What is Faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Skid Marks





In the wee hours of the morning, I sit here in the local Mickey D's, a homeless man walks in and begins to eat the dregs of another’s' breakfast, directly out of the trash. Two other homeless men are waiting to use the single lavatory. Three more are sitting outside hoping for a crumb or two to be sent their way.

A far cry from the Weingart Center just a few blocks away. If you choose to walk through the doors of the Weingart Center, you are choosing a future. A future without rummaging through trash; A future without despair; A future where you no longer have to beg for crumbs of humanity. Dignity, respect and esteem are offered freely from the moment you enter the sanctity of the Weingart Center.

The Weingart Center is at the epicenter of skid row. They are at ground zero, the heart of city where more than 48,000 homeless people can be found wandering the streets on any given night. They are also the heart of firsts.

The Weingart Center Association transforms lives by providing high-quality human services to homeless men and women, giving them hope and an opportunity to lead productive lives off the streets. The Weingart Center is a pioneering force in developing programs and innovative solutions to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. The Weingart Center helps individuals address the daily personal challenges they face by giving them the basic skills necessary to stabilize their lives, secure income and find permanent housing. Located in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, the Weingart Center is one of the largest human and social service agencies serving the homeless population on the west coast.

Beginning with the big man on campus, CEO Gregory Scott, who is no stranger to poverty himself, “It starts with me" is their motto that is lived up to in every respect. Staff members set the example by voluntarily giving back financially to the organization, with 'more' in mind. By giving back, they become an integral part of feeding more people, housing more people, employing more people, and offering more services to the people.

The staff at the Weingart Center do not see you as indigent, or as a drug addict, or alcoholic. They do not see African American, Caucasian, Latino, and Asian. They do not see Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist. They see a man. They see a woman. They see a person. They see a whole person and as such, they determine what can be done to treat the whole person. They get to the heart of the matter starting with one on one case management, and continuing to work with you towards a life you deserve.

The levels of services offered are very advanced. Once an 11 story hotel, the rooms have been converted into mostly private residences, rooms one can call his or her own. Meals are served at the Weingart Cafe where Weingart Center residents partake of delicious healthy breakfasts and dinners and are offered a bag lunch to go.
Residents are also offered an array of benefits such as:

• Detox/Substance abuse treatment
• Permanent supportive housing
• Short term housing
• Workforce development and education
• Employment assistance
• Vocational training
• Medical and mental health care
• HIV and AIDS programs

Non-resident homeless are able to reap the benefits of the Weingart Center assistance as well. Here are just a few of the many service offered:

• Information and referral services
• Bus tokens for transportation to and from appointments
• HIV and STD testing
• Mail Services
• Community voice mail

The Weingart Center also partnered with the JWCH Institute and the LA County Department of Health Services, to put forward a model of comprehensive health care. The state of the art 22,000 square foot building, offers a team of professional doctors, psychiatrists, chemical behavior specialists, and pharmacy services as well as dental care, optometry, and a full laboratory. They are proud to offer a health care similar to private insurance. Every patient that walks through the door has one doctor assigned to him or her. They don’t walk in and see a different doctor each time they come. They walk in and see their doctor.

Through a partnership with AmeriCorps, formerly homeless men and women can provide the homeless of skid row specialized services such as clinical information, program and services referrals and the distribution of hygiene kits.

We had the dubious honor of being invited to stay the night at the Weingart Center. I was pleasantly surprised at the camaraderie within this towering refuge. I cannot say what I was expecting, but what I experienced knocked my socks off. The staff was warm, and friendly, and treated everyone with the same respect, and dignity with which they treated us.

We had our own rooms as do most of the residents here. They are small but when you come from the streets, a room to yourself feels like the presidential suite. The showers were spacious, bathrooms freshly cleaned, and floors sparkled with the reflecting lights above. There was even a recuperative care, hospital like division complete with attending medical specialists.

Services offered by the Weingart Center are too numerous to mention all of them, but I will leave you with this, this may be skid row, in the heart of Los Angeles, but the Weingart Center has certainly left their mark on the men and women who reside there, the city of Los Angeles, and on this Oregonian journalists heart.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

There's a Monster in the Closet



"I am the conscience of all those who knew something - but did nothing." - Oskar Schindler

I learned early on in our marriage to not argue with my husband. He made quite sure I understood he was never wrong. I was his punching bag, his doormat upon which he often wiped his feet, his captive, if you will. I rarely argued, out of fear. I rarely stood up for myself, out of fear. More often than not, I found myself cowering at the sound of footsteps, wondering whether or not it would be my last day on earth. I became this docile, subservient, governable, chattel, walking on eggshells every waking moment of every miserable day.

The rare occasion, on which I did stand up for what I believed, usually resulted in some act of violence against my person. Our five year-three-month, and thirteen-day marriage resulted in broken bones, missing teeth, cigarette burns, sexual assaults, and the annihilation of Candy, my nickname since junior high school, for there was nothing sweet about me anymore.

******

February, 1979. It was almost 1:00 in the morning. The kids were asleep, but I hadn’t been sleeping well at all. I couldn’t seem to turn off my brain. Paranoia was taking over. My husband would find out I was leaving him, and the thought of what he would do terrified me.

After lying awake for more than an hour I decided to take a bath. The hot, scented water would be calming and perhaps help me sleep. As usual, I avoided the mirrors, feeling my bruised reflection was a brutal reminder of the violence that my life was. The remnant of the cigarette burn on my right breast, didn’t need a mirror to be seen.

I slipped into the soothing comfort of the water, sunk down low in the claw foot tub and closed my eyes. I dreamt of happier, bright sunny days by the ocean. Val, Nicky and I were running, laughing and free. My kids would no longer have nightmares of the monsters in the house, for our monster would be thousands of miles away.

*****

I struggled against the force of the hand pushing me below the surface of the water. I thrashed about wildly, taking in water as I tried to scream. This was it. I was going to die. My kids would be at the mercy of this tyrant.

I don’t know if it was survival instinct or the protective mother instinct, but the strength came from somewhere. I pushed with all of my might and my tormentor lost his balance. In one move, I rose from the water and hurled myself from the tub, knocking him off his feet, causing him to bump his head on the freestanding radiator. He rose with an aggression that only bloodshed would soothe.

I had long ago chosen to wear my hair short. It was less for him to grab. It didn’t matter this night. Before I caught my breath, he seized a handful of hair and dragged me naked from the warmth of the bathroom. The house was chilled and there was a breeze not normally felt in the hallway he was dragging me through.

Humiliation is a powerful weapon. If used enough, even the strongest of people can succumb to its dispensation, and I knew, as I was unceremoniously thrust through the open front door, that I had admitted defeat for the last time.

*****

The bitterness of the snow-covered February morning hit me with a force that belies any meaning. I shivered uncontrollably. I tried to push my way back into the house. Rudy not only blocked my way, but shouted to my neighbors what was being done, as if demanding them to bear witness to whatever my indiscretion had been, and daring them to stop him.

“Look at her,” he shouted. “Look at this cheatin’, lyin’ bitch I married.” Lights went on. Curtains parted. “She’s a whore. She’s a freakin' whore.”

