Thursday, March 20, 2008

300 people take part in foot washing


In the midst of what is known throughout the Christian world as Holy Week, more than 80 volunteers gathered yesterday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Barbara to wash the feet of hundreds of the area’s chronically homeless.
Fleets of doctors, psychologists, religious leaders and representatives from a number of local homeless shelters attended the event, which was billed as the first of its kind in the area.

Each of the 300 homeless people served at the foot washing were given a free pair of shoes, a voluntary foot washing and access to a number of other services.
But event co-organizer Lynnelle Williams, founder of WillBridge of Santa Barbara Inc., a center that provides a “safe haven” for the chronically homeless and mentally ill who are on the brink of being incarcerated, said the one-on-one contact with people who rarely receive any positive attention, was enough to make her weep.
“It was overwhelmingly beautiful to see the clients, how happy they were,” she said. “It was just miracle after miracle after miracle.”
Dr. Wayne Mellinger, a counselor and case manager at the New Beginnings Counseling Center, also helped organize the foot washing.
Mellinger said the success of the event was due to a mishmash of people from all corners of the community who came together and offered their services.
He said a $3,000 grant was provided by The Fund for Santa Barbara, while another $4,000 grant came from UC Santa Barbara and was applied for by students.
These monies combined to purchase the shoes, many of which were new, hygiene kits, two pairs of socks, gloves, sunscreen and lotion. Lunch was also provided.
Mellinger said the event was aimed at the area’s chronically homeless, a term loosely defined as those who are consistently in and out of homelessness and who rarely or never partake of services of any kind.
According to Mellinger, of the 6,300 people in Santa Barbara County who experience homelessness, 900 are considered chronically homeless. If those numbers hold up, he said the foot washing reached one third of those individuals.
Though the event was timed to coincide with Maundy Thursday, which is celebrated by many Christians throughout the world just before the Easter holiday, Mellinger said it was non denominational and religious leaders from a number of different churches participated. Some Christian groups mark Maundy Thursday with foot washings.
“It was such a beautiful thing to see the bonding that occurred between the people having their feet washed and those washing,” Mellinger said. “You could see that they were really filled with love.”
The event came one day after a 54-year-old homeless man was found dead on a bench in the 600 block of State Street.
The man, whose name has not yet been released by Santa Barbara Police, was discovered by a passer-by just before 10 a.m. Wednesday. A police spokesman said the man had likely died several hours before it was discovered he was dead.
It’s impossible to know how many people passed by the deceased man before someone stopped to check on him, but it’s one example of how alienated members of the homeless population are from many others in society.
Mellinger said he knew the deceased man well, and said the foot washing was a profound example, both for him and the homeless people who participated, that many people do care.
“There are a lot of people that care,” he said. “While there are people walking by someone on the streets not seeing them, there still are a lot of people who care.”
Mellinger said the event was organized in 60 days and word spread through the homeless community quickly.
Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza, said he heard from one of his co-workers at the Eastside shelter that people were looking forward to getting new shoes.
Though Foley couldn’t attend the foot washing, he said he hopes the momentum gained at the event will translate into additional success.
“I think we need to watch the next few days and see what the long term affect is on the homeless population,” he said. “My read is that it’s going to be great.”
Williams said she plans to do just that by actively monitoring how many contacts were made by the various organizations that participated, and how many relationships those groups have maintained.
Williams said the event was such a success, she and Mellinger plan to do it again next year.
She said the foot washing went a long way to reach out to the homeless population, and hopes that they know people do care about them.
“We’re walking right by your side, you just have to reach out and say, ‘I’m struggling,’” she said.

1 comment:

Judith said...

“While there are people walking by someone on the streets not seeing them, there still are a lot of people who care.”

Above is a quote from this article, to which I take exception. All those passing by the gentleman are NOT necessarily "not seeing him". If I saw him I would assume he was sleeping and would, in all kindness, allow him to continue sleeping undisturbed. Is that "not seeing him"? Would it have been kind to go up to him and shake him? What if he were just asleep? Would he have appreciated my intrusion? Do you really think it wise to go around shaking all the resting souls in town?