OPINION: A Lonely Soul on a Busy Street

A homeless woman in Walnut sparks a local teen to act.

When I was on my way to school early in the morning two days ago, I spotted an African-American woman in her 50s sitting on the bus bench in front of Applebee’s along Grand Avenue.

She covered her head with a hood and wore layers upon layers of clothing – all alone and huddling underneath a thin blanket. She had a duffel bag with her. My parents had spotted her a couple of times wandering precariously around the Walnut area for at least couple of months now.

I couldn’t believe that she spent her night there. I couldn't imagine how she could stay out there for the entire night with temperatures 37F and below. I could barely spend five minutes in the freezing cold outside myself. My heart ached when I thought of her.

I knew I had to do something – anything. Maybe all she needed was to be shown a bit of kindness.

Right after I came back from my school in the evening, I still saw the homeless woman. She had covered herself from head to toe with the ragged blanket. She was there alone. 

I was scared to approach her by myself, so my mom accompanied me. I wanted to buy dinner for her and I decided to ask her.

I quietly said, "Excuse me."

She coughed badly and pulled down the blanket. 

I asked openly and gently, "Are you hungry? Do you want some food?"

She started to say rant something about Bible scriptures and warned us not to "sup" with her. She seemed very defensive about us buying food for her. We nodded our heads although we had no idea what she was talking about. She must have faced a lot of isolation and scorn. It broke my heart to see that she condemned herself. She must be emotionally and physically exhausted.

Now I knew I didn’t just want to help her, I had to help her. If everyone passing by just said, “Someone else will take care of her,” then no one would take the time to help her!

Then I asked if she wanted money. She said yes and I gave her a twenty-dollar bill. She said, “thank you,” averting her gaze.

I don’t know how much a twenty-dollar bill can do. I don’t know how much a thirteen year old can do. How can one little act of kindness change the world? But, as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

And if everyone did an act of kindness every day, perhaps love will once again make the world go round.

It doesn’t matter why she is homeless, whether because of unemployment, addiction, mental illness, or maybe she chose her lifestyle. The fact is being homeless is painful.

Sometimes all people need is a little loving push in the right direction. I know that I can’t stride into her life and make decisions for her. But I can just be there, being present by sending her some food, a blanket, or prayer etc. I may feel powerless to help someone in a difficult situation, but the power of prayer connects me with a powerful God!

Now more and more people are sleeping out on the streets due to the tough economy. I know there are countless homeless people out there. We can’t help them all. But I can’t ignore the only homeless person in my community and not offer a helping hand.

Because I know, if you look into someone’s eyes, you’ll see a galaxy. You’ll see an ever-shifting, never-ending galaxy of stars, held together by the very fragile hold of a universe of memories. The galaxy is the very essence of who they are. I looked into the woman’s eyes and I knew that her galaxy was there – it was just hidden by defensive walls of hardships. That is when it is so important to meet someone’s eyes, to see their galaxy, because although galaxies alone are weak, galaxies interlocked make up an undefeatable universe.

She is still sitting there as of today. So if you see her on the bus bench, you can help her out by buying her food, giving her money or blankets, or praying for her in these especially tough economic times while long-term help is on its way.


