Cambrian: Slice of Life

Homeless are ours

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of homeless people in San Luis Obispo County. There are 4,000 of them, not 40,000.

There are so many good causes this holiday season, so many nonprofit pleas for funds. We want to help them all. We can’t. So we pick the ones that speak most eloquently to our souls and our hearts, send what money we can and try to find ways to help the others.

And we must remember the homeless. We know they’re here, standing on street corners or near busy shopping areas, signs in their hands, fragile looks of hope on their faces.

So many among us are one paycheck, one medical crisis or tragedy, one pink slip away from being homeless.

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

But what is the best way to help them?

Fortunately, some of our North Coast young people have figured it out: Give money to a place that’s solely dedicated to helping the homeless that now total about 4,000 in this county alone.

For the fourth year in a row, members of Coast Union High School’s Interact Club are collecting change for the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter in San Luis Obispo.

During the previous three years, Interact Club members have donated to the shelter almost $7,500 in nickels, dimes and other pocket change (not to mention paper money and checks). Collection jugs are at the grammar, middle and high schools, and cans are at Cookie Crock, the Cambria General Store, JJ’s Pizza and Linn’s. According to co-coordinator Cami Spisak, club members hope to raise more than $4,000 this year alone.

Those donations mean meals. A warm place to sleep. A bath, a towel and someday, maybe, help to find a job and a new life.

The shelter can provide the homeless with a first step back, a place where they’re treated with dignity and compassion, and linked to services that can help them return to mainstream society.

Richard Margetson is a volunteer coordinator for the 7th Annual Needs ’N Wishes Holiday Fundraiser, which has raised more than $250,000 for the shelter since 2006.

Margetson outlined the situation Nov. 15 for the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors:

“This past year, there seems to be more advocacy against our homeless population than there is for it,” he said. For instance,

“ ‘Not in my back yard’ petitions opposing the establishment of a day center in South County.

“Business leaders railing against the location of the proposed new homeless shelter in San Luis Obispo.”

“Restrictions — on where our homeless are allowed to protect themselves from the elements — disguised as parking ordinances.”

Margetson reminded us all that “every homeless person is or was somebody’s loving son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, friend or neighbor.

“They are not lepers to be shunned by a civilized society not to be acknowledged as even existing as we glance away to avoid eye contact while passing each other on any sidewalk in this county not to be isolated from the mainstream and sequestered as far away from society in the nether regions of the county.”

He emphasized that homeless veterans, especially, “deserve the same level of safety and comfort as those of us they protected from harm levels of comfort we have enjoyed and so often take for granted.

“These are our true heroes, and we should honor their sacrifices properly.

“There are 60,000 homeless veterans nationwide. One is too many.”

Margetson didn’t forget the young. “Children, because they ARE children, should never have to endure the trials and tribulations of being homeless. Period.”

Then Margetson focused on those with mental illness. “Until we are able to provide far-reaching comprehensive services for the large segment of our homeless population suffering with mental-health issues, then shame on us, not them.”

He said, “We build architectural marvels to honor and perpetuate the arts, and modern museums to protect our heritage. Yet our homeless shelters are not on par with the condition of our animal shelters. To me, that speaks volumes about our current level of commitment to assist those of least means among us.”

He asked everyone to “reflect on where we are and where we should be with respect to addressing this complex issue” of homelessness, and asked us to remember that, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Note: Donate to the shelter by putting money in the cans, or call Spisak at 903-3323. Donors also can consider giving to the Cambria Salvation Army service extension’s bellringers, and to the Food Bank to help feed people who are unsure from day to day if they’ll have enough to eat. For details, go to and