people in Los Banos get off the streets and into housing. But he recognizes that he’s not successful with all of the homeless, which numbered 82 in the most recent Los Banos count earlier this year. Steve’s church keeps trying to bring that number down.
Steve has seen four kinds of persons who are homeless. One group is down on their luck. Another group suffers from mental illness. A third group is addicted to either drugs or alcohol. A fourth group, surprisingly to me, remains homeless because they have pets.
“We can help the persons who are down on their luck,” he said, “because they don’t want to be homeless. But others don’t want to leave the streets, because their mental illness keeps them from thinking straight or because they don’t want to give up their addiction or abandon their pets. Often these persons are hard to find, because they tend to hide.”
Steve’s church, however, doesn’t give up. He and his fellow church members help everyone on the streets by providing food and directing them to services, such as the Los Banos Community Center on a hot day, which serves as a cooling center in extreme heat.
Besides the recent purchase of a mobile shower, which helps the homeless cool off and clean up, Steve and other volunteers feel good about their success with homeless veterans. “As of today,” Steve said, “there is not one veteran in Los Banos who is homeless. It helps that the regional Veterans Office provides special services for these persons.”
Steve mentioned another positive development: a relatively new “211” service in Merced County. Anyone who calls that number receives specialized information from a person (not a recording) about local assistance programs, including help for the homeless.
I asked Steve how Los Banosans not currently connected with his church might help the local homeless. He suggested they might volunteer a few hours a week to help either his church or the local Salvation Army in distributing or preparing food
Volunteers are also needed for the weekly ecumenical Manna Ministries hot meal served at the local United Methodist Church on Sunday evenings.
For those who don’t have the time or ambition to volunteer, Steve mentioned that donations to help the homeless are always appreciated. They can be mailed on a one-time or regular basis to the Bethel Community Church at 415 I St. in Los Banos or they could be made via the church’s web site: www.bethelcommunitychurch.net.
I asked Steve what people can or should do when they encounter homeless persons. “First of all, do not attempt to intervene. Most homeless persons are not dangerous, but occasionally if they are in a bad cycle of their addiction, they can act out.
“Second, don’t ever give them money. If they ask for help, offer to give or buy them food. All too often, homeless persons asking for money use it to buy alcohol or drugs.” Steve also suggested telling them about his church or the 211 help line.
Steve thanked me for the time we spent talking. In turn I thanked him for all he does. He not only talks the talk; he walks the walk, right next to the homeless.
Comments on the writings of John Spevak, a California Newspaper Publishers Association first-place award recipient for 2010 and 2014, are encouraged, and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.