By Lorraine Moriarty
Camping out was a fun summer experience for me as a child and even as a younger adult :). I recall great times with family and friends when sleeping bags in cabins and tents were head to toe all over the place on the ground. For the first night it was great fun. The ground however, seemed to get harder to lie on each additional night. Frustrations with hot, overcrowded, and cramped quarters were voiced by some of us campers! That first night back home in my bed, alone in my own bedroom brought such sighs of joy! Looking back on those experiences, I know that camping out for more than a few days – even if it were indoors – is not something I could easily adapt to.
“Camping out” indoors however, is what many families do here in San Mateo County just to survive. Sometimes a three- bedroom house is home for three unrelated families. Each family rents a bedroom resulting in head-to-toe sleeping bags taking up the entire room! Our current local housing crisis is creating these living condition nightmares. One-bedroom apartments now rent for an average $2,590 per month according to the Housing Authority of San Mateo County. This amount is a 37.6 percent rent increase in the last four years! Just finding places to live if you are poor and relative newcomers in this area is nearly impossible.
Jobs for most of the adults in these families consist of physically exhausting labor, both indoors and outdoors. When they come home, often after working two full-time jobs, their tired bodies need space to recuperate. Yes, many work two full-time jobs! Their children also need safe spaces to rest and grow. One SVdP Conference decided to provide bunk beds from a local big box store to give these families a health sustaining place to rest…a field hospital of sorts.
Jesus, I believe, was a camper extraordinaire throughout his entire life. We read in the Gospel of John that “…the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” Jn 1:14. From his humble birth in a Bethlehem stable until his final earthly rest in a borrowed tomb he had “…nowhere to lay His head.” Lk 9:58. Vincentians believe that those we encounter on the path are Christ! Today, some 2000+ years since Jesus physically dwelt among us, there is still often nowhere for him to lay His sacred head!
As we plan our summer vacations and enjoy camping trips with family and friends, let’s be mindful of those for whom camping is a year-round experience – whether it be our homeless brothers and sisters in Christ who are camping out under freeway overpasses, in dank dark alleys, or in make-shift street encampments. Let’s think of the families with children who are precariously housed and sleeping in overcrowded conditions in one room, sometimes even a dirt floor basement or a drafty garage they call home!
As Vincentians, let us continue to pray for the generosity of spirit to accompany these “campers” who are often forgotten, suffering or deprived, so that they will know that they are not alone in carrying their heavy crosses, because truly, if we are totally honest with ourselves, there but for the Grace of God, go I!