He hit me then, for what would be the last time. Clutching my cheek, I stumbled backwards from the blow. He used that moment to close and lock the door, becoming a barrier between my children and me. I kicked at the door, pounding with every ounce of strength I had in me. It didn’t budge. I turned, and saw the last of the neighbors closing their curtains and shutting off the lights. I would receive no help from them. I was alone.

*****

With the outside temperature being less than twenty degrees, the drops of bathwater remaining on my exposed flesh, began turning to ice. Every hair on my body stood erect in defiance of the cold, as a cat’s does in the throes of a battle. I tried once more in vain to open the door.

“Get a grip, Linda Jean. Get a grip.” I spoke out loud to myself as I rubbed my hands over my face and took a deep breath. As I did so, I took back the control that had been pilfered from me. I looked around and not seeing anything to cover myself with, made my way to the cellar. I hoped there would be something in the basement to keep me from hypothermia.

Reaching my destination, I discovered the door slightly ajar which meant no reprieve from the cold just yet. It smelled musty, this crypt of the past. I hoped it would not be my final resting place as well.

I found the string to the solitary overhead light bulb hanging from the ceiling and pulled it, illuminating the shadows and cobwebs that hopefully held for me a shroud of warmth. After tearing open the lids to many of the boxes, I was disheartened to find mostly papers. It wasn't until I had gone through the last of the cartons that I noticed the old tarp left behind by the painter the previous summer. I did not care that it was covered in feces of local rodents; I only cared that it would offer me a tiny respite from the cold.

Wrapped in this cloak of many colors, I made my way to the access of a clandestine passageway I had discovered when we first moved into this house. The passageway that would not only bring me back to my children, but if luck was with me, bring us to our freedom as well. As quietly as I could, I moved the drawers of the wardrobe, which was the hidden entrance to our apartment. I climbed through the opening and feeling like a cat burglar, I slyly made my way back to the main part of the house.

It was there I discovered the front door not locked, but barricaded by the comatose form of my husband, lying in his own urine. I stared at him for a moment, wondering if I had the courage. There was no doubt in my mind.

I knew every minute counted as I dressed quietly, not bothering to clean the dust and feces from my body. I went back to the wardrobe and reaching up into its bowels, removed the hidden firearm. With silent, purposeful steps, I moved towards the heap that was once something I dared to love. I stood over him for one moment longer, greedy with power, knowing that in less time it took to draw a breath, my nightmare would be over.

The cocking of the firing pin was so loud I wondered for an instant had I inadvertently pulled the trigger. I held the gun to his head. Just as I was about to pull the trigger a noise from behind startled me. I spun around, aiming at the predator.

There before me, stood my six-year-old daughter, rubbing her eyes from disbelief as much as sleep. With my knees turning to gel, I dropped the gun, and gathered her in my arms. I thanked a God in which I did not believe, that in my haste, I had forgotten to load the gun.

I heard it then. A deep guttural sound like a wounded animal coming from within the depths of my soul. There would have been no comfort, no solace that could be offered had I killed what I treasured most. The only taste of consolation came from the gently whispered words, “Its okay, Mommy. Don’t be scared, I’m here.”

*****

I opted to not look back as I drove away with my children sheltered in the back seat of the Vega. What was left behind was now the past. What lay ahead was our future, and good bad or indifferent; it had to be better than the life we led here

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fallen Warriors, Rising Eagles

When two eagles mate, they free fall to the ground. With talons locked, they fall towards the earth. They tumble, spiral, out of control. Then, just inches away from hitting the ground, just inches away from death, they let go, spread their wings and rise again.

In the beginning, you have daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Whole families during happier times. They are happy, then for one reason or another, they join the military. They go to war, see horrible, horrifying things.

You come back. Maybe you're okay. But maybe you're not. How do you live with what you saw? What you did? Maybe you're on drugs. Maybe you turn to alcohol. You are separated from society. Society doesn't want you now. Not the way you are. You think maybe you deserve this life. You think maybe there's no going back.

There are 27,000 homeless veterans living in the city of Los Angeles. The largest homeless veteran population in the United States. Many live with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

New Directions is a facility in Los Angeles, that gives back to those homeless veterans that walk the streets of Los Angeles. They give back dignity; they give back pride; they give back self-respect and most of all, they give back the life that was lain on the line for each and every one of us.

"This is a long program," says John Hill director of the detox phase and graduate of New Directions. "1 – 2 years. The average guy that comes in here has been in the streets for a long time or been in their disease for a long time. We address the issue of alcoholism, but we don’t just treat the disease. We treat the person."

"We assess their needs. Sometimes they come in here with nothing. They need it all. Clothing, underwear, toiletries, sheets and towels. We furnish it all. We have a penthouse upstairs. We make sure all they need to do is come in here and detox. If you have a problem even psychological issues. We give them a safe place to relax, to get clean, to get their thinking clear so they can make a decision as to what to do with their future. We empower the veteran so he can return to the community and have a successful life."

"Most of the men and women who come through this program have spent years living in the streets, mostly under bridges, so acquiring this building was a blessing. When we remodeled we wanted to make it home. We wanted to make it familiar, so if you look up, you can see the ceiling is unfinished with exposed beam. The architect designed it to remind them of being homeless under freeway passes. It’s a sense of openness without making them feel closed in. They are used to the freedom of it all. Just to remind them that they are not closed in." says LaShanda Maze, Community Relations/Media Specialist for New Directions Choir.

Maze continues, "Every one who walks through that door gets so much more than recovery. They get a new family. They are surrounded by brothers and sisters who have all walked exactly where they are at now. They are assigned a big brother who stay with them every step of the way through this program. From detox to graduation. Once they have graduated into phase two not only does their big brother stay with them, but now they are a big brother to a new resident. 'They can now say I have been where you are.'

In fact this program is so successful that 40% of our graduates are hired through the program. This way they can share their experience with them. I have been through this. I have been where you are. I have walked through those doors. I have slept here. I have been where you are."

George Hill graduate of New Directions and the New Directions Choir Director talks freely of his homeless past.

"Being homeless was the most miserable thing I ever did in my life. You get comfortable eating out of garbage cans. You get comfortable sleeping on the ground. I was out there for 13 years. And I was like a ghost. What’s really amazing I didn’t think I had a story even though I was homeless for 13 years. I lived in MacArthur Park, the most violent park in the world. But that still wasn’t a story to me. What happened that I finally decided to make a change?


I got out of yet another incarceration. I was already tired of it. I was sitting on the corner of 5th and spring. I was out there in the middle of all these homeless people. I see somebody come along with rags on their feet. Rags tied on their feet! I was like ‘that’s terrible.' You could watch him and see that he was a little mentally challenged. He was so dirty that he was black except where his knuckles bent over his shopping cart. He hair was just matted in two big nasty dreads, and I was just like’ that’s terrible. I sure am glad I’m not that bad.’

Now he’s walkin by all these homeless people. All of them, and there were a lot, and he looked down at me and kind of smiled. He pulled out a dollar bill and dropped it in my lap and said here man I feel sorry for you. I just put on my mental brakes and shook my head and said what? As I watched him shuffle away, I am sittin therewith smoke billowin out of my ears, and I see all these homeless people he passed by, and I’m thinkin ‘you feel sorry for me? Dude I feel sorry for you!'

