Driving here through Silicon Valley, one notices RVs parked alongside city parks, even lining El Camino Real in front of the Stanford campus. These are the dwelling places of people who cannot afford to live in a rental unit, much less own a home. Some have enough money to purchase a gym membership so that they can use the plumbing and showers there. Such mobile units have mushroomed in recent years. A stone’s throw away, there are hundreds of homeless sleeping under freeway overpasses. These are not “bums.” They are professional people and free-lancers whose lives have been turned upside-down by the new (cruelly iibertarian) Bay Area economy.
Last year, when I was emptying my family home to put it up for sale, I took down a framed plaque that had hung in the dining room for over sixty years, “A House Blessing.” My parents were so grateful to have a home. Coming from a broken family, my mother had never known a steady home in her youth, and had spent years in foster homes. My father came from the wrong side of the tracks in Irish San Francisco, a place now called Dogpatch, a former slum that has since been declared an historic district and is now hot with young techies and the rich—a district which the Crowleys, who ran a corner grocery there and also worked in the shipyards, never could have afforded. The Crowleys and Murphys had emigrated from Ireland in steerage, and found themselves in the slums of Boston and San Francisco, the latter rife with the stench of nearby tanneries. They treasured the dream of residential stability. (They were also able to enter the US without passports). When, in 1955, Mom walked into the house where she would eventually die, she said that she’d never leave it. And , despite some nerve-wracking financial struggles and the real threat of having to move, she was fortunate enough to be able to keep her word.
When I sold the house, last September, I mailed the blessing plaque to the new owners, a young couple, both of whom work with and for the homeless as their life vocations. She works at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento; he for Mercy Housing. They were overjoyed to have a home of their own, and especially ours, with its many cozy charms. Sadly, the plaque was lost in the mail. But the blessing it conveyed will never be lost. On October 1, that young couple will have lived in the house for one year. I’ll be sending them instead a picture of the blessing (this time by FedEx). Those who have shelter or the ability to find new shelter can often take it for granted. This young couple does not. Those whose shelter is threatened by eviction and soaring rents and costs, know full well the gift of a roof. Let’s pray for the homeless, and those threatened by homelessness, and do what we can to help them in these harrowing times to find stability.