Homelessness and Hand-to-Hand Combat

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Violence.  We all know that some housed people fight with each other in physical, hand-to-hand combat.  But why do some homeless people, living bereft of everything, fight?

To find out why some homeless people fight, I interviewed a 48-year-old man who lives in the streets.  I thank him for his candor.

Q:  From time to time you fight with people.  Why do you fight?

Man:  “Mostly I fight because people disrespect me.”

Q:  What do you mean by disrespect?

Man:  “It’s when someone slanders me, slanders my name, says things that aren’t true in a public forum where everyone else can hear them.”

Q:  Can you describe your last fight?

Man: “My last fight was caused when someone was standing outside a business and disrupting the community.  Certain business people asked me to remove him.

“I tried to remove him nicely.  I knew that if he went with me that things would go better for him than if he continued to stay and annoy the business people.

“But he wouldn’t listen to my multiple requests for him to leave, so I had to fight him.  I had to take him out — that’s the only way I know how — that’s how I fight.”

Q:  During the fight, what happened?

Man: “The fight?  I hit him.  He didn’t hit me one time.  I hit him a couple of times until bystanders broke us up.”

Q:  When you were young, what were you taught about fighting?

Man:  “I was brought up being told that if I let one person disrespect me, then everyone will.  It’s all about your elders — you respect your elders.  And you don’t disrespect anyone.”

Q:  Are there other examples of when you feel disrespected?

Man: “It’s like letting someone steal something from you.  If you let one person do it, everyone will do it.”

Q:  What happens if someone steals from you?

Man:  “You take care of it.  Otherwise you’re ‘easy game,’ an easy target.  Everyone will take advantage of you, if you let them.”

Q:  You were housed and now you are homeless.  Does that make a difference in how you react when you feel are you being disrespected?

Man:  “When you’re in ‘the middle of the road,’ people steal things all the time.  Homeless people get their stuff stolen all the time.  It sucks.”

Q:  Who steals homeless people’s belongings?

Man:  “Anyone who wants to.  Both housed and unhoused people steal from homeless people. Ha!  Homeless people are easy targets.”

Q:  Have people stolen from you?

Man: “Housed people stole my wheelchair — twice.  They’ll steal anything because of their addictions.  Everyone has vices.   Stealing is just another way of surviving.  It is what it is.

“It’s just like the cops stealing homeless people’s cars — their homes — by impounding them.

“But not everyone steals.  I was taught not to steal.  I don’t steal from anyone.”

Q:  Do you have a general philosophy about life?

Man: “You have to prepare for the worse, expect the best and accept what’s in between.”

Homelessness Myth #23: They Have Too Much Food to Eat

Also published on The Huffington Post. 

Really?  Do some housed people really believe that homeless people have too much food to eat?  Actually, yes.  And they provide what they consider the evidence, “Of course they have too much food to eat. See how fat they are!”

This myth leaves me stunned because I believe its falsehood is obvious. I’ve had the privilege to work with people in need for over 20 years.  Sadly, in all of that time, I have never known a homeless person who was able to eat three healthy meals a day. Really.

As we all know, obesity is an American epidemic. Whether we are housed or homeless, many authorities agree that our diet of high-calorie, unhealthy foods contributes to our obesity.  It would appear that many housed people are neither utilizing their kitchens to prepare nutritious foods, nor making healthy food choices at restaurants. Homeless people may have similar nutritional challenges, but for different reasons.

On May 25, 2012, the San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless reported in “A Point-In-Time Assessment of Homelessness In San Diego County — 2012,” that there are a total of 9,641 homeless people within the county.  Of this total, 4,374 homeless people are sheltered and often receive their meals from their residential facilities.  However, there are at least 5,267 homeless people who are unsheltered and generally live without their own cooking facilities.

Unsheltered homeless people generally eat prepared food that they get from Good Samaritans, at group food service opportunities and, when they have money, from fast food restaurants and/or grocery stores.  Pasta, bread and pastries are in abundance.  Organic foods as well as raw fruits and vegetables are seldom available. Without healthful foods to eat, homeless people have very few chances of avoiding obesity.

I’m grateful to the following homeless people and service provider for sharing whether they feel that homeless people have too much food to eat.

Annie, an unsheltered homeless person, 45-years-old:  “I don’t think that homeless people have too much food.  We need more fresh veggies, not canned.  But that’s not easy to get.

“There are a lot of church services, but maybe having food every day would be good. But, we don’t have food every day.  We’re blessed to have what we get.”

Jon, 49-years-old, lives in his van: “We never have too much food.”

Glyn Franks, a housed person, 62-years-old, founder and president of Second Chances, Bread of Life, and self-described “San Diego’s biggest sinner saved by the grace of God:”

“Our goal is to feed the hungry, tend to the sick, visit prisoners and clothe the naked. We feed the hungry… We fulfill the great commission to share the good news by doing the four things I’ve said to serve the God of love.

