By Sarah Garcia
I once knew an elderly lady who roamed the streets of Downtown El Paso – I would typically see her on my delivery runs, and sometimes I would take a short break to talk to her. She went by the name Raza and occasionally she would even sing for me. Her voice, almost resembling that of Janis Joplin’s, would echo amongst the trees in the San Jacinto Plaza. It was not just her voice that captivated me but rather what she said to me. That, to this day still lingers, It was that she felt invisible.
“There are times when I can be singing louder than ever and still no one even looks at me. I am but a ghost and the only beings that notice me are the little birds and the innocence of the children whose mothers yank away as they pass me by,” said Raza.
You see there are many like Raza that wander the streets not just looking for money for food or for shelter, but also for friendship. Just the slightest hello and smile can really impact someone’s day. The last time I heard of Raza, she had passed away during the winter, outside, in the cold and alone. I did not know much about her, except for the tid bits she would mention during our short conversations, but I knew she was lonely and longed for company. I had a friend who use to work at a homeless shelter in Boulder, Colorado and he use to talk about the many unique encounters he had with some the homeless. He mentioned the hardships that many of them endured throughout their lifetimes, which was just the tip of the iceberg. Many of them struggle with mental illnesses, drug addictions, sexual abuse and others who loose everything from the economy crashing to gambling but the one thing he said he found the most in common was their need for company. If you think about it, that is not much to ask for because as humans, that is probably one of the most essential things about life, human interaction.
“I have made decisions in my life that have led me to some very dark places, one of those was running away from all responsibility after I lost my wife and child in a in a car accident. There are days where I feel fine then there are days when I feel like dying, but I’ve made some good friends at the shelter I stay at and I’m grateful for that, otherwise I’d be more insane,” said local shelter attendee, Rick.
In an era where “cutting-edge” is a mandatory way of living in an Avant Garde – like themed society who praises “who wore it best,” or for the swanky who consider themselves experts in journalism, since everyone has a smartphone and social media, we as a society forgets the bigger things in life. Such as the people who actually save lives, whether its pulling people out of a burning house or whether its feeding the hungry at a homeless shelter, there still is little to no recognition given.
Places like The Rescue Mission of El Paso, La Posada Home, Opportunity Center Homeless Center, and the Salvation Army of El Paso County, are the many few who deserve true celebrity status in this city. Although each shelter has their own particular ideology, they all share one thing in common, and that is to help those in need. The Rescue Mission of El Paso impacts the lives of individuals who are homeless or at risk for being homeless by committing to the Christian principals of loving and respecting one another.
“We strive to not only meet physical needs but also spiritual needs of guests The Mission provides three fresh meals each day, showers, laundry facilities, job search help, counseling and bible study classes,” said Marketing Coordinator at Rescue Mission of El Paso, Teresa Filyes.
According to Executive Director, Monica Martinez, The philosophy of La Posada Home, is to enable each individual to reach their fullest potential regardless of past history and experiences. There is unconditional positive regard for the goodness of the person without a judgment to foretell future success based on previous failures. Their mission is to provide assistance to families who are the underserved of the community who are experiencing hardships.
“Our goal is that 100% of the people who approach us receive the services they need to provide for their families and for themselves – a productive, safe life,” said Martinez.
The Opportunity Center for the Homeless was established in 1994, on a “recovery through service” model, in an open warehouse. Coming upon their 24th year, they now have ten programs – each separately housed. The recovery through service model is still prevalent within their organization in that over half of our staff has lived experiences with homelessness. The emergency shelters (of which there are four) act as in-reach as we focus on the individual through placement and sustainability in housing.
“We have no barriers to access services – as a direct result with work with the addicted, the mentally ill, the chronically homeless, the frail and those that are either screened out or deemed ineligible for other programs,” said Opportunity Center for the Homeless Center Employee, John W. Martin.
John also mentioned how the presence of the Opportunity Center has provided a refuge for those on the streets: “so to many, we do not visibly see the homeless as other communities are currently experiencing. As such, they are invisible shrouded. With this in mind, we need to recognize as a community that we need to invest equally in Quality of Place so that we can maintain a safety net system within our community which is currently in jeopardy.”
With John’s concept in mind, it brings me back to Raza’s belief that she felt invisible. With so much help out there in the community, help such as, Teresa, John, Monica and many more, people like Raza and Rick should not be left to die alone. Everyone makes their decisions in life, some do not get to live the life of luxury like the many so – called celebrities we see on news feeds, but that does not mean we should let others die of hunger. It is the duty of mankind to help preserve life in the most basic ways, such food, clothing, shelter and most importantly friendship. Coincidentally, Raza in Arabic means contentment and hope. What an irony for a lonely person seeking friendship and hope.
“In the short time that I have been a part of this organization, I have witnessed hope restored to those who were hopeless,” said Filyes.
I will leave this with a few words that I recall Raza singing, a Clarence “Frogman” Henry song:
“I can sing like a bird and I can sing like a frog, oh what you say to me, I ain’t got a home….”