Denise Lealao, the subject of my story from Las Vegas, is one of a growing number of Americans who are shocked to find themselves in soul-crushing financial straits. And I suspect there are Denises in most communities—people who are going to great lengths to try and resist the slide into poverty.
The current tectonic economic upheaval affects everyone, but it's tough for a reporter to find the Denises out there. Most people would never be willing to share the details that make Denise's story so immediate. (In fact Denise's husband did not want to talk about his experience, his sense of failure is so strong....)
Fortunately for me I had the journalistic equivalent of gold: a good source.
I was able to bring Denise's story to listeners thanks to the other woman in the piece, Linda Lera-Randle El.
It's Linda's specific brand of activism that led to that chance encounter with Denise at a Las Vegas stop-light.
Most of us look away from the needy—perhaps nowhere more so than in fantasy-world Las Vegas; those who do look, often do so with mistrust and apprehension; a smaller subset will actually give something (money or food). But how many people will actually pull a u-turn, go back to an intersection, and get out to speak to someone in need?
In Las Vegas, Linda Lera-Randle El, with her organization, Straight From The Streets, has championed homeless issues in the community by just spending as much time as she can walking the pavement and talking to people. (She avoids the office as much as possible.) The group has no website and no phone listing. She and her colleagues find clients through word of mouth, by meeting them on sidewalks—and at stoplights.
It's all very low-tech; there's nothing efficient about working this
way. But the way she sees it, helping people in need is not just
about getting them resources like food and shelter. It's about redeeming a
person's humanity by going to them; by listening, paying attention, caring. (Again, extremely old-fashioned stuff...)
As economies collapse in cities like Las Vegas, Linda Lera-Randle El will
see the trends emerge long before the statisticians and scholars do. And
that's why I stay in touch with her.