“Homeless people don’t have enough food.  I believe that homeless people don’t have proper nutrition because they can’t cook.  Without cooking facilities, it is difficult to get proper nutrition.  Proper nutrition promotes good mental health and the ability to make good decisions.

“I believe that there are also people with roofs that don’t have enough food.

“We serve food to homeless people and housed people Saturday mornings, Thursday at high noon and holidays [in and near Ocean Beach].”

Grace, a vegetarian, almost 53-years-old, lives in her van:  “Because I have celiac sprue disease, I cannot eat anything that has gluten grains in it — wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt.  And I’m dairy intolerant… Consequently, most of my money goes to food and dietary supplements.

“Although I have a very limited income, I still feel that it is important to give food to others who need it.  Because I’m aware of the need for healthy food and because I’m aware of how little healthy food there is ‘out there,’ I cook and prepare my meals.  Because it is hard to make food for one person, I prepare a lot of food and share it with people who need food.  Many homeless people who come to me are vegetarians or need healthy food.  So, they are very happy to have this food.

“Most homeless people are suffering from malnutrition because of not eating healthy food… I feel that one of the most important things in life is what we ingest, our food.”

John, an unsheltered homeless person, 50-years-old:  “For each community, the situation is different.  For example, in downtown San Diego, there are limited opportunities to eat indoors.  It took me two years to learn where to get food.  Several hundred homeless people are usually served at each of the following meals:

• Mondays The Lutheran Church serves a meal. Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner.

• Tuesdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Salvation Army serves dinner.

• Wednesdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner.

• Thursdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Horizon Church serves dinner.

• Fridays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. The Lutheran Church serves a meal. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Salvation Army serves dinner.

• Saturdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch.

• Sundays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves brunch. Presbyterian Soup Ladle serves a meal.

“It’s hard to remember all of this.  If you don’t know where these meals are, it’s difficult.  And just to get to some of these places is an effort without a bus pass.  It can take an hour to get to a scheduled meal.

“Sometimes you have to stand in line for hours before a meal, after which there is a religious service for an hour or two and then you get to eat.  That means it could take a total of 4 to 5 hours out of your day before you can get a meal indoors.

“I don’t think homeless people are overfed.  My opinion is that there is enough food for some of them to survive.  Homeless people are more on the hungrier side than the full side.  Going to bed hungry is not a nice thing.”

Justin, an unsheltered homeless person, 25-years-old:  “This morning I woke up and I didn’t know where I was going to eat.  I was hungry.  I often get hungry.  Everyone gets hungry.  We, homeless people, are just like everyone else.”

Homelessness Myth #22: They Have Enough Money

Also post on The Huffington Post.

Do homeless people need money? Of course, housed or unhoused, we all need money. Some housed people believe that homeless people have enough money to get what they need.

However, do homeless people really have enough money to get what they need? I think not. For example, one of the most important things that any person needs is government-issued identification. People need this ID for many reasons, including to get a job, housing, food stamps (after the first month), healthcare, a bank account as well as to get married.

In California, there is a schedule of fees for DMV-issued photo ID cards. There is no fee for senior citizens (age 62 or older) to get these IDs. For everyone else, the fee for California photo ID cards is $26. However, this fee can be reduced to $7 when people meet the income requirements of a public assistance program and complete the ferification for Reduced Fee Identification Card form (DL 937) available from a host of governmental or nonprofit programs.

Homeless people under 62 years of age generally qualify for this $7 California reduced-fee photo ID card.

But do homeless people have $7?  And if they need to get $7, how do they get it?

Some homeless people work, indeed, sometimes at more than one job.  They may  “can,” meaning they recycle. Some homeless people, including unaccompanied youth, go “spanging,” that is, they ask strangers for spare change.

Often they “go signing” or “fly a sign” which means they use a sign indicating their need and request for money. Some musically talented homeless people raise funds by “busking,” a term used for playing music for donations.

Homeless artists sometimes solicit donations for their creations.  Some homeless people suffering from disabilities may receive money from government programs.  And many homeless people involve themselves in any combination of these efforts to raise funds.

I asked the following people whether they had $7 and, if they didn’t, how they would raise $7.  I am grateful to them for their answers to these questions.

Grace, age 52, lives in her RV “I have $7.  I am frugal.  I get disability and supplement it by making jewelry when I can. These are the two ways I get income.

“$7 is very important.  You can do a lot of things with $7.  To me, $7 means a meal, gas to move the RV, toilet paper or loads of laundry.

“$7 is a new wardrobe for a homeless person. Recently at the $2 Store, I bought a young homeless woman a dress, a pair of shorts, jeans, a T-shirt — three changes of clothing — all the clothing that you can carry.”

Eric, age 35, homeless “I don’t have $7. To get $7, I have to beg practically all day. I don’t ‘can’ because of germs, it’s dirty.

