Saturday, January 13, 2007

cold and bright

Firstly, I apologize for not being around so much in the last few days. I've been pulled into a bit of a crisis, and have had to pull several long nights.

It's uncommonly cold in the Bay Area this week (yes, yes, yes, we are total sissies) but the problem is approximately 3,000 people are unhoused on any given night and when the temperatures drop below freezing, people who usually sleep outside will die.

Our goal is always to house any person in need - but occupancy limits and bureaucracy can cramp our style - so we were able to get some of those restrictions lifted and by creative use of blankets and floor space have been able to allow for an increased number of beds.

Problem, though - is that everyone starts paying attention. Homeless in cold weather = bad. Homeless rest of the year = look the other direction. And I really, really struggle with bureaucracy. I. really. struggle. Hours spent in roundtable meetings with state and local officials debating messaging and trying to wrap their arms around (messaging) a problem for five days that OCCURS ALL YEAR ROUND makes me a bit batty. Let's just say I've mastered a poker face over the years.

So I've spent a few nights at our various shelters this week and had an opportunity to see some old friends; guys who have been in and out and around, which makes me happy and sad at the same time.

While I was hanging around last night, I got to witness some extremely touching moments. Homelessness is far from glamorous, but if you look between the cracks and take a moment to listen, the bright lights shine through.

I watched a very tough and streetwise staff member bring a plate of food to an extremely mentally ill woman who'd been rolling in and out of our system for years. She always takes the same position - sitting in the corner doubled over holding a doll. I've seen her in that position on street corners and shelter floors more often than I can count. So this lovely man walks over with her plate of food, sits down next to her, and puts her food next to her. Without lifting her head she mumbled something and handed him her doll. I about lost it when I watched him take that doll in his arms as if it were a baby, cuddle it against his chest, and told her that he'd be happy to hold her baby while she ate her dinner. And he did, the entire time.

Bright spots, indeed.

So I may not be around too much this weekend - I am on call and spending more time at the shelters tonight...but I promise to be back soon. In the meantime, wish me luck. I am weary and cranky and could certainly use it.


QT said...

You are a rock, woman. I truly am amazed by you.

Keep sweet thoughts of El Salvadorean beaches in your head - it's not too far off now.

Penny said...

"I about lost it when I watched him take that doll in his arms as if it were a baby, cuddle it against his chest, and told her that he'd be happy to hold her baby while she ate her dinner. And he did, the entire time."

Made me cry.

Thirteen years ago, I used to serve a paranoid schitzophrenic coffee every morning. He never spoke to me. He always stood a meter from the counter and glared. I always gave him coffee and smiles and wondered if he'd ever trust me. Two years later, I was pregnant and when I was about eight months and showing, he came in one day and walked right up to the counter, smiling and beaming, "You're going to have a baby?" I said I was. He smiled and walked away.

Some people live in a slightly different reality and some people just communicate on a different plane. The fact that that worker knew that his care for her 'baby' would ease this 'mother's' meal, and that he knew it was real for her and that he treated her like an equal in this manner, absolutely touched me.

Why can't we all see past ourselves.

We have the same problem, where I live - 8 months of winter, with two weeks of deep freeze at some point, where invariably someone (if not a few) will die due to exposure.

I am not on a board or involved in any legitimate way, which makes it hard to explain to the people in who I am and why I am disrupting their dinners.

For those of you reading who aren't sure what to do to help - knock on doors during dinner time. A sure way to get an extra blanket is to remind people while they are warm and enjoying their blessings that many are not. And, ask for a couple of dollars to buy mittens. Some won't give and some will. The local department stores have all their winter attire on sale for 70% off at this time of year - I bought ten pairs of Thinsulate gloves for two dollars each. Had they been regularly priced, I would have paid one hundred for the lot, which I could not have done.

One night in the cold, asking for change and blankets will help the homeless and teach you a lot about human nature, the human spirit, their plight and about survival.

It's not much on my own, but it's what I can do right now, in my area, with a car and a will.

I would encourage agencies to ask retailers for some sort of bargain buy-out of their end of year stock or encourage students at local universities or colleges to do a blanket and coat round up.

