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Lincoln's homeless could use a friendly smile

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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To donate money to The Salt Mine that will be used to buy food, mail the donation to P.O. Box 155, Lincoln, Ca. 95648; go online to thesaltminelincoln.com; or visit the facility between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 590 G St. Homeless in Lincoln could use a friendly smile When the fall-like temperatures dropped this week to 46 degrees, my fingers felt like icicles and it was hard to shake the chill. So I opened my closet door and found my wool-lined coat and UGG boots. I was still freezing as I walked to the downtown cafe. It made me wonder how homeless residents survive. They don’t have the benefit of a warm indoors bed or a drawer full of scarves, hats and heavy socks to choose from. So I asked Chris Stefani, who has been homeless for two-and-a-half years, how he copes now with the weather. “It’s comparatively not so cold. I have a good sleeping bag. This is only November. In perspective, it’s not cold,” Stefani, 36, said. The challenge comes in mid-December, Stefani explained, with the rainy weather. “The cold is easy with extra blankets,” Stefani said. “Most of us at the (Auburn Ravine) creek get flooded four times. Then we come to town and sleep here at the alcove. It’s a safe haven.” Stefani is referring to The Salt Mine, a Vine Life Ministries, Inc. subsidiary, that provides families in need with food and provides homeless residents with food, clothing, camping gear, blankets and showers every day of the week. “This survivability of the homeless men and women depends on The Salt Mine and its thrift store,” Stefani said. “If not for The Salt Mine, many of us would be wreaking havoc.” The Salt Mine is Stefani’s and his friends’ lifeline. “Technically, there are four homeless guys at the creek but 30 to 35 couch surfers go to the creek also,” Stefani said. A couch surfer is someone who moves around to the homes of various friends. Like the majority of homeless residents I’ve talked to for newspaper stories, whether in Grass Valley, Colfax or now Lincoln, Stefani never expected to be living on the streets. “I had a three-bedroom, three-bath house in Southern California, in the Mojave Desert. I was a construction remodeler. My specialty was kitchens and bathrooms,” Stefani said. “Then the recession hit, the company I worked for went under, the company my father worked for went under. Except for the naval base, everything in the desert went under.” He moved to Lincoln, where his ex-fiancé’s parents lived, hoping to find work. But work was just as hard to find in this area. In 2009, Stefani asked himself where he would be two years later. Today, he doesn’t wonder. “At this point of my life, I’m content,” Stefani said. “Two years from now, I might be in the same place.” His mission now is to help other homeless residents. “I’m homeless but I’m part of the (Salt Mine) church. Stefani said. “It will lead me to some kind of role. Time will tell.” In the meantime, Stefani is working on his “people skills,” i.e. how to read people, how to be honest and how to achieve personal growth, “and most importantly, to get closer to God.” “I have time now to spend on myself,” Stefani added. “I want for nothing. There is food seven days a week, clothes here, a shower here. If sleeping bags get ruined, they give us another bag.” I asked Stefani how residents can help the homeless. He had an easy request. “For me, not a whole lot,” Stefani said. “But the homeless need that emotional support; that smile from others. On a cold morning, a blanket given by a stranger gives them the hope they need. I’m too macho to admit it.” Stefani, who had a welcoming smile during our entire conversation, also has a lot of pride. “This lifestyle is a choice,” Stefani said. “Certainly don’t feel sorry for us. That pity’s not welcome. That pity enables those faults we have of not feeling self worth, of staying away.” Especially in today’s dismal economy throughout the country, many residents are just a paycheck away from becoming homeless. Many of Lincoln's homeless residents were hard-working employees whose companies either downsized or shut down completely. Some of them were, until recently, were our next-door neighbors. And they deserve our respect. As Stefani urges, “Give them love and support.”