“Also, I make roses and angelfish that I give out for donations. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I don’t.”

OB Dillon, age “pushing 69,” homeless “I have $7.  People give me gifts because they like my guitar playing. That makes me a professional.”

Jon, age 49, lives in his van “I do have $7. To make money, I spange.”

Justin, age 25, homeless “I don’t have $7.  What I do and what I’d like to do is different.  It’s really demeaning for me.  I have to swallow my pride… It would be nice if there were part-time jobs for the homeless to do.”

Manuel, age 30, homeless “I have no money.  I’m just looking for work.”

“What would I have to do to get $7? Whatever it takes. I ask around for work. I do yard work.  Whatever it takes.”

Anonymous, age 40, homeless “I don’t have $7. What would I have to do to get $7?  I’d ask someone — probably have to ask several people. I don’t like to do that. I’d rather do some kind of work.

“How long would it take to get $7?  It took me one hour to get $12 to go to a Christian rock concert. I had $13, but I didn’t realize that the ticket was $25. I just told people why I needed the money and I got it right away.

“Getting money can take a dollar an hour, if you’re lucky.”

Bobby, age 41, lives in his car “I always have $7.  To get money, I go to work or to the bank. I work for a living, you know.”

J.D., age “almost 39,” homeless “Nope, I don’t have $7.  I make hacky-sacks and in four years [displaying his creation] this is the first one I’ve made.  I haven’t eaten for a while so I’m hungry.”

Ethan, age 18, homeless “I do have $7.  To get $7 I sit around and make jewelry out of bamboo and sell it.  It’s pretty much my life right now.”

Oasis, age 49, homeless “I don’t have $7.  I make a product out of scrap metal.  I take the casings of old 50 caliber bullets and 20-millimeter bullets and I make ‘peaceful pipes.’  I sell them to the public as they walk by.  I’m self-employed.”

Christiana, age 26, homeless “I don’t have $7.  I manage a band named, ‘Welcome.’  We have our first gig this Thursday at 8pm at Bar 11…  It’s $5 to get in.  We get a split of the door.”

Jay, age 25, homeless “I don’t have $7.  I’m unemployed.  In order to get $7, I’d have to get employed.”

Sandy, age 49, homeless “I have $7 now, but I may not have it by tomorrow.  I didn’t have a cent to my name yesterday.  I was starving.  I just asked people on the street for money.

“I get social security but I can’t live on that.  I was a homeowner.  I left my husband.”

Erick, age 40, homeless “I do not have $7.  The $7 itself doesn’t mean anything to me – it’s what I can buy for myself that matters.”

Lena, age 29, housed “I don’t have $7. I have $2 in my guitar case.

“To get $7, I would either clean houses or I play the guitar. Most of my income comes from cleaning other people’s houses. I stay with my husband in a motel that charges $175 a week for our room.”

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you, Christine

The Dalai Lama Comes to San Diego

Also published on the Huffington Post and the OB Rag.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet began his first official visit to San Diego on Wednesday, by offering two parts of his three-part symposium, “Compassion Without Borders: Science, Peace, Ethics” by taking part in a panel discussion entitled “The Global Impact of Climate Change” at University of California, San Diego and by giving a public talk entitled, “Cultivating Peace and Justice.”

On Thursday, the Dalai Lama completed his San Diego symposium at San Diego State University by giving the public talk entitled, “Upholding Universal Ethics and Compassion in Challenging Times.”

At the University of San Diego, President Mary E. Lyons presented the Dalai Lama with the USD Medal of Peace.

At the USD Jenny Craig Pavilion before a full house, the Dalai Lama spoke about peace, compassion and nonviolence. He asked what is the meaning of peace? Is it the absence of trouble or violence?

Answering his own question, the Dalai Lama said, “Going deeper into peace … genuine peace must come through inner peace, not through fear.” “Any action that is harmful to others or is in the long run harmful is unjust,” he shared. He explained that “the key thing” is a “warm heart of concern for others’ well being.”

He explained that scientists are beginning to learn about the value of creating an internal balance and a calm mind in helping people recover from illness faster. A calm mind, he said, is the remedy for the loss of hope and a destroyer of fear, distrust and hate.

Stating that the energy to restore our happiness is within ourselves, the Dalai Lama urged further study of the relationship of the mind with the emotions to learn about the destroyers of inner peace.

“You must develop compassion” not pity, he said. Genuine respect is a very noble form of compassion. With compassion, distrust reduces. He advised that we could have a sense of concern for other people because they are human beings just like ourselves. Further, we can respect other people even if they have taken negative actions toward us.

He stressed the value of education through which awareness can be developed, so we can get an understanding of our inner world and achieve inner peace after which justice automatically comes.

Speaking about materiality, the Dalai Lama recognized that material things can bring physical comfort, “but not mental comfort.” He gave as an example that some people have plenty of money and “still are not happy.” No matter what you’re surroundings, he said, you can keep peace of mind.