Tom King January 12, 2013 at 03:14 AM
Hi Cassandra, I serve on the City Council in Walnut and I just read your article (your email or call did not get to me) Thanks for informing people about this. I just spoke to the watch commander at the station. If the lady is unable to care for herself or others and is metally disabled, she will be transported to a hospital for mental evaluation. If she is not gravely disabled and consents, she will be be offered a ride to a homeless shelter. If she refuses, she has a right to sit on the bench. I commend you for taking action when you see something that needs action. Most people unfortunately drive by without doing anything. It is very cold tonight and very windy and it is nice that some people care.
Walnut Watchdog January 12, 2013 at 03:33 AM
RE: The homeless lady... Council member King: Thanks for taking time from your expensive dinner with Lee Baca to help Cassandra. Michael West: Thanks for being cold hearted and driving by the lady for weeks without doing anything. Cassandra: Never give them money. Only give them food. They will buy drugs or alcohol and NEVER let one in your car. Some have mental problems and need their medication.
Cassandra Hsiao January 12, 2013 at 04:42 AM
Hi Mr King, Thank you so much for taking action. I sent some food and gave her a blanket yesterday night around 6:30pm. She was still there. The temperature almost dropped to freezing point at midnight that might have caused her to find some place to keep herself warm. She was actually sick when I first talked to her on 1/7/13 (Monday night 6:30pm). I noticed that she was not there this afternoon after I came back from school. I really hope you can find her. Thank you so much for caring for her.
Vito Spago January 12, 2013 at 04:55 AM
I have a question. What do Walnut Council members do in Sacramento? Also, these homeless people, if they have mental issues, they might be quite content sitting on the bus bench all night. You might feel sorry for them but they might be quite happy. That cigarette and blanket may make them feel wonderful. They are also safe in that location.
Cassandra Hsiao January 12, 2013 at 05:23 AM
Hi Michelle, Thank you for your kind words!!! I regretted that I submitted my article only yesterday night. I regretted that I didn't take action fast enough to help her as soon as possible. Now she is gone!! If I submitted my article a day earlier, she would still be there, and she wouldll get the help she needs. Maybe she might still reject us to send her to a homeless shelter, but how can we let a mentally ill person make a right decision for herself? Every morning since Monday night, when I passed by the bus stop , the thought of "What if she died of cold" always comes to my mind. Her life is as equally precious as ours in God's eyes.
Tom King January 12, 2013 at 05:35 AM
Vito, In response to your question, Once a year there is a legislative action day where council members of local cities meet with the governor, legislators, and other elected state officials to make them aware of the effects of their legislation on local government. Mandated programs often come from the state without funding. This year the State Department of Finance told the County to withold a 3.9 million dollar tax payment that was due the City of Walnut. We are working with our State representative to remedy that error. By law, elected officials are also required to attend mandatory training sessions on ethics and other subjects. They are usually held in conjunction with these meetings. I have never had an expensive dinner with the Sheriff, and his deputies do not make $150,000 a year, let alone are their pensions that much. I just went to CVS and the homeless lady was not there. Thanks to Cassandra for having the leadership to try to take action. Thanks to great teachers like Mr. Haskvitz for making Walnut "the best town in California to raise a youngster" and the "best small town in California." Thanks to The Patch too.
Melanie C. Johnson (Editor) January 12, 2013 at 05:47 AM
Thanks Mayor Pro Tem King for your efforts to help Cassandra in her efforts. She's a pretty remarkable young lady.
Michael January 12, 2013 at 06:18 AM
The DROP program is an expensive public pension program that hardly anyone knows about, but pays out lump sums that average $200,000 http://www.scpr.org/news/2011/03/03/24627/little-known-la-policefire-retirement-plan-lets-of/ When Lt. Marie Hannah retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in 2010, she left with the well-wishes of her colleagues, a six-figure pension and a one-time payment so large it surprised even her: $183,683 for unused time off. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/07/local/la-me-county-pay-20120108 I don't make up news, I just observe it.
Allen Park January 12, 2013 at 06:50 AM
Cassandra, you are an impressive young woman and a very good writer. And obviously far more alert and compassionate than any of the council members in Walnut. It's a shame that it takes a blog post to finally get Mary Su and Tom King to pay attention to something they drive by everyday. Hope you will run for office someday and bring some real leadership to Walnut. Tom instead of spending time posting partisan lies about the governor's budget (which you've since deleted), why don't you focus on making Walnut a safer place for everyone to live? Thanks.
Cassandra Hsiao January 12, 2013 at 07:20 AM