There was something about that that just said no, no, no. I gotta get some help. From that moment on I didn’t want another drink. I didn’t want any drugs. I didn’t want anything but help. Somehow I thought there had to be somethin out there for me and I decided to come in here and never look back. So now I have been blessed enough to have my life back. And now with my music, I can give back. I can help by showing people that there is help for all of us.

So there was a period of time when you may not have wanted to see us coming. People wouldn’t even look at me. Or if I walked up to them, they’d get to grabbing their purses, lock their doors, turn to the right, turn to the left. They'd think it’s a disease, and it’s a contagious.

One thing people don't realize is how much wreckage is in your past when you're homeless. They don't see the the violence of the streets. But now, I get a chance to tell people what happened. I get to tell them I’d rather be homeless sometimes than in the missions. I like to let people know that if it wasn’t for that hot cup of coffee in the middle of the night when I really didn’t care if I lived or died, that’s what happened to me. That cup of coffee meant the world to me. That day old doughnut saved my life.

I’d like to let them know that they are not just casting their pearls to swine. That people do recover. They get help and come back and become productive. And they help other people get back on their feet. And all those things together you can’t beat it. It works out pretty well. But the fact is this shows what change can do and that people can change.


Carleton Griffin, another graduate of New Directions and the bass singer for the choir, talks about his 25 years living in the streets of Los Angeles and how New Directions gave him the ability to live life again, not just exist in it.

"I am a Vietnam vet. When I came home between the nightmares and all the other stuff, well, when I discharged from the service, I was a heroin addict. I tried to deal with it as best I could. I tried cold turkey. I tried not to do it, but I didn’t have the skills. I didn’t know how to do what I needed to do. So I just went on with it.

Long story short for the next 25 years I was homeless. In and out of jails; penitentiaries. The last time I got out I made myself a promise that if I ever got in trouble again, I’d go to the VA. I would get help. A man gotta get up, try it again and learn from the mistakes that you made. So I found myself going down the path again and I walked here from South Central LA.

In October of 2000 I just took off walking. About 28 miles. I came here, walked in the door and told the guys behind the desk I needed help. I got into the program and spent 28 days in detox going through heroin withdrawal. It took about 17 days before I finally got to sleep. I had done it before but always because I had to. I was locked up. This time I did it for me. So I stayed. I got through the program. Got hired by the program and now. Now I sing. I always sang through my homeless days."

I will never forget meeting and getting to know some of these brave men and women of the New Directions Choir, and I hope with all of my heart that I get to stay in contact with them. They are amazing, and I would be proud to call them friends. In fact, it is my hopes that enough people will want them to come to Portland and share their stories first hand. Of course I hope to be able to sing Amazing Grace with them one day. No truer words were ever written for a more deserving group of men and women.

But the final words of Carleton Griffin are the ending of this story. His words will always echo through my mind and are the epitome of what I am trying to accomplish with this walk.

"Everybody deserves a chance, another chance. Not necessarily a second chance, but another chance."

The men and women you see in the video below were never meant to come back from the streets. They were the statistics that said 'There's no hope for you. You may as well give up,' They had lived through the horror of war, and now having survived years in the rough streets of Los Angeles, they are living proof that they may have at one time been fallen warriors, but today they are the rising eagles. Rising Eagles that do this country proud.

PLEASE. Watch the video. It is a life altering experience.







We Are Made As One from Phil Eastman on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grace Forgets




I couldn't understand it. I lived in California for 12 years and I never felt like this. Once I moved to Oregon, I drove back to the Bay Area countless times to visit with my best Friend so why was I shaking like a leaf at the thought of it now? I had taken my kids to Disneyland three times and I never broke down and cried for hours on end. Why was this so different?


With each mile that passed, my anxiousness intensified. This was silly. I have never reacted like this. What was going on? Was I going crazy?
I cried out to God but He didn't seem to be hearing me.


Okay. I can do this on my own then. That's obviously the way you want it. I am strong. I don't need help. I can do this. I've been doing it on my own for 30 years now, why should now be any different. Six weeks of fear filled days and sleepless nights. Six weeks of self-flogging for a past that comes back to haunt me now.


I turn to my addiction. Food. Although we are on a tight budget, I purposely choose foods that are my weakness. They have been my comfort for 50 years now. They push the emotions back down into their hiding places. They numb the fears. They lock them up and save them for another day.


The ailing van calls for a respite. It is overwhelmed. It cannot go on without rest.


No! I cannot handle this right now. It's to much to ask for. Five times the van has called in sick. Five times my anxiety worsens. The food is no longer satisfying my soul.


Words of encouragement are sent and although they are uplifting, I still need. I pray once more. Please God. Please don't abandon me now.


I hear it then. the whisper that is my savior. "Do you really think I would remind you of your sins?"


"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." Isaiah 43:25


"I hear you Lord, but I am torn. Give me a sign. Show me what I am to do."


We continue our southbound journey, passing a lighthouse along the way. It is stunning, towering in the distance in all it's glorious splendor. Decades old. Weathering storms that come no matter how intense or how powerful, yet standing strong against them with grace, enticing all who see its light to come take refuge within its beacon.


When Jesus spoke again, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12


The setting of the sun mesmerizes as it brings a peaceful slumber. A slumber so deep, dreams evade and rest comes upon these weary bones.


Indeed, He who watches over Israel, neither slumbers, nor sleeps." Psalm 121:4


It looms before me, this monolith of stone. It offers protection from the storms, a covering in times of distress.


The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2


So it was I that was hard of hearing. Voices of my past were so much louder than the gentle whisper, "I am here", and through the prayers and words of encouragement from those who love me I continue this journey with a song in my heart.


The Lord is my shepherd
I don't need a thing
I slumber in the meadows
Cool water I drink
And when I am rested
And He has quieted my fears
He sends me back out walking
My path straight and clear.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Surf City

Chuck Berry is not the blond haired, blue eyed, muscle bound, golden skinned, surf board toting hunk I picture when I think of the California coast. Yet I don't think there is a man, woman or child who hasn't sung, hummed or tapped feet along with his most famous jingle.

If everybody had an ocean
Across the USA
Then everybody'd be surfin
Like Californ-i-a
You'd see em wearin their baggies
Hurachi sandals too
A bushy bushy blond hair do
Surfin USA

Although it was the collaborative effort of Berry, Brian Wilson and Mike Love that brought the sandy white beaches of California to the worlds attention, it was actually another Berry and partner Torrance that started the "Surfer" craze. With hits like "Surf City", "Barbar Ann", "Side Walk Surfin" that made Jan & Dean a California legend while the Beach Boys were just a few brothers singing in their back yard.

But it isn't the collective artistic forces of the surfer craze music of the darling duo Jan & Dean, nor the Beach Boys, the Ventures, the Chantays, that the homeless revere. It's more like the Surfaris with their signature evil little laugh fading into a solitary lyric and an entourage of notorious drumming. Wipeout.