However.. I can see that in California - it may be a bit harder to find a winter parka.

That's my two cents and the only suggestion that I can come up with. Maybe I'll post on Oee and I collecting blankets after the weekend.

I love what you do, Jen. Advocacy is of extreme importance in our world. You are a mother and blessing to so many. God Keep You.

mamatulip said...

Wishing you luck, thinking of you and saying thanks that there are people out there like you, that inspire me.

Oh, The Joys said...

You're fighting the good fight.

I bet you know this Kevin. I do.

Iris said...


I was sent here by a blog I might enjoy reading. She sure was right.

The story about the man holding that woman's doll while she ate....amazing. It made me tear up. I am an RN, we have our share of Psych patients, but I am not a psych nurse and my tolerance is somewhat limited. This story I think has given me something to take back with me. A little more tolerance. Thank you.

meno said...

It's unusually cold here too. And yes we too are wusses, but there has been a lot in the news about housing homeless people.
I heard one person interviewed on the news state that he didn't care if they died, it was their fault they were out in the cold.

That made me cry, but with anger. thanks for another side to the news.

ewe are here said...

Wintertime and homelessness is the worst combination. The horror stories... I'm sorry you're having such a hard time with placements.

On a side note, the link I sent you re the French homeless tent-protesters succeeded! The French government is going to guarantee the right to housing... and the tent protests are spreading to other European countries as a result. Something to think about? I don't know...

Deezee said...

simply put, you have a strength and dedication that I admire.

Anonymous said...

I wish you luck and thank you for that lovely story. It's nice to know there is real kindness in the world and it does make a difference, one person at a time.

Mrs. Chicken said...

Oh, this made me sad. And ashamed that I don't do more to help. I'll be mulling that over for some time to come.

I hope all goes well and that the cold breaks so you can get some rest.

Tabba said...

How absolutely touching of that staff member. "Bright Spot Indeed". Big ball of sunshine.

Jen, I am sending you a peaceful bubble tonight. I just blew it into the air & it will, hopefully land near you, pop on your sleeve and spread my good thoughts and love all over you and all of those you take care of this weekend.

KC said...

You have so many things to keep you warm, sister.

I'll be working too.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Sending you warm thoughts on this cold weekend.

Her Bad Mother said...

That was gorgeous. YOU'RE gorgeous. Beautiful of soul.

Naomi (Urban Mummy) said...

Wow. Such a beautiful story. You are doing beautiful things.

urban-urchin said...

Jen, I am amazed by you and others like you. The story of the staff member and the doll made me cry.

Thanks again for taking care of the 'forgotten'- God bless you.

Thailand Gal said...

It's all been said.. by me and others. Make sure your own energy stores are kept up as well.



flutter said...

I am holding you, in spirit. You are a bright spot.

Laurie said...

There is hope of a better tomorrow because of you and others like you. Wishing you the best of luck.

scribbit said...

Cold? No I believe it, Candlestick park is the coldest spot on the entire west coast I believe. It's true.

Z said...

Darling Jen, and you found time for a kind word to me too. You are the loveliest woman.

Joker The Lurcher said...

you are fantastic. take care of yourself.

acumamakiki said...

This is a beautiful and hopeful post. Take care of yourself dear Jen. I appreciate so much you coming by and giving me some love, even when you're so busy.
I admire you girlfriend and hope that you'll let blogging worlds collide when we come to your neck of the woods this April.

You inspire me to be a more caring and thoughtful woman.

Hel said...

Your mail is beautiful. I'm going outside right now where I will stand under a tree, close my eyes, open my heart and send you some of our African sunshine.

Susanne said...

Thanks for your post. I wish you all the best, and, like all the others said, take care of yourself too.

radioactive girl said...

You really are inspiring to me. I love your attitude about things!

ecm said...

I hear you on the bureaucracy...sometimes you wonder how anything gets done. May warmer weather and better answers flow your way.

Deb said...

Aw crap Jen, you did it again.

Thank you for keeping us all on our toes and not letting us forget for one second.

I love you

crazymumma said...

He cradled her 'baby'....I wonder what this woman lost so many years ago?

that was beautiful to read. Truly really.