Mayor Tom King, My friend on Facebook just posted that he saw her at the bus bench ten mins ago. Can you send deputies to bring her somewhere safe and warm to sleep? I have high fever and bad sore throat since yesterday night. I hope she will not get a cold like I did.
jay January 12, 2013 at 03:00 PM
cassandra, you have the basis for an excellent school essay if given the chance. if not, it would make an outstanding op ed piece in a local newspaper were you to outline public perceptions of homelessness and public policy attending to it. like many other young walnut residents, you are destined to be a success in life. others are right about offering food and not money. while a cub reporter in washington many years ago i encountered another such victim of society. touched by her plight i asked her if she would like a can of soup. she said no thanks but would be grateful if i could buy her a fifth of jack daniels.
Lisa Marie January 12, 2013 at 04:23 PM
Michael W. Stop using this brave young lady's (and many other stories) as an excuse to constantly attack our city council. This story is about acceptance and compassion. I understand you're bitter because you weren't voted in but seriously, there is a time and a place. Cassandra, you are the epitome of brave, compassionate, and SMART! Make sure your heart stays just the way it is. My family and I are going fo look for her today and offer her a warm meal and blanket. I think your story has brought awareness to many people in our community and I think that was your intention. I'm sure that a wonderful and fulfilling future awaits you. And thank you for your contribution to Walnut. :-)
Michael January 12, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Right you are, she has been there a MONTH and Walnut government/Sheriff has to wait for a little girl to do the right thing. Big-shot Chief Charlie Beck got a restraining order for HIS wife this week against a homeless women, but when it comes to protecting Walnut taxpayers- he is AWOL for $300K a year. He can't have his bodyguard driving that $50K Chevy Tahoe help this woman out? He lives in Walnut. I like reading all the excuses on this blog justifying government incompetence- why does this NOT happen in IRVINE or ARCADIA? Why, because those voters demand excellence for their money. The City sets the policy and gives direction to the Police in those cities, we must have a policy of "let the little girl go first."
Cassandra Hsiao January 12, 2013 at 05:14 PM
Thank you everyone for your kind words. It is humbling experience for me to really understand and appreciate the power of writing. Ms Lisa Marie : Thank you for your compassion and action . Maybe she isn't there anymore. The deputies were looking for her yesterday. I hope she is in good hands now. But please don't be offended if she appeared defensive and unfriendly if you do see her. She ignored me when I talked to her on Thursday night. But she took all my food after I left.
pamylla January 12, 2013 at 05:35 PM
Cassandra ~ Hats off to you for CARING enough to take action as well as write about it. Too often as we grow older, we become jaded and start to think our efforts don't make any difference...we donate to various causes and still see the same problems everywhere. Some make excuses for not wanting to help ("You're just adding to their drug problems by giving them money," etc.) or want to turn the finger of blame into a bureaucratic entanglement, yet not many want to take a direct step of ACTION as you have. May you always carry with you this spirit of generosity and hope, Cassandra. :)
Michael January 12, 2013 at 06:00 PM
I'm not "attacking" anyone, I am pointing out the incompetence of the Council AND the Sheriff that is endangering a little girl in Walnut. I'm not "bitter" about anything, stop trying to read minds, you are not good at it. I'm not complaining about Irvine or Arcadia (where I grew up). I do understand that people like you are very accepting of mediocrity. This little girl and her family make Walnut great, not people that make $300K with a badge and a gun that drive by the problem. You making excuses for people that are not doing their job is making things far worse- thanks for contributing to the decline of Walnut.
Cassandra Hsiao January 12, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Thank you for your advice. I see your point of view. You're not the only one who thinks so. I just hope that she'll be helped soon and that the twenty dollars will help her survive just for a few days more until she gets rescued. I will have more discretion next time.
Lisa Marie January 12, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Michael W-I am willing to change "attacking" to "criticizing." But that's a stretch. You wouldn't be complaining about the city council & their salary all the time if you were voted in because that would have been YOUR salary. The Sheriff did not endager anyone, Cassandra plainly said that she offered help without seeking their assistance 1st. Because of her compassion I'm sure. You say that I am trying to read minds in one sentence, then accuse me of accepting mediocrity, when in reality I am simply stating the purpose of the young girl's story, so you sir, need to stop trying to read MY mind. I am, however, ACCEPTING of HUMANITY. No matter what, that woman is a human being. I don't know or care what your salary is, but you too, drove by for a month without any action. (Not even informing the authorities) If you can't do that as a citizen of the community, I'm afraid to know what kind of inaction would come of you as a member of our city council. Also, if you think Irvine and Arcadia are such "superior" cities, why are you still here in Walnut? I fail to see where in my comment I am making excuses for anyone. Lastly, people with horrible, defensive, criticizing, attitudes like yours are the decline to our city, not my defense of a young lady trying to make a difference. Like I said before Mr. West. There is a time & a place, this is not it.
