Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sleep Here?

"Sleep here" the sign says, stenciled onto the filthy sidewalk, barely visible amidst garbage and refuse. The sign is not graffiti, I learn, but official government information, like 'One Way' or "Historical Marker."  The reasoning behind the official solution to the homeless problem on Skidrow seemed plausible enough to city planners. Vagrants and displaced persons took up far too much space on the downtown sidewalks, sleeping in makeshift tents and cardboard boxes. No one could get by. The merchants and residents of nearby Little Tokyo complained; the human clutter spoiling their manicured paradise.  So why not have designated spots where the homeless should stay?

Should any human tell another that it's right or preferred to sleep on a sidewalk? Isn't this a solution less humane than the problem? What can we say about a city whose solution for people in need is a stencil mark on the cement?

Just around the corner, Willie Jordan puts her mark down. She says, "No, sleep here."  The Fred Jordan Mission nestles in the muck Skidrow in downtown LA with beds and blankets and Bibles and blessings. The mark they make is the simple, clear life of a 77 year old woman who reaches out to touch each hand lifted in need. Founded in 1944 by her late husband, the Mission has been a haven to the desperate and the destitute for over 60 years. Willie has worked so long in the place that she has outlived 90 percent of the missionaries sent from FJM, true to her mission to bless the poor.

With each prayer, with each box of diapers handed out to mothers with babies on the street, a hot meal in their cold world, Willie makes her mark on LA. Since she was 15 years old, she has tried to hug the homeless into safety, one person at a time. "Honey, God has a better plan for you... He doesn't want you on these streets. He loves you, and wants you to come home.

Willie Jordan made her mark on me, as strong, caring and great a woman as I've ever met. I pray that she will continue to bless the poor that enter her door.

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