The twentieth century was a century of blood, fear and violence, said the Dalai Lama. However, he feels that the twenty-first century can be a happy century based on inner peace, “we would have a compassionate world.”

A healthy mind brings a healthy body and a healthy family and a healthy world. He asked that we all think more about these things, but “If you don’t do this, no problem, “I’m leaving the day after tomorrow. It’s your problem.”

Overall, the Dali Lama feels that “humanity is becoming more civilized, more mature.” He recommended taking care of our minds, being compassionate and living more holistically. A bad economy, he said, reminds us to invest in new things … it’s a “good lesson.”

When asked how he remains optimistic when there is so much bad in the world, the Dalai Lama responded, “It is far better to remain optimistic.” When we are optimistic, we “look for ways and means to work on. When you loose all hope, there is no ground making effort.”

Homelessness – A Test of True Compassion

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Many of us believe that we are compassionate people. But are we really? Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary formally defines “compassion” as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

In our daily lives, some people think of compassion as “love in action.” Many religions encourage us to strive to be compassionate people and admonish us to “love our neighbor.”

Summarizing these definitions, it would appear that compassion could be defined as “love in action for our neighbor in distress with a desire to alleviate it.” So, whether we are compassionate people depends upon our own attitudes and desires to help.

Personally, I believe that we are all, with the possible exception of a very few, born with compassion. Thus, for most of us, the quality of compassion is already within ourselves from birth — we need only to find and awaken our compassion. Further, as we live our lives we can choose to nurture and expand this quality, as we are encouraged by many religions, if not all, to do.

But, what about the “neighbors” for whom we have compassion? Do our neighbors have any role in our developing or exercising our compassion? It would appear, at least from the above discussion, that our neighbors do not. However, what our neighbors do, how they appear and what we expect from them may influence how easy it is for us to exercise and develop our compassion.

The easiest example of this is the whole topic of babies. It has been said that babies are born adorable and loveable, at least to their parents, so that their parents will take care of them regardless of how much work is involved. And most of us know and expect that there is a tremendous amount of work involved in caring for a baby.

Then we have the examples of children and adults with special needs who cannot take care of themselves and must rely on the compassionate treatment from others. Their caretakers know and expect that their jobs will be challenging and yet, ultimately rewarding.

There are also those people among us who have suffered a personal or family loss. These losses can be traumatic events affecting people’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Included within the losses that people can suffer is the loss of everything people once possessed. For most people becoming homeless can be a traumatic event.

For whatever the cause, homeless people have suffered the loss of what most of us consider our human basic needs — they have lost their personal shelter, their expectation of having food on a regular basis and most of their clothing.

Whether homeless people are sheltered or unsheltered, they have, for whatever length of time, lost their personal experiences of having their own homes. When people lose their experiences of having their own homes, they may also lose their hope for having their own homes again.

Even their feelings of self-worth may be negatively affected by the trauma they experience as a result of their homelessness. For example, a homeless friend of mine recently said, “No matter what you say or how you treat me, I know that I’m at the bottom of the food chain.”

As with any of our responses to traumatic events, the hopefulness experienced by homeless people by virtue of becoming homeless may be expressed physically, mentally and/or emotionally. The results of the traumatic event of becoming homeless may also be expressed by some homeless people through the misuse of substances, including cigarettes.

In addition, because we as a society have provided few public bathrooms, showers and even fewer public laundries, many homeless people may not have access to facilities where they can perform acts of basic hygiene. The results are obvious — homeless people often appear disheveled.

Finally, we housed people often expect homeless people to “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps” and become housed again. Please see my article, Homelessness Myth #15: “Just Pull Yourself Up By Your Own Bootstraps,” in this regard.

Because many homeless people are and remain unhoused, our expectations of them to become housed, among other things, are not met.

It is basic human nature that when people do not meet our expectations of them, we may become disappointed and/or resentful. Without greater understanding of ourselves and others, we are unlikely to extend compassion to those whom we feel have failed to live up to our own expectations, who have disappointed us or to whom we feel resentful. Hence, we housed people with unreasonable expectations for homeless people may feel disappointed or resentful of them because they have failed to live up to our unreasonable expectations.

It is because of what homeless people do, how they appear and what we expect from them, that we may find it challenging to have compassion for them.

However, “our neighbors” includes everyone. Therefore, I believe that the test of true compassion is whether we can care for all of our neighbors, including our homeless neighbors whom we may find the most challenging to help.

We All Count

Also published on The Huffington Post.

At 4 a.m. on Friday morning, January 27th, hundreds of volunteers left deployment centers throughout San Diego County to count homeless people. Called, “We All Count,” this annual enumeration of homeless people in the county is run by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

Beginning in 2005, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has mandated that, agencies receiving HUD funding needed to count the homeless people in their cities on a bi-annual basis. One of the goals of this point in time count is to provide a snap shot of homelessness during the last week of January every two years.  The results of this count are used to justify the funds being sent to the recipient agencies to help homeless people within their cities.

