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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Pastor delivers meals to homeless under bridge since 2021: ‘They want to work’

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“Wouldn’t it be more effective if organizations were more lenient given the circumstances?”

Pastor Jonghee Park, president of Help People in Need, began delivering meals to homeless people camped out in tents around Harbor City in the spring of 2021, during the pandemic. She has been delivering 30 to 40 meals a week, amounting to more than 7,000 meals already.

Jonghee Park

For three years, Park has witnessed the reality of homelessness and the government’s relief measures. “They are marginalized and abandoned because they are left behind in a fiercely competitive society, but they are all our children. It’s our duty to live with them,” she says. “So I started doing something, even if it’s just a small thing.”

Her organization receives about $1,200 a month in donations, with some acquaintances contributing as little as $50 a month. She uses the money to feed the homeless people sheltering under the Harbor City Bridge once a week.

“There are some people who offer to help, but the kitchen is small, so I mostly do it alone. When I can afford it, I sometimes give them cots and waterproof tents, because they are on the streets and need to keep their hygiene and health.”

When asked about the unfortunate things she sees in the field, she sighs.

“Some of them go to motels and get help, but I think most of the homeless people come back to the street because they have strict rules. And I keep seeing new faces under the bridges, especially undocumented people who are on the streets because they have nowhere to get help and just want to hide.”

In addition to helping existing homeless people, she says, there needs to be a way to prevent them from ending up on the streets in the first place.

“It’s a little different by neighborhoods, but when you meet them, they all say, ‘I want to work.’ There are quite a few people who work part-time and live in tents on the streets, so I think we need a more comprehensive and locally specific approach. I’d like to see group housing built sooner rather than later so we don’t create more patients.”

“If nearly a billion dollars is being spent on homelessness, there shouldn’t be a reason for a pastor like me to pack a lunch,” Park said. “Even today, hiding in the deep shade under the bridge, they are sleeping in the early morning hours, worried about illness and food.” In response to calls to quarantine them altogether, she said, “Let’s not say that we should leave them because they are helpless.”

The following Thursday, Pastor Park will again visit the tents under the bridge with volunteers and lunch boxes. She says it’s not exhausting because she does it with joy.

BY BRIAN CHOI, HOONSIK WOO [ichoi@koreadaily.com]