Jamal is a young man who is slowly starving to death in public view. If he does not starve he may succumb to some disease his emaciated body can’t fight off, or freeze to death if he endures another winter in just ill-fitting jeans and a thin t-shirt.

Jamal, if that’s his real name, lives on the steps of one of the oldest churches in Oakland. I don’t know his story, although there are theories about why he has slept on the steps of the church for years now, often wearing the same clothes for months. He disappears sometimes for a few days, maybe a week. I suspect that every so often he is swept up and placed on a 51/50 psychiatric hold and then routinely released back to the streets. I check on him every so often. He will take small cash offerings and food, he will not take clothing or clean bedding. I worry that he will die on the steps of the church; sometimes I wonder if that’s his goal. He is a visceral reminder of the growing number of people in America who struggle to live without food or housing security.

In 2012, according to a USA Today article, the number of people living on less than $2 a day in America doubled between 1996 and 2012. Two dollars a day is the World Bank’s measure of global poverty equated to extreme poverty by the National Poverty Center.

Many reading this ascribe that kind of poverty to far undeveloped spaces, and could not imagine living for a prolonged time in such utter circumstances. Others here know all too well the fear of not being able to make frayed ends meet.

According to the East Oakland Community Project, “49.2% of Alameda County’s 6,215 homeless people live in Oakland, families make up 43% and children comprise 28% of the county’s homeless population.” There are a number of programs that help ease the trauma of not knowing where you will sleep or where your next meal will come from. These programs have not helped Jamal. Jamal is dependent on the kindness of strangers.

There are numerous places that offer meals to those in need during the holidays. There are a number of shelters in Oakland, some actually open year-round, but there are limited beds, and those in need exist outside the holidays. Hunger is just as real in the summertime; the need is greater than the resources. All these places will tell you how stressed they are by the increased number of people who need their services.

My heroes are the people who help in quiet ways, help to fill in the blanks. People like those in the group ONYX, who is launching its 4th annual drive for coat, socks and underwear next week. Folks can drop supplies at Head Trips in East Oakland or One Fam in the West, and people like Christina ‘Krea’ Gomez, whose students will be hosting a dinner for homeless community members on December 5th at College Avenue Presbyterian Church. They do it every other month. That church gave her school its first home.

I love when giving grows giving. Regina LaChaux started offering meals to folks when she was living on 9th and Chase St. Her son Chef Albert Carey is still feeding people. Jareem Gunter says he and his wife have been feeding families for the last four years. Lisa Tiny Gray-Garcia Homefulness offers resources on an ongoing basis at 8032 MacArthur in Deep East Oakland, and is offering a Thanks-taking (healthy, non-GMO) Feast on November 27th from 1-3 p.m.

Ayodele Nzinga is executive director of Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc., Oakland’s premiere North American African Theater Troupe.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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