A homeless friend and I were two of these enumerators. We drove up and down designated streets and alleys of Ocean Beach, San Diego, counting homeless individuals and vehicles potentially housing individuals. The third category we could have counted were “hand-built structures,” but we did not see any during our drive.

During our over two-hour drive in Ocean Beach, we counted over 60 homeless individuals and 100 vehicles which were potentially housing individuals.

Although the count may sound very dry to some of us, I was touched by a number of things we saw. For example, in one alley, we saw a carport where four homeless individuals were sleeping a person-apart from each other. They were sleeping on the cement with apparently no ground cover and no blankets.

Currently, volunteers, including myself and my homeless friend, are conducting surveys of homeless people on behalf of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. These surveys are intended to ask those people who were homeless on the same morning as the count specific questions eliciting personal information about them, questions about what are their sources of support and questions about why they are homeless. In return for answering the over 100 questions presented to them, the homeless person receives a $10 gift card to Subway. All surveys are intended to be completed with days of the count.

Homelessness is a reality that is challenging for me to fathom, especially seeing homelessness close-up, here in America, the land of plenty.

Johanna Argoud… In Her Own Words

Also published on The Huffington Post.

CS:  On July 14, 2011, your partner, Larry Dean Milligan, champion of homeless people, passed.  You seem content despite your loss.

JA:  Yes, you could say that. I feel that his life is such a gift to me. And despite the physical separation from Lar, I don’t have the feeling of being without him, unless I choose to. I can always have that joy of being with Lar, a feeling of being even closer than in our physical life together, if I so choose.

CS:  Can you share something about your life?

JA:  Of course. I am sharing this because Lar and I are part of the oneness that includes the reader and all of humanity.

On April 26, 1932, I was born in Sharpsville, PA. When I was three years old, my parents and I moved to Germany. I had a wonderful childhood in the small town of Stockach. My friends and I  would go into the forest to pick berries. We would make visits to the Catholic Church, roller skate in the streets and toboggan in the snow.

I was brought up Catholic and enjoyed reading the stories of the saints, especially the martyrs.  I admired their courage and that they gave their lives for God. I asked myself whether I would have the courage to give my life for God.

In the Spring of 1953, I married my husband, George Argoud, in San Diego, California. Together, we had five children. I worked so my husband could go to medical school in Switzerland. In one of my jobs, I worked as a secretary for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. After my husband graduated, we came back to the United States where he practiced medicine.

When George and I divorced in 1982, I felt that I had fallen into a deep hole. I just couldn’t get out.  I thought my life was falling apart. My marriage… five kids. I asked, “What is the purpose of life?  Who am I? Where Did I come from?”

I found refuge in meditation. I had a room built in the back of my home to be a meditation place and my meditation group met there. One day my meditation group discussed doing something to help homeless people in San Diego.

I just felt that was for me. So, I put a small ad in the San Diego paper that read, “San Diegans Help the Homeless” with my telephone number.

There was just one call as a result of my ad. The caller said that if I wanted to do anything to help homeless people that I should call Larry Milligan and he gave me Lar’s number.
I called the number, spoke to Lar and agreed to meet him the next day at the local bookstore.  I told Lar that I could only be interested in helping homeless people if we regarded them with the greatest respect because as Jesus said, “What you do the least of them, you do to me.”

Before we parted, Lar said to me, “I’m ready for a relationship.”

I said, “Only a spiritual one.”

He didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem to stop him.

So I began going to the weekly meetings where Lar and homeless people met. I could see that Lar was a leader who asked everyone to participate in the meeting equally. However, he did not put himself on a pedestal — that impressed me.

For over 10 years, Lar and I served food twice a week to homeless people in Balboa Park and also at the Lutheran Church. Later on other people joined us in this effort. Lar conducted hunger strikes and we had peaceful demonstrations to bring attention to the issues of homelessness.

One of our major concerns was the criminalization of the act of sleeping in public because there was not enough room in the shelters for every homeless person in San Diego. As a result of our efforts, the case of Spencer v. City of San Diego was filed in 2004. When the case settled in 2007, homeless people could sleep on public property at night without being subject to fine or arrest.

[In November 2010, the settlement agreement in Spencer v. City of San Diego was modified so that a homeless person can be fined or arrested if a police officer offers his or her an available shelter bed within five miles and he or she chooses to decline the bed.]

Because of our activities to help homeless people, Lar and I had numerous encounters and a wide variety of relationships with individuals and groups at the national and local levels, including City authorities, the police and the press.

On September 8, 2009, Lar was the recipient of a lung transplant. For the next three and a half weeks, Lar was in a coma. While I was grateful that he was alive, I took refuge in finding that space where I could feel at one with him.

