Homeless California families to appear on 'Oprah'

A national spotlight will shine on Sacramento today, and the images promise to be less than flattering.

In a program about the recession and a growing homeless population, the wildly popular "Oprah Winfrey Show" this afternoon is featuring California's capital city, among other venues. The program will include interviews with struggling families at the Cal Expo and St. John's shelters, shots of homeless children at the Mustard Seed School at Loaves & Fishes and a sprawling "tent city" near the Blue Diamond almond factory where hundreds of men and women sleep every night.

Disturbing as the subject matter may be, homeless advocates said they are thrilled about the attention.

"It should be an eye-opener for everybody," said Joan Burke, director of advocacy for Loaves & Fishes, which offers meals and various other services for the homeless, including a family shelter, various recovery programs and a medical clinic.

"But we shouldn't just be shocked, we should take action to change things, because it's unacceptable," Burke said. "It is unacceptable that in this day and age we have gone back to a situation like we had during the Great Depression."

Her agency and other nonprofit groups that serve homeless people are "overwhelmed," she said, with demand for their services even as donations lag in a wilting economy.

St. John's shelter for women and children, for example, is turning away more than 230 people each day, nearly triple the number from last year, said director Michele Steeb. Many report that they have never been homeless before, said Steeb.

"People tend to think that the face of homelessness is the person standing at the freeway exit who doesn't want to work," Steeb said. "That is not the face of homelessness today. Many of these are people who once had jobs, but no longer can find work."

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