While walking along the famed West Cliff drive in Santa Cruz, we came across a most unusual sight. Someone had taken the time to carry a couch down to the rocky cliffs in order to have a comfortable bed to sleep on. Although we missed the person sleeping there, his or her belongings were still in place neatly stuffed behind the couch.

Further along the Monterey Bay again in the cliffs of the California Coast you will find entire tent cities. Groups of people who risk life and limb to have a secure place to sleep, where hopefully no one will see them, no one will bother them and everyone will let them be.

It's hard to hide along the coast line. The colorful tents stand out like a sore thumb against the white beaches and weather worn boulders of the cliffs but it seems so far, they have not been asked to vacate.

There are shelters in Santa Cruz, Salinas and Santa Barbara, but with views like this to wake up to each summer morning, the shelters are not as overflowing as they could be.

Perhaps these few homeless who enjoy the ocean breeze have learned to Ride, Ride, Ride the Wild Surf.





Monday, July 19, 2010

There's the Rub











I wish my sister was here. Her name is Sharon. She is not a sister by birth, but the sister of my heart. We have been kindred spirits, best friends, sisters in Christ, for more than two decades and although she can be a pretty tough cookie, and has a habit of calling me on my crap, she is also the one I call when I need a pick me up, when I need to hear a friendly voice, when I can't cope. I can't cope a lot these days. Even though I know she is with me in spirit, it's not the same as having someone that loves you unconditionally, being right there by your side.




I wish I had my circle of friends from church gathered around me to show their support and love as they do so very often. I love them a lot and I miss them.

I wish I could wrap my arms around my children. Although all grown up and on their own, they are my heart and soul and they may not need me a whole lot anymore, I sometimes, still need them. I wish I could cuddle with my grandkids. I could use a grandchild fix right now. I miss them so much.




But I am here, and right this moment, I am overwhlemed. This trip has taken so much out of me. So much more than I believed it would. I knew it was going to be hard, but I wasn't prapared for this depression that has taken over. I wasn't prepared for the emotions that are running rampant and right here on the surface at all times. I wasn't prepared for the feelings that would come swelling up and bubbing over in confronting the giants I thought I had faced so long ago. I wasn't prepared for this trip to be almost as much about me as as it is about the cause I am fighting for.




I feel as if I am failing miserably, and that what I am doing isn't making any difference to anyone but me. Sometimes I think I should just quit right now, that I cannot do this anymore. Then I rebuke myself for not being stronger than this. I thought I was wonder woman and could do it all. But I can not. I am not God and sometimes that pisses me off to no end because I want to save the world and I can't, and it's breaking my heart. I see all of those people out there and I am overwhelmed by the numbers. I am overwhelmed by the feelings that there has to be more that can be done, but I don't know what.




And then I think of all of those shelter directors who did say yes, I would love to talk to you. I think of them and wonder, if I am feeling this way, how must they feel? When the numbers of homeless by far outnumber the funds availble to help them; When they go for days on end giving, and giving, and giving, and no one offers even a ray of hope. When they feel overwhelmed, and wonder if what they are doing does any good at all.




I think of the homeless out there who are alone. Do you see the people whose pictures are at the top of this page. Those pictures and the ones displayed on my last blog were all taken within a one block radius. One block. That's only an insignificant number of people are in need right this very moment. People who have no Sharon's to turn to in their time of need. They have no circle of friends to pray over them, no granchildren to comfort them with hugs.




The homeless, the shelter directors, the food bank operators, the directors of donor relations who try their hardest to bring in the funding and are told no more than yes. Those are the people that make this trip worth continuing for. They make it worth the swollen feet, the bleeding gums, the hair falling out, the discomfort, both physically and emotionally, and although I may not hear from you, in my heart of hearts I know that I am covered spiritually as well, and I apologize for the breakdown. For a brief moment, I let the insanity of depression take over and I forgot that I have a God who really will not give me more than I can handle.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's So Nice We Had This Time Together




I have been avoiding this blog. I had hoped it wouldn't come, but sadly it has. Unless some miracle happens, this is more than likely the last blog of this trip. I will keep a journal from this point on and I do have a tape recorder, but I won't be blogging anymore. Since this will be the last one, it will be a bit lengthy. Sorry about that.


I was out of work with this injury for 9 months, I had lost by beloved truck to repossession. I was living with a friend, what I had left of my possessions were in storage in a friends garage. The rest had been sold to pay bills that had gotten way layed during my recuperation. While recuperating, I began working on a small foundation set up to help transitioning homeless people.


But finally after more than a year, I was offered a job. It was actually the best paying job I had ever been offered in my life. I knew God was moving me towards the path I am on now and although the money was awesome, it was a job that I disliked immensely. I accepted the offer though.


On that same day, my daughter asked why I was taking the job. I told her truthfully that I needed the money. She made me an offer I couldn't refuse.


"Mom, you know how much you want to work with the homeless. Come live with me."


"That's not going to solve my money issue daughter but thank you for the offer."


"Mom, you don't need money. Look I could use some help with Vienne and the house. You want to help the homeless. Why not?"


After much prayer and consideration, it turned out that the decision had somewhat already been made. It turned out that when my new employers did the background check, they found out that the Workman's comp case was still open. They did not want to get involved in someone else's legal matters.


So I moved in with my daughter. Now her apartment is tiny. I would be sleeping on a couch, but I could do the work I knew God was calling me to do. So I made the plans and had the helps of friends who tried as hard as they could to get the funding needed via sponsorship. Sadly, because I am an individual, that funding never came. We did get about $600 in private donations and I was elated. I even got rid of my car for funding. But I was forging ahead.


Two weeks before I left on this trip, my daughter asked me not to come back. Although I had done nothing wrong, she just decided that she and her daughter wanted it to be their house again and not share it with anyone else. So although I knew that at the beginning of my trip, that I had no place to live, I was too busy to be concerned about it. It wasn't a high priority on my list so I just about forgot it.


Somehow it didn't hit me until last week, I mean really hit me, that when I go back to Oregon, I have no place to go back to. I won't even have my car to sleep in. I will be living in one of the shelters that I am out here fighting
for.


So between the emotions of facing places in my past that brought me so much pain, and the emotions of worrying about what I am going to do when I get back to Oregon or even whether I am going to go back to Oregon, took over. I begin to wonder whether or not I am really doing God's work or am I just out here for me? Am I really making a difference out here or does anybody really care other than those who work in the field. I write a blog and ask for feedback. I really do need to know because right now I am doubting whether or not I really heard from God. But I didn't get any feedback.


The van we sleep in breaks down. It cost $1800 to repair. We fix it. It breaks down again. We fix it, it breaks down again. Now all the money we had is gone. My traveling companion maxed out his credit card and then some. I send out an SOS that went out to several hundred people. As grateful as I am for the $135 donations we did get, it is not enough to continue this journey on. the donations were always supposed to go to the shelters and I felt bad having to ask for help myself, but we needed it desperately.


So I begin to wonder whether this is making a difference for the shelters we are fighting for. Are people really making donations to the shelters. I don't know. I may never know, but if the only life I am changing by doing this is mine, then there is no need to continue journaling publicly. I can keep all of the humiliation and shame that comes with being homeless to myself.