Cassandra Hsiao January 13, 2013 at 01:57 AM
Does anyone know what the situation is now ? I am too sick to go out. My facebook friends told me they still saw her there. They spotted that she had a sleeping bag and other donated items. Thank you for those who donated. Today the temperature will drop to 27 degrees. Hopefully we can help her soon. She needs a place to sleep. I read that many homeless people died of cold exposure.
Walnut Watchdog January 13, 2013 at 03:55 AM
Cassandra,. You are a very special young lady. Continue to Ignore the inappropriate comments by the weirdos. You make up for them a million times over. Get Better.
Cassandra Hsiao January 13, 2013 at 04:02 AM
URGENT!!!! Does anybody know Mayor Pro Tem King's email address or phone number? Not the City of Walnut's official email, because I sent him an email and he didn't reply. The homeless woman is still out there and the temperature is going to drop to 27 degrees tonight!!! PLEASE HELP!!!!! My Facebook friends around my age are asking me why she is still out there.
Lisa Marie January 13, 2013 at 04:45 AM
Try this Cassandra: tking@ci.walnut.ca.us (909) 595-7543 I'm sure the phone number wont work since its the weekend. Hopefully his Emails go to his phone! I saw her around 7pm walking near Bella Napoli. I'm trying to find her some help also through 211 and the Sheriff's Dept.
Lisa Marie January 13, 2013 at 04:48 AM
Oops! I just read that he didn't reply on that email. I'll keep looking sweetie
Cassandra Hsiao January 13, 2013 at 04:51 AM
Thanks for your help Lisa! I just sent an email to Mr. King and he called me. He said that the sheriffs are doing their best to try and help the homeless lady. Thank you.
Cassandra Hsiao January 13, 2013 at 05:16 AM
Hi Mr. King, Thank you so much for calling me. I'm not the only one who cares about her - I am thankful that residents of Walnut are donating and being so helpful. All our prayers are with the lady. I hope she will accept the offer. Thank you once again for your time and kindness. Cassandra
Nick K January 15, 2013 at 06:49 AM
Cassandra. These comments show how your words have touched and inspired so many others to reach out and make a difference. You truly are an amazing young lady and you have a great future ahead of you. It's people like you who will make the world a better place. Keep up the great work.
Cassandra Hsiao January 16, 2013 at 04:04 AM
HI Mr. K, Thank you so much for the encouragement! Unfortunately she is still there as of today. I believe the sheriffs have approached her and she must have refused their help. It's heart breaking to know that she would rather huddle in the record-breaking cold weather than going to a shelter. I don't know what to do now.
Michael January 16, 2013 at 04:39 AM
LM, You are ignorant or a liar, I suspect a liar- I pledged NOT to take the excessive benefits the Council gets, so much for your accusation about how I would take money like others. See link below. You need to stop the mind-reading, you really suck at it. The Sheriff IS endangering that women by letting her stay on the street by hypothermia or an assault. I need to take action? Why do we pay the City Manager $200K a year? Why do we pay the Sheriff? When a bank gets robbed in Walnut, do you expect me to stop that too? But YOU keep making excuses for these highly paid people not doing their job. You never blamed them, you jumped to ad hominem attacks on me (you'll probably have to Google that one). For the money I spend in taxes, I expect Walnut to be as good as Irvine or Arcadia. Unfortunately, there is a majority of people like you that love to make excuses for our government and won't demand excellence. http://diamondbar-walnut.patch.com/articles/city-council-perks-spark-rumors-debate
Lisa Marie January 16, 2013 at 05:29 AM
MW- I have never claimed to be perfect but if there are things I am not they are ignorant or a liar. What's with the name calling anyway? Touch a nerve did I? Narcissistic (there's something for YOU to google) I am going to bow out gracefully now because Cassandra doesn't deserve to have to read anything else you have to say. Plus there isn't enough character space on here for me to complete everything I want to say to you. Character! there's another word for you to google!
Dorothy Wellington January 18, 2013 at 03:59 AM
In honor of National Day of Service, we are having "New Socks with a Note" campaign for our poor and homeless population. They rarely have a clean pair of socks to put on their feet. Many walk 8-10 miles a day with the same tennis shoes for months and sometimes years. People pass them by and don't have any idea what they endure for something as simple as a new pair of socks. You can be a great help--Please provide a $10 donation so we can purchase a bag of new socks and that's not all, write a personal Note of encouragement for us to give to someone and send with your letter or on-line donation. Learn more, click on our Website page, "Make A Donation Today." www.dorothywellingtonministries.com


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