When Lar awoke from his coma, he told me that no matter how much he loved me, he hadn’t wanted to come back from that place that was so peaceful and absolutely beyond description.

He said, “I hope you’re not angry with me.”

I told him, “Of course not, no one would want to come back from there.”

About two years after his surgery, Lar became seriously ill with pneumonia. One day he said to me, “I want to be with you in eternity.”

I said, “I will always be with you.”

I experienced an indescribable feeling of communion.

When Lar passed, somehow I had the sense to take refuge in that place where we had been as one in our meditation. And somehow his passing was not real to me because in that space he was one with me.

Now when thoughts come to me about him, I come to a place we enjoyed together. When I read his poetry or I listen to the songs he loved, I never fail to take refuge to be with him in that space.  I marvel and it never ceases to amaze me that I am so much a part of him and he a part of me in that oneness. All the years of meditation had given me that space.

In 2005, Lar wrote Love Poem to Joanna to me. I share part of it with you now.

I’m just right here. In thoughts of life Never to be changed. Thinking of the times we gave Serving each other. No, love can never be rearranged And someday death will sweetly come.

Homelessness Myth #21: They’re All Happy-Go-Lucky

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Some housed people believe that homeless people don’t have a care in the world. They think that because many homeless people don’t appear to work, that life on the streets is carefree. Truly, nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that homeless people have extremely challenging lives for a host of reasons, some obvious, some not so obvious. Sometimes, many times, these challenges, be they physical, mental and/or spiritual, feel overwhelming to homeless people. Without resources to get help, many homeless people succumb to the pressure of these challenges and are anything but “happy-go-lucky.”

However, this myth is, perhaps unwittingly, perpetuated even by highly educated and presumably kind-hearted individuals. Take for example, these sentences:

“In my experience, the more people have, the less likely they are to be contented. Indeed there is abundant evidence that depression is a ‘disease of affluence.’”

When I read these sentences in the excerpt, “Don’t Let Chaos Get You Down” in Newsweek double issue, November 7 & 14, 2011 page 9 from Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book, Spontaneous Happiness, I thought, “Really?”

I immediately felt compelled to go out and buy the book. But not for the reason you may think. I just had to learn whether the excerpt accurately reflected what Dr. Weil intended to say in his book or whether these sentences were somehow taken out of context.

In my experience, homeless people have very few material possessions and are not content. In fact, I have found that many homeless people suffer greatly from depression. In the words of a homeless friend of mine, “All homeless people are depressed.”

I found Spontaneous Happiness to be quite interesting. It contains helpful definitions of terms, historical references about the evolution of psychology particularly as it has dealt with emotional health and depression and quotes from professionals in the field of mental health. I learned a lot from reading this book.

In Chapter 8 of the book, Dr. Weil presents his program to help people attain “optimum emotional well-being.” In his introduction to this program, Dr. Weil writes, “Feel free to proceed through the program at your own pace, taking as much time as you need with the assignments…[I]n my experience, it takes at least eight weeks to realize the effects of lifestyle changes on health, both physical and emotional.”

However, throughout the read, I kept asking myself, but what about people who are homeless? These people have little or nothing. Presumably, they can’t even afford the book. How can they deal with depression?

Truly, I don’t intend to put Dr. Weil or his fine book down. I’ve even recommended his book to one of my friends to whom I thought the book might be of interest. It’s just that I believe that the book was intended to be purchased, read and utilized by affluent people, at least by people affluent enough to be able to afford the book.

But what about unhoused people? Where are the books written specifically for them to help them meet their need to overcome depression? And how can they afford these books? And would eight weeks be sufficient to help them achieve “optimum emotional well-being?”

I don’t know the answers to these questions. There may be pamphlets on depression available at low-cost and/or free health clinics, but books? If there are such books, how many of them are available at a price that homeless people can afford? In other words, are these books available to homeless people for low-cost or free? And how would homeless people find these books?

Of course, I am presuming that some, many or all homeless people want books to help them overcome their depression. I believe that generally few people want to stay in pain. Further, it is my understanding that depression can be very painful.

If books can present tools to help housed people alleviate their depression, why can’t books help unhoused people alleviate their depression? Therefore, I believe that some, many or all depressed homeless people would benefit from and want books to help them overcome their depression.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have books that could help all people suffering from depression, not just affluent people?

Dr. Weil, can we talk?

Unsung Hero, Sally Dunn, M.S., LMFT

“Have you met Sally… Sally Dunn?  You’ve got to meet her.  Sally’s amazing,” said Ed.

“Yeah, she’s helping so many of us homeless people living in the riverbed that we call her, ‘Saint Sally,’” chimed in his pal, Lane.

I was immediately intrigued by the enthusiastic heart-felt respect that my homeless clients felt for Sally Dunn, licensed mental health clinician for the San Diego County Homeless Team.  In the world of homelessness, relationships built on trust and respect are few and far between. Yet, often these relationships are vital for homeless people’s recoveries.  When homeless people trust service providers, they can make real progress quickly.  When their respect is reciprocated, they usually know it.