Although my traveling companion is against this, I fear I am going to have to continue this journey on my own, but my computer will be left behind. I cannot carry it in a back pack and even if I could, there would be no way to recharge it. So I am sorry that you won't be able to share in the crossing into Mexico with me, but at the moment, I can't think of anything else to do.


At the beginning of this trip I had said to my friends I would rather do this and find out when I get to heaven that I wasn't supposed to do this, than to not do it and find out when I get to heaven that I was. Well, that is how I feel right now. I will do this, not knowing whether this is from God, and I have to trust that I am still doing the right thing.


When I am done, wherever I end up, I will have one doozy of a story to tell.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Never Bring Attention to the Name




Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like had my parents helped a lot earlier than they did. But I wonder what it would have been like had they understood the severity of what my husband did. Had they gotten me away from him the first time he beat me, maybe everything would be different now. They had the resources. And they did use those resources, but not until I had been homeless for 5 years.


I was always the black sheep of the family, a title which wasn't completely deserved. They didn't understand me. I didn't understand them. I was a handful. I was ADHA before it was diagnosable as such. I was so smart yet I failed at almost every subject at school. I froze at tests, I rarely actually did my homework and that certainly wasn't their fault. I was so bloody bored. All the time. I was different than my sisters, and they didn't understand different.


Having grown up so close to Broadway in New York, I got the bug early on in life. I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a writer, a director, anything that would let me hone my craft. I was always making up stories, acting out plays for my stuffed animals or neighborhood kids. I had this uncanny ability to mimic any accent I heard and to this day, I often talk like Maureen O'Hara from John Wayne's "The Quiet Man".


As I got older, I was often in school plays, choirs and as many afternoon activities as possible. I had horses and when I wasn't doing one of the above mentioned I was out riding. But it wasn't until I was an adult that these activities got me out my head. For those few hours of rehearsals or actual productions, I got to be somebody else. I got to live someone else's life, good bad or indifferent, I didn't have to be me for that short respite.


When I married shortly after my 18th birthday, I was already with child. That was an unforgivable sin as far as my parent were concerned. But it would have been even more unforgivable had I had the abortion they tried to talk me in to. They never believed that my ex-husbands dad had threatened their lives if I had the abortion. I married him out of fear. Oh I loved him, but we were both kids. Neither of us were ready for marriage. But I married him because although he was not part of the mafia, he had mafia family and having just seen the Godfather and having a wickedly vivid writers imagination, I just knew my parent would be swimming with the fishes or find my horses head in my bed if I didn't.


The first time I got hit was on our honeymoon. My husband had gone out to pick up dinner. I was supposed to clear off the table and make room to eat. Instead I got sick. I was pregnant and sadly my morning sickness came at any hour of the day or night. He was pissed. I hadn't done as he asked.


I had never experienced this before. My dad never raised a hand to my mom and being hit was just something that didn't happen to me. All I could think of was that I obviously hadn't done what he wanted so I was being punished. I just assumed that the spankings I got as a kid would stop when you got married. Not so in this case, but the child spankings had turned into an adult backhand.


At the beginning of our marriage, I rarely got hit. It happened alright but it seemed that as his responsibilities grew, so did his drinking and his anger. On the days when I was beaten, not just hit, were days when he was drunk. I can;t remember ever getting hit when he was sober. The beatings that were bad were when he was truly drunk. More often than not he didn't even remember doing it but he saw the results. Remorse inevitably set it and he would apologize, promise it would never happen again and beg forgiveness. If the tears followed he knew I would relent.


After one particular beating my mom and my sister came to the house. They saw the results of what he had just done. He went throw me across the room as he often did, by grabbing my shirt. I was wearing a tank top so instead he grabbed skin. His deeply embedded claw marks were all the way across my chest. My left eye was swollen shut and I had a missing tooth. they saw this and yet they did nothing. Oh they ranted and raved about how terrible he was but they didn't say 'We're getting you out of here.'


My folks moved to Tahoe when dad retired and one time he flew out to New York. He came out for a business trip. He saw the broken jaw. He saw the black eyes, he saw the bandaged wrist. He also said he had talked to my husband, who promised him it would never happen again, so I should stay. Another time the wounds were worse. this time my folks just said, 'You made your bed, now you've got to lie in it.'


Lie in it I did. I was married October 20, 1973. I finally left him for good on February 2nd 1979. I will tell you that story another time, but for now I'll finish this one.


In November of 77, an early snow had come. My husband would not buy coats for the kids, nor would he buy boots. With Dominick in a baby carrier and Val in the stroller, I walked the 3 miles to the nearest department store. I put coats on their backs, shoes on their feet and walked out the door where I was promptly stopped by the store security. They called the police. I was terrified. Not of going to jail mind you, of the repercussions once my husband found out.


When the officer, Sargent Bucuzzi came, he took a look at the paperwork. He saw the name and asked me which one was I married to. I told him and his response was "Tootsies kid?"


"Yes Sir," I replied. I watched in amazement as this police Sargent took his wallet out and paid for the things I had just stolen. He looked at the security guard and said to him "Let her go. She's got enough problems just being married to Tootsies kid. Let her go." They did.


My parents did actually try to help about 3 years into the marriage. They had a friend in another part of Connecticut who had gotten me a job in a convalescent home. Thinking I was free and clear after a month of him not finding me, I got a little too relaxed. He found me, although I am not sure how, went into my place of work and at gunpoint, made me come back with him.


My parents were horrified. Not for me mind you. This brought attention to the McPherson name. This brought shame to the McPherson name. They were mortified. They insisted that I should do everything I could to make my husband happy because they would not tolerate the attention I was bringing to myself anymore.


Did I tell you how I finally got the funding to get away from him? Probably not. It isn't something I am proud of so I don't talk about it too often. Since this will be in the book, I may as well say it here.


It took months of planning; months of footwork; months of risking jail time. I was desperate to get away from him. I would go into a store, buy something, then tear the piece of the receipt that said how I paid for it. I always told them the dog or the baby had gotten hold of the receipt. I would bring the item back to the store and get the cash back. It took four months of this back and forth thievery to save $3000. But I finally did, risking everything if I got caught. It was worth it.


The drive from Connecticut to California was long and tiring with two kids in tow. Somewhere around Oklahoma I picked up a hitchhiker. A man in a Navy uniform. He helped to drive. Somewhere between Oklahoma and Long Beach where I dropped him off, he had found my hiding place and had stolen the money I had just taken. That was the beginning of the end of my dreams of a better life for my kids.


So I cannot help but wonder what life would have been like had my parents understood the severity of what my husband had done to me. I wonder what my kids lives would have been like had my parents realized that although I was homeless by choice it was a choice that I should never have had to make. I wasn't bringing shame to the McPherson name to hurt them, or spite them. But that is what they believed. I was degrading the family name.


Although I am talking about it here, I do rarely wonder anymore what life would have been like
had they helped early on in my marriage. I don't have to wonder. I know that Val would have been an only child. I would not have had my Dominick or my Josh. I wouldn't have my grand kids, Lexi, Vienne, Shyla or Belles.


