Monday, December 13, 2010

Waiting for the Great Light

I confess to recently thinking about hunkering down and waiting for that eternal force to come bolting through the sky to make all things right. Me, the stout-of-heart, confessing to wanting a bolt of lightning...that's how crazy things have gotten....

In my 60 years, with the last 25 in service to my "homies," more respectfully referred to as homeless sisters and brothers, I'd never thought I'd long for what we considered, at the time, to be varying forms of Armageddon--the days of Ronald Reagan, George I, Bill Clinton, and, gasp, even Little George, the shrub.

With the speed of light, vengeance, hatred and doom seem to be hitting the weakest among us. Emboldened lawmakers, many proclaiming Christianity, are figuring out how to make the rich richer and the desperately poor more miserable. I'm afraid we ain't seen nothing yet.
But my faint hope lies in the fact that December 21st is right around the corner. The longest night of the year, my favorite holiday. It means things will start getting brighter. The days will inch their way into brightness, indiscernible at first.

My threads of belief center on the innate goodness of humankind, despite some peoples' efforts to convey other traits. Everywhere I go I see good, although sometimes not in quantities I deem sufficient to overcome the evil. But I always set my expectations high. Congress managed to pass a resolution commemorating this 10th anniversary of NHPMD. Woo hoo! At least it's something.

Knowing as I do that the bright light from the sky theory is probably not going to happen, I'm asking all like-minded people to join me in sprinkling the stardust of light that comes from lots of little goodnesses shared. If we all make a conscious effort, or increase our current effort (if we think we've been doing it before) to touch our sisters and brothers around us with kindness, maybe we'll overpower the rampant greed and meanness that we see.

December 21st is National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. I find myself doing a mental roll call of folks I've know--adults and children--who have died, homeless or with homelessness behind them. Whatever foibles they had (and don't we all?), their lives were gifts to those of us who knew them. Some died alone except for their shelter "family." Some had reconnected with their families. The sincere reflections from fellow homies at these memorials would surprise many unfamiliar with life on the streets. (If you're interested in this, or other homelessness issues, check out my book, "Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness.")

Seems to me our best bet is to count on our homies--living and dead--to generate the flow of good energy that will swirl around the earth, generating the unmistakable power of goodness. We need it now more than ever. Amen!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Drip, Drip, Drip

40 gallons. That's how much water I can carry in my home/office motor home I call "Tillie." It's not one of those luxury RVs but it's more than adequate for me. And it gives me a "closer to the ground" nomadic way of life, appropriate for my work under the auspices of HEAR US Inc., my nonprofit.--chronicling lives of homeless families and teens.
I'm like most--taking water for granted--until I started my roaming. I faced a steep learning curve: how much water do I use? How often can I get to some place to re-fill? How do I economize, without stinking and piling up dirty dishes? Do I have enough for a shower? Is it going to dip below freezing? If I'm careful, that 40 gallons can last the week.

I became a bit squeamish. Dumping my waste tanks then filling up with the hose right next to the sewer--um, am I confident of the integrity of this arrangement? No. I decided my drinking water would best come from the filtered water dispensers that cost me between 20-49 cents a gallon, adding a gallon a day to my consumption.

Choices. Despite my unconventional lifestyle, with relatively modest financial resources, I am able to acquire the water I need to not only survive, but thrive. With a little planning and a lot of luck, I can get water.

Without resources, that privilege doesn't exist.

Substandard trailers I've visited are hooked to who-knows-what for water sources. Trailer park owners may or may not care. Stories of tainted water supplies and poisoned aquifers dribble through news cycles unnoticed. Some places I've seen people have to haul all their water. Some families living in vans need to scavenge water and find places to clean up as a regular part of their routine, along with getting the "bum's rush" by restaurant owners not fond of sharing H2O. And most impoverished families end up drinking high fructose laden soft drinks, lured to their "value" by compelling advertising, forsaking water, which likely contains toxins.