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I was delighted to met Sally Dunn, the woman who was providing such invaluable assistance to people living outside and in shelters.  I felt and feel that there are not enough superlatives to describe Sally and her work.  However, I can say unequivocally that Sally’s clients are sincerely grateful for the help she gives them. They trust her and feel that their respect is reciprocated. They genuinely love “Saint Sally.”

Born July 14, 1956, in Rangely Colorado, Sally and her family moved to Palo Alto, California when she was just six months old.  Her father had just gotten out of the Navy and had become an aerospace engineer. Her mother was one of the first female stockbrokers and wanted Sally to follow in her footsteps.  Eventually, Sally chose quite a different career path from those chosen by her parents.

After graduating from high school in Coronado in 1974, she attended one year at Oregon State University where she played volleyball. She continued her participation in volleyball during her second year of college at the College of San Mateo (CSM).  It was at CSM, that Sally became so inspired by her psychology professor, who happened to be a quadriplegic, that she became a psychology major.

Her remaining years of college were spent at San Diego State University (SDSU) from which she graduated in 1979. Later, Sally received her master’s degree in psychology from Texas A & M.

At twenty years old, Sally had her first job in the mental health field when she worked in a locked psych ward — a challenging job because there were so few medications available that could help the mentally ill patients.  Married in 1983 to a Navy pilot, Sally moved with her husband to Guam where she worked in special education.  Upon their return to the San Francisco Bay Area, Sally became employed with child protective services.

Sally has three adult children: her eldest son is a Japanese major at SDSU;  her second son lives in Idaho near his father’s family; and her daughter is a physics and math major at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD).

For the past twelve years, Sally has provided counseling and support to thousands of homeless people in the County of San Diego.  I once asked Sally exactly how many clients did she have?

“Well in response to your question,” she replied, “I can only tell you how much geography is involved — an area larger than downtown San Diego. I used to supervise a team of seven people, but due to cut-backs, I’m now the only San Diego County mental health clinician for all of the homeless people living in this area.”

Besides being a natural beauty, Sally is brilliant, knowledgeable and extremely practical.  She helps homeless people match their needs and goals with existing opportunities and services.  Sally continues her relationship with her clients, supporting them through their initial referrals and guiding their next steps to achieve self-sufficiency.

In addition, Sally facilitates group sessions.  Her clients find her assistance invaluable as can be seen by the following comments.

Henry, one of Sally’s clients, says, “Sally’s great.  She’s great.  Astounding. I’ve been with Sally for three years.  When you deal with Sally once a week, it takes away the urge to use drugs.  I know to keep sober and straight.  I couldn’t face her if I messed up.  You don’t want to see Sally if you mess up.  I’m afraid to mess up because I know I have to see her.

“She’s my good friend.  I love her.”

Linda, another client of Sally, shares, “She’s done a whole lot for me.  Sally’s opened up a new world.  She’s always positive.  We just connect.  Our group is wonderful.  She knows her stuff.  I don’t like phonies.  Sally knows where it’s at.  She tells it like it is… She’s the best counselor I’ve ever had.  Sally talks from the heart.”

Sally is also much admired by her fellow professionals as shown in the following examples.

Kelley J. Gebbie, Resource Specialist, Rachel’s Women Center,
Homeless Women’s Services for Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego, relates,

Sally has never failed to come to the table with her vast knowledge of mental illness in the homeless. Her passion is readily shown when she finds a much-needed bed for those that have [nothing], either financially or physically. Sally has gone out of her way to find the right solution for someone. That solution could be weeks away, yet she continues to find it.An example of this came about when a mentally ill participant needed help. When the police were not the answer, she responded with a courier to transport this woman to a much-needed mental health facility. There was follow up when she walked away, never forgetting that this woman was in need. The saying, “no one left behind” finds itself on Sally’s shoulders often. She continues to help those that cannot help themselves who find their way to her doorstep.

 

Lucky Michael, Caseworker, Rachel’s Women’s Center, Homeless Women’s Services for Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego, says,

Once in a while we get to meet people who make an art out of service.  At Rachel’s Center, Sally is an artist. 

Sally comes in as the statuesque blond wheeling her black briefcase with a world of information. All the women know who she is and know that they will receive a valuable answer even if it’s not a permanent solution, at minimum it’s a safety plan.

I have so much respect for Sally.  [T]o me she is more than a social worker but a leader and mentor. Sally is Picasso in her ability to think outside the box and Rembrandt paying close attention to details. The canvas is painted with pain and in the picture is a group of women validated, not necessarily healed but definitely heard.

We love Sally and our program wouldn’t be what it is without her valuable art!

 

Sally’s colleagues recognize her ongoing efforts to help people in need.  Homeless people trust and know that Sally will do her best to help them.  In the words of her client Susan, “Sally has helped me perform miracles.  She’s an angel!”