I wouldn't have my best friend Sharon nor my friend of 25 years who is accompanying me on this trip, nor my friends back in Oregon because I would have still been on the East Coast. But if I hadn't gone through all of that, I may not have known the God of mercy and miracles who I worship today.


When my parents finally agreed to help on April 3rd, 1984, more than 5 years after I left my abuser, there were several conditions I had to agree to before they would lend a hand. I met all but one.


Never again, bring attention to the family name. Sorry Mom and Dad. I think I'm failing that one miserably with this trip.

Kiss Your Eyes, Sing You to Sleep




I tried to follow the warmer weather as best as I could. But the radio did not work more often than it did. Just before the broadcast cut out, I thought I heard the weatherman say snow was predicted for elevations as low as 1000 feet. I had hoped we'd be safe at 840 feet, but this was an unusual cold front that no one in Lee's Summit, Missouri was prepared for in late September.



"It's cold in here mommy." I could see my daughters breath frosted in the air.



"I know it is sweetie." I begin to feel it; the pain in your heart that you experience where hopelessness resides.



"Can't we turn on the heater?"



"No baby, we can't."



"Not even for a little while mommy?" Rrrip. It tears in half.



"I'm sorry baby. You know we can't. We can't afford it. How about if you climb under the covers with me til you get warm, okay?" There was plenty of room for my six year old to sleep with me. Well, nit plenty, but I'd make do. I always did.



I lifted my blankets in invitation and shivered as her ice like toes penetrated my clothes. Laura was like her mother. If her toes were cold, the rest of her followed suit. I didn't worry much about BJ. He could have slept through the coming of the ice age, with his footie pajamas, and burrowed head in his He-man sleeping bag.



Josh on the other hand was not yet old enough to hide beneath the covers if he got cold. I reached over to touch my 16 month old child sleeping beside me. I tucked his blankets around him tightly making sure he was secure in his mattress of clothing and towels that were spread over the back floor portion of the 66 Nova we had been living in for more than two and one half years.



As my daughter happily snuggled down, I knew sleep would evade me. My brain was engaged full throttle, focused on the previous year's events that brought us to a life of beggary.



During our time of even less than poverty, I had been shot at, stabbed and beaten more times than I cared to remember. But I had to remember. I could never allow myself to forget for within those memories lie the strength to do what was needed to be done to secure my children's safety. As I lay there taking in the sweet breath of my daughter, I had no premonition that those horrific years would be less frightening than the years to follow.


Your life may flash before your eyes just before death, but those flashes are more clear, more vivid the evening before you give your children back to the monster that forced you to hell in the first place.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes

I made it all the way to Los Angeles. Whoo hoo!! Only 133 miles to the border. man we'd been making great timing. Then a monkey got thrown into the gears. The van we sleep in broke down and the $1800 estimate left us in a panic. We repaired what needed to be done and in a matter of speaking, went on our merry way.

Our fund were totally depleted now and I had to decide whether or not to continue on foot with just a back-pack in tow. I wanted to think about it for a day or two. We headed for the last known area that we found a place to sleep safely and peacefully, Thousand Oaks, about 50 miles north of L.A., to decide what to do. My traveling companion is not feeling too comfortable with my going it alone and quite frankly, neither are my family and friends.

While bouncing ideas around as to how to complete this trip, the van brakes down a second time. This time, the transmission was acting up and we could not drive in anything but second gear. This estimate was a $4,000 transmission replacement.

While it being Patrick's vehicle, he decided that he would trust no one again with his vehicle and we nursed it all the way to the Bay area to go to his mechanic. Not something I would have chosen to do, but understandable considering the first repair job turned out to be an expensive misdiagnosis.

Because it is going to take a few days to repair, I am sleeping at a hotel, while Patrick is crashing on his mom's couch. The thought of taking a leisurely shower, perhaps even a bath is bliss. Being able to stretch out on a bed for the first time in 3 months is heaven. So why am I up at 3:30 in the morning?

The bed isn't too bad, but my back is throbbing anyway. I didn't have this problem in the van. Oh it ached constantly, but not to the severity it is at this moment. Due to a previous injury, I haven't been able to sleep lying down in years without laying back on several pillows supporting my back and extras propping up my legs.

The swelling in my feet seems to be at an all time high and since my legs are now higher than my heart thanks to bed, this shouldn't be the case. But I put a pair of socks on because my toes were chilly and within 15 minutes, they are cutting off the circulation. Well, those are very valid reasons for not sleeping, but they aren't the real reasons.

My wheels are turning and the squeaky wheels turning are keeping me awake. Somehow, I can't seem to turn off my brain. I am in a room by myself for the next 72 hours. No transportation, but plenty to eat. I have a can of tuna, a cucumber, jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread. Not a gourmet spread but I guess it will do for 3 days.

Bad back go away, I'll see you round some other day. Swollen feet, it's not the first. Do your best, it's not the worst.

I get 72 hours of uninterrupted private time to write, write, write!!!! Woo Hoo!!! Now I did ask God to give me a sign of some sort that we were to continue and trust that people will start generously contributing. I got my sign and we are going back to LA as soon as we can to compete this portion of the trip. I won't give up so close to the end of the journey. Wanna know what the sign was? That $4000 transimisson repair? It only cost us $97 in the grand scheme of things

Pink Mist

I set out to change the world. Instead, the world has changed me.

I think I may have said that before and I don't apologize for repeating the words for they never seemed truer at this moment than now. I have been spending the last 12 weeks speaking with directors of homeless shelters, food banks, city officials,asking how I can help them along the way. While in California, I have discovered that most directors don't want to talk to me. Fair enough. They all think I'm a bit crazy and I may very well be, but I get a bit discouraged just the same.

Over the last weeks the plans have changed a bit here and there. We began by passing much of the rural areas where there are only mile after mile of fields or beaches. As beautiful as these things are, I am not out here to be on a vacation. This allows me that more time to spend in the urban areas where more and more homeless can be found each day.

Another thing that has changed in California, if the fact that we don't just limit our talks to the directors of the shelters. We talk to the clients as well. One of the things I have learned did not come from the directors however, but from a veteran who had been homeless for than 12 years. We both have several things in common. He has been housed now for several years. His homeless roots are something he will never forget, nor does he care to. He has dedicated the rest of his life to helping the homeless and teaching the community he lives in that homelessness is not just about alcoholism or drug addicts.

When I talked to him about how he feels about the panhandlers he had the following to say:
Why wouldn't you give money to them?

Well, statistics have shown that most of the panhandlers do make a good deal of money and/or they're probably just going to go buy a pint or a fix or something.

And if they do? What business is that of ours? That fix you don't want them to buy may the matter between living or dying to them. Who are you to judge that?

I see what you're saying.

Do you? Do you really?

Maybe not. Why don't you help me to understand?

One of the guys in the recovery program was a Vietnam vet. He and his best friend in the world served together. They were childhood friends. Knew each other since they were still at their mamma's knee. One day they're laying in the grass talking about chicks, the next day they are scared shit less, hiding in the grasses in Nam.

