At daybreak, the Loaves & Fishes campus off North C Street is a sea of shopping carts, strollers, cars and bicycles.
Carts pushed by staffers contain the day’s food, survival and hygiene provisions. On any given day, that down jacket in the cargo may save someone from frostbite.
Guests – many carting belongings and camping gear — hunger for breakfast, with some walking miles to use restrooms largely unavailable throughout the city and county.
Mothers accompany children, many skipping to class at Mustard Seed. A man and woman — in love and homeless — make their way to Friendship Park, hand in hand.
Other guests, shoulders slumped, bear the burden of sleeping on concrete or the hard, cold ground, exposed to the elements day in and day out. Whether it’s the searing heat of a Sacramento summer or the damp chill of winter, there is no good season to be homeless.
But, Loaves & Fishes delivers compassion. Relationships are built slowly but surely amid gestures small but large, warming the hearts of many battling to survive in a society that worships credit scores and wealth.
Some of the more fortunate guests at Loaves & Fishes have the skills that many take for granted to secure housing and employment and the ability to adapt to a daily drumbeat of bills and schedules. Though considered the lucky ones, even for them, being homeless could last months, a year or years.
Acquiring housing is akin to winning the lottery for many who experience homelessness. Waiting lists for shelters are long and punitive anti-camping tickets are dispensed with a heavy hand in this community.
Mental illness is a slippery slope among the homeless, who feel vulnerable, isolated, deprived and routinely are witness to unspeakable violence and neglect. Expressions are haggard and eyes are often filled with mistrust.
For others, escaping homelessness is thwarted by long if not impossible odds. Because of disability or addiction, they lack the ability to adapt to the contours of the working world. Some suffer paranoid delusions. They may have no one to protect them or care for them. Thankfully, Loaves & Fishes staffers often must guide them through our services so that their most basic needs can be met.
The chronically homeless are often criminalized in a society that also frowns on the poor, disabled, mentally ill and minorities. Their lives are chalk full of daily indignities, horror stories and abuse – they have fallen through the cracks of this nation’s tattered social safety net.
This is a hard life of scant comfort– unimaginable to most looking in from the outside.
This is why, after a hard night, greeting the sea of guests with coffee and friendship is ingrained into the mission of Loaves & Fishes. It’s a transformative and dignifying gesture, befitting the promise of a new day and a world that someday will offer them a home