My Navy-short hot shower, with the slow-flowing stream, makes me smile, usually. I try to think about water-challenged people, how they'd be happy for a trickle for a shower, especially if it was hot. My patience can sometimes be tested by the slow-to-fill water tank, but I put on my head-brake, remembering that I have access to water. My slug of filtered water from my hopefully safe stainless steel bottle can often give me pause--gratitude for the gift of refreshing water.

Water experts will figure out the wisest way to ensure the world's water use is adequate for now and the future. We need to do our part--and for me, I'm learning to be patient with, and aware of, each drop that comes my way.

Seems to me that it's time to protect our precious resources. The first step for all of us is to realize that we share this finite resource with our sisters and brothers across the land.|Start Petition

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Can't Help but Wonder...

Five years is a long time. I know I've changed in the past 5 years. I also know I couldn't have imagined my life as it is now 5 years ago.

For the past 5 years, I've been trekking on mostly backroads of America trying my best to do the HEAR US mission, "give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth." That may sound obscure to the unknowing, but for me it means a quest to figure out how to prick America's conscience about the rapidly increasing numbers of homeless kids on our streets.

Lest you think it's about numbers, think again. One deliberate tool I have is a picture each of the kids I interviewed in my first year traveling. I spoke with 75 kids from little towns, rural areas, resort communities and ordinary cities. The one thing these kids had in common was they experienced homelessness. Some were still homeless.

I filmed these interviews, compiling them on a DVD called "My Own Four Walls," I've shown this film hundreds of times to thousands of people since then. We've sold thousands of copies. The one thing I know for sure, no matter who is in the audience, they can't help but be blown away by what these kids say.

I didn't spend much time with each kid. I haven't kept in contact with all of them. But they continue to travel with me--ensconced on a "class picture" type poster on Tillie's back window, with a (hopefully) shocking message that over 1.5 million kids are homeless. We're finding that this guesstimate is probably way low, since schools have identified almost a million homeless children and youth (2008-09 data).

Seeing pix of these kids, listening to their wisdom in MOFW, hearing from some of them on my HEAR US Facebook page, or keeping in touch by occasional phone calls and emails, I continue to wonder how they are doing. Are things improving? Did they fall deeper into the ever-expanding abyss of homelessness? Do people in power care about them? Are people around them doing all they can to improve these courageous kids' opportunities for success?

Here's a simple act you can do to help make sure homeless kids get an education:
Petitions by|Start a Petition »

This fascinating site shows celebrities who experienced homelessness. Besides their own bootstraps, they likely had people that helped them along the way. I wonder where they would have been without that? I wonder how much they are willing to lend a hand now?

Seems to me that we pay far too much attention to today's celebrities and far too little attention to those who matter most--the hope of our future. The stars of My Own Four Walls, wherever they are, are my inspiration to continue my quest.

Picture credit: Julianna Martinez

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bloomin' Comparision Makes Sense to Me

The rain, about 3 hours worth, combined with oddly cool temps for the last day of July (low 70s), provided the ideal moment to attack the looming and surging problem--weeds in the butterfly garden.

Since Helen commandeered (albeit with a limited budget) this lovely previously rock-strewn underutilized space and shaped it (with help from me and others) into a perennial garden with potential, the weeds have tried to dominate. Today was the showdown!

Yesterday, proficient gardener Jeanne joined us for a tour of the space, identifying problem weeds and figuring out what looked like weeds but were not. That was helpful. Today all the stars were in alignment for this concerted attack.

Armed with a big plastic bag to capture the seedy-weeds, sharp clippers to prune and trim, and dressed for this grungy task, Helen and I plunged in. No weed was safe. The tough ones, thistles and other deep-rooted buggers, I carefully tried to extract from the pliable ground. Sometimes I got them out with root intact, sometimes not. Rats. That means they'll be back, probably by tomorrow, incorrigible varmints that they are. The little weed-wanna-be's were removed before they knew they hit the ground.