At night, layin in the trenches, Jim and his friend talked about what they'd do when they got home. They only had three weeks left and they were looking forward to going home. The next day, they were ambushed. One minute Jim was talkin to his friend, the next minute, Jim was scraping pieces of his friend off his face. They call it pink mist. When someone blows up like that and there's nothing left but the blood that hangs in the air. Jim has PTSD. He needed the fix to get him through the guilt. Survivors guilt.

We got another guy in the program who's wife and daughter were killed by a burglar. They were murdered for $96.00. Every night he drank himself into oblivion. It helped him to forget that they died because he was late in coming home from work.

So you may think you're helping them by not giving them that dollar, but some of them may really need it, and who are we to cast that first stone?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is Anybody Out There?


May I first apologize for the running together of paragraphs. I type them with the proper amount of spacing, yet somehow BLOGSPOT runs them together, sometimes haphazardly as in this case. I know it makes it a bit more difficult to read and for that I apologize. I am trying to figure it out.
Anyway...
There haven't been that many blogs about the shelters lately and for that I am truly sorry. The thing of it is, since Sacramento, there have been only two shelters that have agreed to talk with us and I blogged about one of them yesterday.


So this morning, I think I will talk about you. The person reading this blog. I'd like to know what it means to you to follow this blog. Why do you follow it? Is it because you are a friend and want to know what's going on, how I am?


Are you someone I have met along the way? Have I somehow changed how you think about the homeless? Have I touched you enough that you have gone out and done something about it? Have you volunteered at a shelter? Taken a homeless person out to lunch? Secretly bought groceries for someone who is poor and left them on their doorstep? Have you sat down and talked to a homeless person?


Are you one of the many reporters that has interviewed me? How has this touched your life or have you just gone on your merry way and forgotten all about the crazy lady that sleeps in a van and talks to the homeless all day long?
Maybe you've taken the steps to befriend someone at your church or a neighbor who you know is struggling financially or otherwise. Perhaps you've made other changes that I haven't mentioned here.


I'd like to hear whether or not you agree or disagree with anything I've said. I'd like to know how you think about the homeless now compared to what you used to, and perhaps ideas on what you think I could be doing out here.


I'd like to hear these things. I need to hear these things. You see I am hooked. I can't just stop with these three states. I want to continue this through all 50 states. I may not walk every step of the way. I haven't walked every step of the way here. I have bypassed much of the rural communities so that I may spend more time in the cities where the homeless are in abundance and the shelter directors can use all the help they can get even if it is just someone to vent to.
This trip has been very taxing on me. Physically, emotionally and somewhat spiritually. But it's because of that spirituality, that strong faith in my Lord Jesus Christ, that I dare to hope that I can continue this. So I need to hear whether or not you believe this mission of mine is making a difference so I can make the decision as to whether or not to become an official non-profit. As an individual, I am not eligible for grants or scholarships. As a non-profit I would be.
If I am the only life this mission has made a difference in, then I will continue this journey, going to as many states as possible without the blogs, without the van. Just me and a back pack and a sleeping bag. So I need to hear from you, so I can begin to draw up the rough draft of my future.
But the real reason I do this is for the kids. My kids. Your kids. The future of America. The future of the world. Do you see the picture at the top of the page? These are my kids. Do you know why I didn't post a before picture of them? Because I was homeless for much of their childhood. When you're homeless, you don't think to stop and take pictures so you can remember how they looked when they were little.
But I don't need photographs for me to remember what they looked like in their youth. I won't ever forget what they looked like when we were homeless. They all had the same scared look and sad eyes. I can't ever forget that. I can't ever forget that I was the one who put that look of fear on those beautiful faces.
From left to right, they are Josh. Josh was born in the streets 29 years ago. He is a brilliant artist, a great humanitarian and about to get married. He is an awesome uncle to his four nieces and I know he's going to make a great dad someday.
Dominick. Dom was 3 when we first became homeless. He is about to turn 34. He has a beautiful wife, 3 beautiful daughters and is expecting a fourth child during the holidays. He's a great dad. A kind and loving husband. He has worked in the HVAC business for more than 10 years. 2 years ago he was laid off. With the construction of new homes not being what it was, he no longer does what he loves. He now works as a grocery clerk. He would do anything to keep that roof over his children's heads.
And last but of course not least, Valeria. Val was 5 when I left her dad and turned to a life on the streets. I home schooled her from the front seat of a car. She didn't step into her first classroom until she was 8 years old. She was a straight A student all throughout school. She is now an Escrow officer, a single mom to my fourth adorable granddaughter, and a pretty neat lady.
No mom could ask for better kids than the three I have. They are my life. They are my heart and by the grace of God, even after everything I put them through during our homeless years, they still love me and we are together forever, and always.
Since only a select few homeless shelters have agreed to talk with us, I have decided to share a good deal about my homeless days. Over the next several days you will hear a lot about those kids and everything they went through. You may think less of me. You may think more of me. What matters most is the message behind these stories.
No child deserves a life in the streets. With more than one and a half million homeless kids in the US, perhaps with the telling of these stories, you may think twice before judging the teen with all of the facial piercings, with the sad scary eyes, or the 14 year old obviously with child. Chances are, none of them want to be there. With your help, they don't have to be.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Who's the BOSS?



In Berkeley, I was honored to have been asked to participate in a planning meeting for the next days rally to be held in Oakland. The topics were affordable housing and General Assistance benefits.
Those were things I knew nothing about other than by experience. I can tell you that in Oregon if you are single, you do not qualify for benefits. You have to have a child. There in California, the benefits have been there for a short amount of time but were minimal. They started off being about $380 then were cut back to roughly $220 or thereabouts.
The planning committee sitting around the table was made up of 6 women and 7 women. They were clean cut, well dressed, healthy looking men and women. The intelligence in that room was enough to make Einstein duck for cover. But what amazed me was not the intelligence, nor the dedication to this project, nor the fact that they were all impeccably groomed, nor the spirituality that exuded from them all. What took me by surprise was that each and every one of them had at some point, not too long ago been homeless.
They had all fallen on hard times. Some by some form of addiction, some by lack of employment, one because of disability. As we talked and shared and got to know one another I must honestly say that I will be thrilled if any of them decide to keep in touch and would be honored to call each and every one of them friend.
All of them are members of an organization called BOSS. Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency. The Boss is more than a name. It's more than a referral program, It is an educational program; an action plan that empowers not enables. BOSS rebuilds lives; gives hope to those who haven't dared to do so for a long time. BOSS works together as a team with the homeless, poverty stricken, and disabled, to give them a better life.
At BOSS, you are not looked upon as 'the poor homeless person.' As they say on their website..."We celebrate people's strength in surviving under difficult conditions." BOSS believes that housing for every person is a human right. Acting upon those beliefs, BOSS acts as an advocate by empowering those in need to speak up for themselves. To strengthen whole communities to be just that...a community. Lastly, they teach individuals to get involved in their own civil rights.
BOSS also assists those wishing to turn their lives around by connecting them with Adult education classes, job search and placement, money management strategies and even job creation when appropriate.
BOSS also advocates for health as well. This mean BOSS not only offers medical referrals but helps to empower each person that walks through their doors to make healthy choices for his or her life.
I cannot tell you exactly how many people were at this rally we participated in. I can tell you that more than 75% of them were homeless.
Look carefully at the pictures above. See all those Navy t-shirts? Graduates from BOSS. Look at the faces. Do they look homeless to you? They look the same to me. Confident, healthy people, living life to the best of their abilities and getting healthier every day.
So who's the BOSS? Everyone!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday



It's a bit harder to blog these days. Not because there is nothing to write about. On the contrary. There is plenty to share with you. The truth of the matter is, the closer I get to Los Angeles, the more my emotions are hanging on by a thread.

