More than 8,000 people were identified as being homeless in San Francisco’s biennial homeless population census report released in May. Shelby may or may not be one of them.

“I’ve never been counted once, I’ve never been asked,” he said after meeting Catholic San Francisco on the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral July 30.

Shelby could pass for any middle-age tourist in San Francisco, which is what he was when he arrived here three summers ago, an Ohio farm boy looking for a new life on the West Coast. But his “fresh start” turned to what it is today – mere survival.

On July 11, Shelby wrote on Catholic San Francisco’s Facebook page that many of the homeless including himself are hungry for more than just food.

“Catholics need to come out on the street and pray with us because we lose faith sometimes,” he said. “Please don’t forget about us … we are homeless but some of us are Catholic.”

Shelby, who asked that his full name and photo not be published, said he feels at home at St. Mary’s, and with good reason. He has routinely bedded down in the cathedral’s downstairs halls, which serve as temporary shelter for homeless men run, during the cold and rainy season and has worked in the kitchen serving meals.

Shelby said that a lot of homeless people do believe in God, “maybe even more than the people who live in the towers.” But walking into a church to pray is not something most homeless people feel welcome to do.

He said if he’s approached, it’s usually with a sense of “the homeless guy is going to steal the candlesticks or something.”

Shelby wonders why more Catholic priests don’t go out among the homeless to hear confessions.

“Do you know how many people on the streets would love to confess their sins?” he asked.

As Shelby tells it, his life literally began on the street. He was abandoned as an infant and left in the backseat of a parked Shelby Mustang, a high-performance 1960s sports car. He was named, though by whom exactly he does not know, after the car and a Cleveland police officer named “Alan” who found the baby boy.

He was sent to an orphanage in Cleveland but ran away at age 11.

“You have no idea how miserable I am now,” he said. “But I was more miserable as a child. I can never be that miserable again.”

“I thought you go in someplace and say you’re homeless and they give you shelter,” he said. “Well you know, it just ain’t that way.”

He is grateful to all the organizations and individuals who hand him a sandwich or a pair of socks but said he longs for something else.

“I can survive without money, I can get food somewhere,” he said. “But I can’t get spiritual guidance and someone to pray with me.” 

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.