Loaves & Fishes, a Sacramento homeless shelter and advocacy organization, celebrated its 30th anniversary Wednesday with a parade that featured representatives from nonprofit organizations, homeless children and adults from all walks of life, and Mayor Kevin Johnson.
The parade along a three-block route on Ahern Street ended at the Loaves & Fishes complex, 1351 North C St., where the homeless and their advocates celebrated the shelter's 30-year legacy.
Loaves & Fishes was born when founders Chris and Dan Delany began serving homeless people who wandered by their house, said Sister Libby Fernandez, executive director.
Chris Delany attended the anniversary event. "We're celebrating 30 years of miracles, and I think today is a miracle as well," she said.
Over the years, the organization grew with support from donors, fostering more than 40 spinoff charitable organizations. Children from one of them, Mustard Seed School, led the parade.
During a speech, Johnson affirmed his commitment to create affordable housing in Sacramento and praised Loaves & Fishes as one of the city's "best institutions."
Henry Harris, a plumber who quit using drugs and got a job with assistance from Loaves & Fishes, also addressed the crowd.
Harris said his life was "a runaway train" after he lost his home and his possessions and wound up on the street. He thanked the shelter for helping him escape that lifestyle.
"Once you walk through that gate, you're not judged," Harris said.
Loaves & Fishes hosted about 1,000 people during Wednesday's parade and served up about 2,200 hot dogs, said Joan Burke, the director of advocacy for the shelter.
The crowd was diverse, with people pushing baby strollers walking alongside senior citizens and individuals with physical disabilities, Burke said.
All of the people marching in the parade were essentially celebrating the fact that a small gesture of kindness has the power to make a big positive change in society, Burke said.
"It's amazing what can come from a tiny mustard seed, from two people (Chris and Dan Delany) literally driving to Skid Row and feeding people out of their van," she said.
The complex has had some friction with its neighbors over the years, and Wednesday was no exception. During the parade, police dispersed a small homeless encampment along a sidewalk in front of Goldie's Boutique, an "adult superstore" on North 12th Street.
The encampment was partially blocking the sidewalk. City Police Officer Scott Hall said it was forcing others to step into the street to get around it.
"This is not a U storage locker and it's not a KOA campground," Hall said.
Hall and Officer Don Gilbertson said residents and businesses typically complain about belongings that homeless people leave on the streets.
"If we don't deal with the storage of stuff, where does it stop?" Gilbertson asked.
Richard Montoya, who owns a business on 12th Street, said new customers have been scared away by temporary homeless encampments. When customers arrive, their eyes get big, "like owls," and some ask whether it's safe to leave their possessions in their cars, Montoya said.
The homeless also fight, and urinate and defecate on the sidewalk, he said. "You know, the stench on hot days just carries," Montoya said.
Loaves & Fishes' Fernandez said part of the problem is that homeless people don't have a place to leave their belongings, or enough affordable housing to get off the street.
A count of the homeless done by homeless advocacy group Sacramento Steps Forward in January found 2,538 people living without homes in the city. Of those, 786 were living without any kind of shelter, 944 lived in transitional housing and 808 were in homeless shelters throughout the city.
The count also revealed that chronic homelessness is up by about 22 percent since 2011, and showed a 7.6 percent increase in total homelessness.
Despite the increase in chronic homelessness, Loaves & Fishes has continued to provide food and shelter for about 650 people daily since 2009, Fernandez said.
She said Loaves & Fishes needs others to extend a helping hand. "If everyone would serve where they see a homeless person in their own community, it would impact us greatly by lightening our load," Fernandez said.
Call The Bee's Ben Mullin, (916) 321-1034.