Helen and I made great progress, ridding the space of unwanted and invasive weeds, moving a few plants, and then hitting a greenhouse sale to get a few more plants to fill in.

Nothing exciting. Just a lot of dirty work motivated by the desire to attract butterflies and to provide folks around Villa St. Benedict and Sacred Heart Monastery a pleasant place to enjoy.

Weeding gives one time to think. I got to speculating about how our task at hand paralleled the nation's approach to homelessness. NO! I'm not comparing homeless people to weeds. I'm looking at weeds as the issues, problems, and challenges that jeopardize the existence of vulnerable wild flowers and other perennials (people who end up homeless).

Our nation's approach, since we've begun seriously neglecting this human "garden" back in the early 80s (read this short but informative report's history of modern homelessness), has allowed weeds to take over. Discarding mentally ill patients onto the streets, inadequate addiction services, deteriorating housing and  severe cutbacks in new affordable housing, half-assed approaches to dealing with homelessness, pervasive and unaddressed poverty--all of that and more contributed to abuse and neglect of our nation's "garden" that left us with the mess we have now.

Not properly identifying weeds, like HUD's documented failure to truly define homelessness (read this vindicating report by the GAO), spreading rumors about the "danger" of working in the garden/on the streets, inadequate tools--support system, insufficient resources--funding for housing and services to keep people in housing, diminished systemic approaches to prevent more weeds/homelessness--a judicial system run amok when dealing with people in poverty, and a perceived lack of interest in gardening--growing disregard for people in poverty or folks with disabilities--all of this and more combined to cause our nation's garden to seriously deteriorate.

Can we restore this treasured "place" in our land? Can we put together resources, workers, and determination to plunge in to comprehensively and holistically create an environment in this country that reduces the number of homeless families and single adults, supporting both independent housing and extra supportive services for those who need them, instead of watching families and individuals recycle through the weed-patch?

Seems to me we have a "Master Gardener," and the window of opportunity is here at long last. If we can get a grip on the weeds, treat the soil, move some plants around, and set up a system of maintenance that will keep the invaders at bay, we can make significant progress. Or we can let our garden go to seed, soon to contaminate the nearby well-manicured lawns surrounding mega-mansions. When the weeds creep onto the golf courses, then we'll see some action.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Instead of Shopping for my Birthday...

Audacious. Nonconformist. Unconventional. Such are the labels that have been deservingly hurled my way. And now Sysomos reports that only 7.1% bloggers are over the age of 51. I guess I fit the mold: I'm an over-51 blogger (my 3 blogs)...

...add audacious, nonconformist and unconventional, no argument there. As my big 60 nears (Hello Google, ya gonna get me something besides senior citizen advertisements??!), I've been I do, being the philosophy major that I am...what a world!
I struggle to keep up with technology, knowing that if I snooze I'll lose contact with most of my world as it has come to be. Living as a gypsy for the past 5 years has been an amazing experience of an unconventional life. I've met more inspiring people, seen breathtaking vistas and heartbreaking poverty, and pushed myself to more new mountaintops than I ever thought possible.

Reading this morning's New York Times (online, their cool Times Reader) I spied a book review that caught my attention: FREEDOM SUMMER The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy By Bruce Watson (Viking). Sounds like a fascinating read. Racism, the topic du jour, may be all the rage now, but back in my days of teen-romping it was all about rage. Mississippi, still not a cutting edge state when it comes to racial equality (but what state is?), burned and brutalized all in the name of honor.

My e-friend, Michaelann Bewsee, blogs a powerful piece about contemporary racism, one which I can identify with, shamefully so. 

I believe we learn from history. Unfortunately, instead of learning history as I sat in high school and college history classes that I deemed boring, I dawdled. Now I find myself in the midst of history-making events and activities. Working on social justice, mainly focused on inequities related to homelessness, is how I spend my days and nights. I look back to look forward.