When planning this trip, I knew parts of it would be disquieting, but this portion of the journey has turned out to be so much harder than I ever imagined. I am in no way looking forward to Los Angeles. San Francisco was different and was certainly an eye opener, but I wasn't homeless there. It was a different feeling altogether than what I am experiencing now.

I knew there would be some upsetting sentiment attached, simply because I am only a few miles away from where my innocence was lost and my life became a prerequisite for a Stephen King novel. I haven't been back to this area in 30 years and I don't really want to be here now, but I know that I know, that I know, I am doing what is being asked of me.

My heart is pounding so loudly, I am sure the people at the next table can hear it. It's hard to catch my breath sometimes and my mind is racing through the 'What ifs' of life. What if I see those two small children, 3 and 5 years old, standing their crying because their mother drove off without them? What if I see that small hand reach out to hold mine only to find out it is no longer there? What if I hear the cries of hunger that can not be satiated? What if I never see them again?


What if I should walk down the street where it happened? What if that man sitting two tables over to the left is the same man that was never punished for his leadership participation of the crime of some 30 years ago? He could be. He has a scar on his right thumb. But this man is old and wrinkled. But what if it is him. What if he recognizes me? Will he care? Will he do it again?

Of course, I have learned over the years that the 'What ifs' of life can get you into trouble. Today I am afraid, but I remind myself that I survived the actual events once before. I will survive the memory of those circumstances as well, knowing that walking beside me each step of the way is the God who protected me the first time around. Why would he do any less now?
So I write about the pain, I write about the memories, because there are others out there whose today's or tomorrow's may be saved because I shared my yesterdays.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Cost of Being Homeless


This journey began 82 days ago. During this short time, the two of us have actually lived like the homeless. Actually we've lived a lot better than the homeless but we've limited ourselves tremendously, being on a very tight budget. To date our expenses are as follows:

$1875 gas
$847 food
$189 laundry
$176 showers
$2275 for car repair

Weekly total not including car repair = $280

Now...if we were truly homeless, we would not have had the money for the laundry. We would have taken advantage of the few shelters that had laundry facilities. We would have only had $400 in food stamps for food, probably wouldn't have needed the gas because we wouldn't have been able to afford the insurance let alone the gas and lastly we would not have been able to repair the care we didn't have.

Now to break it down to our terms.

Gas: Why did we need this much? Well, the rest stops have been few and far between. Mostly we drive 1-2 hours just to find a safe place to sleep. yes we could have slept at the shelters, but we didn't think it would have been fair to There is a lot of backtracking involved and a lot of driving to plan out the next days route. So far we have put just a tad over 10,000 miles on the van.
Laundry: I am a homeless snob and I use sheets. Yes sheets to cover the car seat I sleep in, and although I purposely didn't bring that many clothes and sometimes find myself wearing the same thing for three or four days in a row, we still have about 3 loads of laundry to do each week, which wasn't too bad in Oregon but in California the average load of wash is about $4.25 not including drying.
Showers: trying to find a place that allows showering only is pretty tough. Again, we don't want to take anything away from the homeless, so we limit ourselves to state park campground showers. Unless you are paying for a camp site, ($35 per night, so not in the budget) then you must pay for your shower. This can range anywhere from $1.75 to $5.00 depending on where you are. Let me tell you, you never know how much you miss this luxury until you go without one for 2 weeks. Yes I said two weeks. Yuck. Oh we washed up in gas station sinks, but it's certainly not the same thing!
Food: We have been trying diligently to live on $10 per day between the two of us, but it's hard to do. We have however been sticking to the 99 cent menu on whichever fast food restaurant suits our fancy. None of them suit mine. Being a chef, having a big burger from Carl's Jr. doesn't quite get it, but it's all we have the money for so that's all we have.

We rarely have vegetable unless they are on the 99 cent menu. We rarely have healthy protein unless it's on the 99 cent menu. Vitamins are a luxury and although we started out with them, when we ran out of them about 8 weeks back, we decided the budget couldn't support the luxury of health.

Speaking of which, the cost of homelessness is much more than monetary. Our heath is not failing but waning quickly on this trip. I've blogged about the swollen feet a few times, but I'll say it again just in case you didn't read any of those past blogs. The front seat of a mini van is not conducive to sleeping and our feet cannot be raised. When we wake in the morning our feet are swollen, sometime so badly that we either cannot tie our shoelaces or cannot put the shoes on at all.

Migraines are a constant companion, and can't honestly say whether it's from lack of healthy eating, lack of sleep or a combination of both. Either way, a good nights sleep is about 5 hours, six if we're lucky.

My hair is falling out at least four times as much as what is normal. My once thick crop of hair is thin, scraggly and lacks the luster it used to have. My gums are bleeding, sometimes just because I have bitten into something such as a tuna sandwich, and for no other reason.

What should be a golden tan is actually various shades of blotched brown and so incredibly dry that the cream I use just dissolves as if my skin were a sponge that can't get enough moisture.

I have walked off my callouses and new ones are forming. With the amount of walking though you'd think I would be loosing weight like crazy. Not so much. Not only are we eating non-healthy high fat meals, but we're also nibbling almost constantly. There are rarely places to just stop and take a refreshing afternoon snooze, so snacking is compulsory to get through the day.

Having begun this trip with a bad back, knees and hip, I can say that the calves are solid muscle now; the back's aches and pains have relocated and although still primarily the lower back, my neck is so stiff I cannot seem to hold my head up for any length of time of now; the hip goes out more often than I do these days, but...the knees are taking stairs a bit better than they were 3 months ago. YEAH.

So why am I telling you all of this boring personal information. Well, going through all of this has given me first hand personal experience of homelessness. Although I know there is an end to this, depression has set in a bit and I cannot help but wonder if I am going through all of this after only 82 days, how much more are the feelings of the homeless who cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

They spend hours and hours walking each day because they have to not because they are on a mission. Sometime they walk just because they can't find a place to sleep. Others walk to collect things they can recycle in order to earn a few dollars or two.
Finding a place to sleep is a scary thing and more often than not, unless you are one of the lucky few to procure a bed, you're a bit out of luck. Depending on what city you are homeless in, what you eat can be less healthy than our daily bean and cheese burrito. Vitamins are a luxury for them as well and sleeping comes in half hour to hour long increments not the 3-5 we get.

I see these people and being the perpetual mother of the world, I want to take care of them all. I want to nurse them back to health and love them until they can love themselves and yet I know from experience, that is not the answer.

So all I can do is to support the shelters, so when they do reach that bottom, they will have the life preserver to hang on to when they are drowning in their miseries.