Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2010

Imagine that you and your five children, ages 1 to 13, live in a space the size of a small college dorm room - 125 square feet. Imagine getting the kids off to school and daycare every morning before you walk to work. Imagine sharing shower rooms, kitchen and laundry with 65 other people. Imagine your children having no place to play except an empty parking lot, only on Sunday.

Imagine having your PFD garnished for 13 years to pay the local hospital for the birth of your first child.

Or, imagine you are 75 years old, alone after a lifetime of work, no children or spouse and living on less than $900 per month - in a town where the fair market rate for an efficiency apartment is $831, if you can find one.

Or, imagine the fear and isolation of chronic mental illness, subject to harassment from unseen voices, unable to hold any kind of job or even to sleep more than a couple of hours a night.

Imagine being man of 42 years, born and raised in Juneau, unable to work and gladly sending 20 percent of your meager disability income to support children in Africa and Latin America.

Or, imagine living on borrowed time awaiting a heart transplant and hosting weekly poetry class for the children in the shelter.

These are just some of the stories of folks I know who live at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter. They are our fellow citizens who may be low-income elderly, disabled or working poor. None of them chose homelessness as a lifestyle. They are not angry at being denied the wealth-building opportunity of home ownership.

For them, any kind of decent, safe housing - even just a clean single room with shower down the hall - is a dream come true.

I have heard it said that Alaska is really two states - one a modern, progressive and diverse society that enjoys access to all the wonders of the world. The other, an Appalachia of the North, stuck in the rural poverty of the Bush.

In many respects, Juneau is really two towns. One, affluent and self-contained, busy working and playing hard - a town of public swimming pools, ski lifts, skating rinks, regional live theater, a symphony, fur galleries and diamond stores.

Folks in the other town sleep on the couch of friends or relatives, in a homeless shelter, in the woods or in a vermin-infested hotel room. Most children in the shelter will never see the ski slope, learn to skate or play in the Gold Medal tournament. It is likely none will ever see something as inspiring as a live performance of the Lion King.

On September 25 we have a chance to walk a mile in their shoes to demonstrate our solidarity with all people in need and to support those who help -well, actually up to four miles if you like.

On that last Saturday in September, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is joining the Third Annual National St. Vincent de Paul Friends of the Poor Walk. The local St. Vincent de Paul Society, in cooperation with other agencies will lead a walk up the bike path from St. Paul's Catholic Church towards the glacier for two miles and then return.

Individuals, families, organizations, all who see themselves as friends of the poor are encouraged to sign up as walkers. All walkers are asked to register. There is no sign up fee to walk, however St. Vincent de Paul, the Glory Hole, and the Front St. Clinic all have people taking pledges of support for them. You may walk (or roll your wheel chair) four miles or four feet, the distance is not important. The message is.

The Walk will begin with a non-denominational prayer at 9 a.m. The Walk itself will begin at 10 a.m. Non-perishable food donations for local food banks will be collected. Information tables, pledge opportunities and food for donation will be available. Please join your friends and your brethren on Saturday September 25 and take a step towards a better future for all our people. Call Martha at 789-5535 ext. 7 for more information.

Dan Austin, general manager,

St. Vincent de Paul Society

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