Spending some time with the homeless (January 26, 2013 edition)

Salt Lake City was featured on the NBC Nightly News last Friday, January 25, and not for a good reason.  The city was featured in a story on its dirty, toxic air.

NBC NEWS:  Icy fog traps lung-busting soot over Salt Lake City

If only NBC News had shot video of the air quality on Saturday, January 26.  If they thought it was bad before, they would have been shocked to see it Saturday.

The air was dense with fog, making it hard to see traffic lights until you were close enough to slam on your brakes.  And it was filled with that filthy, carbon monoxide-drenched toxicity.  It was unlike anything seen before in recent memory.  The Salt Lake valley does see some fog, but usually not like it was on Saturday throughout the day.

ICOR Jan 26 (1)
The line of homeless people at Pioneer Park wound around a sidewalk area January 26 as they waited for needed items during the latest Inner-City Outreach (ICOR) outing in the gray, toxic air that’s been covering the Salt Lake Valley. (Photo By John G. Miller)

It was a gloomy gray mess, which seemed to set a certain different mood for the second outing of the month for the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Inner-city Outreach (ICOR) ministry.

It was the kind of air not meant to be breathed in over an extended period of time, at least not outdoors.  But for most of those who are homeless, there’s not much choice.

The ICOR truck was late arriving Saturday, but some volunteers had prepared over 70 warm burritos along with chocolate chip cookies to hand out to those waiting patiently in line, along with enough new backpacks to go around for anyone who needed one.

Homeless people pick through bins of used clothing items donated for the Inner-City Outreach ministry January 26.  (Photo By John G. Miller)
Homeless people pick through bins of used clothing items donated for the Inner-City Outreach ministry January 26. (Photo By John G. Miller)

Then the truck arrived, and the line of homeless people snaked around a sidewalk area waiting for warm clothing.  There didn’t seem to be as much impatience, crowding, and sneaking into line this time around.  What was more evident this time were the numbers of people having trouble being able to stand up without wobbling or walking in a straight line or just simply communicating coherently due to alcohol or substance issues.

It was a gloomy time.  That grayness in the air didn’t help anyone’s mood.

It didn’t help that mood to see a number that was posted in our church’s announcements that morning about the ICOR outing:  Utah had 16,522 people homeless in 2012, a record high for the state.

One man who was near the front of the line whom I have seen before made it a point to ask me if we could have someone make a special trip to The Road Home shelter nearby to drop off items for four men who are wheelchair-bound and unable to make it to the park to get the things they need themselves.  We filled four separate bags for them, and when the outing was done I drove close to the shelter to leave them there myself.

I parked in a nearby lot and walked a short distance to The Road Home.  Rio Grande Street was just as gloomy as ever.  The closer I got to the shelter during its time when the doors were locked, the more packed the sidewalk was with people on both sides of the street.  If they weren’t standing, they were sitting or laying down on the wet cement.

Men … women … children.  It was a gloomy day in so many ways.

How close are we to living that way ourselves?  That question haunts me.

Have you ever seen a man break down?