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Mike and I would jawbone as the sun was setting outside the Fresno Bee’s E Street cafeteria, ignoring the indigestion from eating Friday’s fried fish in a Monday sandwich. He worked in production. I edited copy and churned out headlines. The real work he was doing, in his off hours, was handing out sandwiches to the homeless folks a few blocks away.
Once a month I’m reminded both of his tireless commitment to the needy and the fact that he’s a dang good story-teller. That’s when the Poverello News hits the mailbox. It inevitably has a compelling front-page photo. It always includes a “here’s what we need” outreach. And Mike – Mike McGarvin, “Pappa Mike” – always has a hard-hitting homily.
When I’d write about him during my 20 years at the Bee, after the Poverello House became his full-time gig, I’d always ask the same lamebrain question. How’s it going? He’d reply something like, “Still keeping busy with beans and stitches.”
The streets around the Pov are still frightfully busy. But “fright” is now a much more emphatic word. Mike recently wrote about a homeless man in a wheelchair – who twice had his chairs stolen as he went to the restroom. The levels of addiction and violence – homeless vs. homeless -- are so intense that some needy fear going to places of refuge like the Pov. Mike describes the current counterculture as “pitiless, narcissist, and violent.”
“We work hard to defy the callousness that governs the streets by offering basic services, kindness, and opportunities for people to escape the misery of homelessness,” he wrote.
I don’t walk the walk that Mike does. I glimpse some of the homeless encampments around the Pov and elsewhere and offer strategic support while serving on Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s Fresno First Steps Home group, and assisting the Hospital Council with Fresno Medical Respite Center, a transition residence for the homeless with health needs, at the Fresno Rescue Mission. And some Community Medical Centers’ employees provide pro-bono care and support to the Rescue Mission and the Pov, including our physical therapists.
We all know the term “compassion fatigue.” But with entrenched problems and needs, like those involving our Valley's thousands of homeless including schoolkids living in cars or garages, I’d rather focus on the remedial value in being relentless. As does my friend Mike.