Homelessness Myth #9: It Will Never End

Also published on The Huffington Post

Many people feel that homelessness will never end.  They believe that homelessness is just too big a problem to solve.  Because of this belief, some people become paralyzed, unable or unwilling to see any resolution to the pain caused by homelessness for millions of families and individuals.

I firmly believe that homelessness can be solved.  We created homelessness by cutting programs without providing programs that kept people housed.  As more and more people became homeless, we ignored the issues of homelessness and the situation grew more dire.  Finally, the foreclosure crisis continues to create homeless families in record numbers.

I suggest that we use the expression that is often used when speaking about resolving the enormous issue of global warming, “think globally and act locally,” to encourage local solutions to the national issue of homelessness.

Fortunately, I am not alone in my belief that homelessness can end.  In fact, there are programs in existence today that are actually helping to solve homelessness.  But, perhaps these programs are just not well known.  So, in an effort to offer tangible proof that homelessness can be solved, I like to highlight local programs, including North County Solutions for Change, which I feel are actually successfully helping to end homelessness.

Located in Vista, California, North County Solutions for Change, http://www.solutionsforchange.org, is an innovative program, created by Chris and Tammy Megison, which offers a permanent solution for family homelessness.  My friend, Hannah Cohen, a policy consultant on issues of housing and homelessness, suggested that I visit North County Solutions for Change and she was kind enough to arrange a meeting for me with Chris Megison, President and Executive Director.  The bottom line — I am very grateful to Hannah for the recommendation and very grateful to Chris and Tammy for developing their successful program.

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8H2fOcgFbs&feature=player_embedded

The concept of North County Solutions for Change is that of The Solutions University which consists of three clusters of housing with educational programs, employment preparation and health solutions: Solutions Intake and Access Center (IAC), the Solutions Family Center (SFC) and New Solutions (permanent housing units).  Solutions University utilizes the efforts of the participants themselves and the support of program coaches over a period of 500 days on campus and 500 days off campus to solve family homelessness.

The IAC has 14 semi-private dorm room styles units for families for which the families pay 30 percent of their income for rent.  The goal of IAC is “to provide immediate housing, support and comprehensive assessment for Solutions University applicants awaiting the move into the main on-campus Solutions Family Center.” http://www.solutionsforchange.org/campus/ The IAC is designed for three month or less stays, but due to the affordable housing crisis, families are spending more time in IAC than originally intended.

However, North County Solutions for Change has a new community initiative, Finding Our Way Home, through which it plans to acquire more affordable homes so that families can move off campus and into this permanent housing and families in the IAC can move onto the SFC on Solutions University campus.

Situated on two acres of land, SFC has 32 fully furnished apartment units, with full kitchens shared by each pair of apartment units, within four buildings in a campus style setting.  Families pay 30 percent of their income for rent and can stay for 500 days.  10 percent of all rent is returned to the families when they complete the SFC program and move into permanent housing at New Solutions.  A fifth building is a 7,600 sq. ft support center with educational, work training and baby-sitting spaces.  A staff of trained coaches encourage and support the residents.

New Solutions is comprised of permanent affordable housing for families who have completed the 500 days on the Solutions campus.  Currently, North County Solutions for Change has nineteen housing units where families can stay for 500 days with Solutions University services and then continue to live in those homes on a permanent basis.  However, through their new community initiative, Finding Our Way Home, North County Solutions for Change hopes to acquire 70-100 new permanent affordable housing units.

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQkoDZpzL7U&feature=player_embedded

Chris explained to me that he believes that no nonprofit or government agency can solve homelessness alone, but that it takes every part of our community to work together to end homelessness.  In my opinion, Chris and Tammy have created a program that the whole community should support because North County Solutions truly helps people transition from homelessness to permanent housing.  Further, I believe that North County Solutions for Change needs to be replicated so that homeless families in other communities can end their homelessness.

Please note that Chris invites everyone to learn about the Finding Our Way Home campaign by joining the Live Webcast details of which Chris sets forth as follows:

“After working on this for over a year, Solutions for Change will launch a massive communitywide initiative in less than a week. Called Finding Our Way Home, the 1000 day campaign will officially get underway on April 22, 2010 at a community leadership breakfast event. You may join in this special event though a LIVE Webcast, available to Solutions for Change Facebook Fans here: http://www.facebook.com/solutionsforchange (you must sign up). Solutions has assembled some impressive people to lead the charge; the CEO of Taylor Made-addidas Golf, Mark King will lead the team. He, along with CEO Bumble Bee Foods Chris Lischewski and several other top executives and elected officials from around the region have rolled up their sleeves to prove that yes indeed, the impacts of homelessness on our neighbors and on our community, has met its match. It can in your community too.”

Homelessness is solvable.  North County Solutions for Change is proof.