by Rabbi Ron Stern

Each morning when I drive to work, I pass under a freeway. There, under the bridge, shivering in the early morning air is an elderly woman. Her possessions are arrayed neatly on the sidewalk around her, the tarp that she must sleep under is draped across shopping carts, and a sign reads: “Please Help.”  As I drive by, usually hurrying to get to Wise for an appointment, this phrase runs through my head:

מִ‍פְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן
“You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.”

Recently I read about Telfair Elementary school in Pacoima. It has the largest homeless population of any school in all of LAUSD. Kids! They sleep in cars, in converted garages without plumbing, in rickety RVs, in a family member’s living room. This passage runs through my head:

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת־הַגֵּר .

[God] upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.— [therefore] You too must befriend the stranger.”

I hear about the opposition to permanent supportive housing development on empty lots in our communities. “Not in my backyard,” they say, “it will hurt my property value! They’ll bring crime! They’ll breed disease! They’ll destroy my neighborhood!”

“You shall rise before the aged… upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow.”

I see the stranger rummaging through my garbage. The men and women camped out on Ventura Boulevard and the side streets. The cars parked on Sepulveda, clearly being used as “homes.” I think to myself: “Not in my backyard? They are already here.” How will providing brand new housing in secure buildings for widows and children, mothers and grandmothers, veterans, and old men reduce the quality of my neighborhood when they are already sleeping on the streets? How will providing our city’s homeless with a roof over their heads, psychiatric care to comfort their storming minds, and medical care to control their third world diseases, so they are neither sleeping in the dust nor rummaging through my garbage, reduce the quality of my neighborhood?

I’ve been to permanent supportive housing units run by LA Family Housing. They are clean, well maintained, quiet, modern. I’ve spoken to the residents who tell me of the dramatic changes in their lives. The stability they’ve found, the security and peace they feel. The streets around these units are free of homeless communities (by city ordinance), the residents are peaceful and many are ultimately employed. When done properly, this solution works.

Over the next few months we will offer our Wise community a series of meetings to speak directly with people who are involved in solving our city’s homeless crisis. They are from city councils, housing agencies, and organizations addressing the needs of our homeless. If you have questions, doubts, concerns, or want to voice your strong support, I invite you to join us for any or all of the evenings in the series. We have every right and responsibility to make sure that housing for the homeless is done correctly and we cannot be obstacles to effective solutions.

Join us so that you can ensure both of these outcomes.

Learn more here.