Do we love our neighbors?

By Clair Brooks

Resident, Del Mar

Controversy over the homeless population has recently divided the community in Ocean Beach, where residents are fed up with aggressive panhandling on the streets. Could that happen here in Del Mar?

As we have suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression, homelessness has risen sharply in San Diego County and local charitable institutions are stretched thin, trying to help. One such institution is St. Peter's Episcopal Church here in Del Mar, which has been providing local homeless people with showers and food on their premises, since the recession began.

The program, which is funded by the church and staffed by local volunteers every weekday, offers a safe haven for local homeless to refresh body and spirit and get practical help in making phone calls to get the help that they need longer term to move off the streets.

In return, guests willingly sign a "Code of Conduct" to respect the parish and its neighbors by not loitering on the St. Peter's campus, once they have been helped. The church, with the support of the local sheriff's department, strictly enforces the code.

Paige Blair, who became the Rector of St. Peter's last year told me, "When I learned of the Helping Hands ministry during the calling (search) process last year, it was as if God broke my heart right open, and I fell in love with St. Peter's and her people. I was so moved — and humbled — by their compassion."

It is understandable that people can feel threatened by the presence of homeless strangers, or worry about the effect that they may have on the local community. One of the complaints in OB is that the panhandlers have chosen the homeless lifestyle.

However, there are many reasons why people end up homeless, especially in a recession like the one we're going through now. Some are victims of unemployment or abuse, while others are Military veterans on disability or mentally ill and unable to work. Carlene, who volunteers weekly with Helping Hands, wishes the villagers of Del Mar could meet the guests of Helping Hands. "They are such gentle, lovely people," she told me. Several of them come to church weekly.

Two were recently confirmed and some have found full-time work.

Martha Hatt, who leads the Helping Hands program, tells about Bill, who owned a jewelry store before he was forced out of business by the recession. Bill calls Helping Hands "an island in a depressing world." The shower and meal, he says, lets him hold onto a basic level of hygiene and self-respect while he applies for retraining programs.

Another guest of the program tells how it makes him feel better to talk to others who may be going through the same experiences he is, or to chat with the volunteers.

We in Del Mar are lucky to live in a village and know our neighbors. The urge to reach out and connect with others is a basic human instinct, which helps the homeless feel less disenfranchised and less likely to be disrespectful of the local community.

We are lucky, in Del Mar, to have our homes and families in such a beautiful part of the world. Is it not right that we should seek practical ways for our village community to show tolerance and empathy for those who aren't as fortunate as ourselves?

If you would like to volunteer at Helping Hands or contribute food or supplies, please contact Deacon Bob Nelson at

deaconbob@stpetersdelmar.net

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