Looking back at the racial history of my lifetime, I see progress, albeit at a steep price. It wasn't the work of one person or group. It didn't happen overnight. And it took a growing awareness of a clueless public to finally bring about seismic change--the kind that finds our country with a black man at the helm. Anything is possible. Knowing Obama's campaign was an e-grassroots effort, we've arrived at a new way of communicating.

Thus is the thinking of this over-51 blogger. Build a good e-petition for a worthy cause and they will sign. I've been pushing for a credibility level of 5,000 signers on my petition to give homeless families a break when it comes to HUD regulations. My deadline is nearing: August 6th, my birthday. 

Seems to me that I'm letting you off the birthday gift/card hook and giving you a no-brainer. Instead of shopping for me, sign this petition. For icing on my cyber-cake share it and encourage others to barrage HUD with the plea for Amnesty on behalf of homeless families. Maybe someday we'll read the book I'll write about the olden days of rampant homelessness.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How Five Years Has Changed Me

My eyes, mind and heart have been opened wide as I've traveled these past 5 years. With close to 100,000 miles on "Tillie," my road-weary RV--and my home/office for these 60 months--I've seen all of the lower 48 states. With those milestones comes some observations:
  • I still love traveling, and I intend to keep at it. Tillie's got her aches and pains, but it's still home. I've learned to do some repairs, like when the bathroom sink faucet turned into a mini-geyser, and am spending more (my personal money) on mechanics, but we gotta do it to keep rolling.
  • America is a great country! And it's spectacularly beautiful. I've met some tremendously wonderful people of all stripes.
  • America has a HUGE decent affordable housing crisis, especially in non-metro areas that fail to get adequate attention. Ramshackle trailers are the "good" housing. So much more is needed.
  • Small towns, and their economic crises, have yet to be substantially addressed. I'm absolutely appalled at the number of shuttered businesses and vacant homes.
When I set off 5 years ago I knew nothing about RVing, even less about documentary film-making, and my unspoken worry was that I was crazy. Those thoughts have changed, improved I'd say. And to those chuckling about me being a little loony, that's probably intensified. Our feature-length documentary, "on the edge," that's been in the works for the past 4 years, nears completion. My debt of gratitude to Laura Vazquez, my film partner, is immeasurable.

Would I imagine our nation would go through a worse (?) crisis than Hurricane Katrina? That our economy would tank in a way that jeopardizes the well-being of family, friends, strangers, nonprofit efforts, schools and more? That the world would be quaking with what will become, I'm afraid, even more disastrous crises? Never in a million years....

HEAR US turns 5 on July 1st, 2010. We--me and my wonderful board--know what we're doing is crucial, now more than ever. We hear from lots of you about our efforts, how our videos and books help you do your impossible jobs, how people without homes appreciate our work. We, at the moment, have what we need. But we won't mind if you decide to sign up to donate $5 a month to help us secure our future. It's a great way to spread good karma!

Seems to me it's better if we believe we can rather than think we can't. Nothing helps that belief grow stronger than a bunch of wonderful people spreading the word. That would be the best gift of all, tell people about HEAR US! And thanks for being there for this unconventional effort to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Such a Sad but Essential Reminder

I thought I noticed some extra sounds of avian joy being expressed when I pulled Tillie into my parking spot, the place I call home while in IL. Exuberant chirps and peeps—I thought to welcome me back after my 2 weeks in the south. But no, it was the announcement that our neighborhood had expanded. The nest perched under the eave of the house next to Tillie has a baby bird. But, although I noticed, I didn’t interpret the sounds of joy.

Robin-mom had selected a safe and secluded spot to build her nest, carefully selecting the right materials and arranging them just so. When I left her patiently nesting 2 weeks ago I thought about snapping a pix from the vantage point Tillie’s roof would have offered, just a few feet from the nursery but didn’t want to disturb her. And I confess to forgetting about her.

Alas, in the couple hours since I’ve been back, tragedy struck for this newly-expanded robin family. Allegedly, an owl swooped in, knocking the nest to the ledge below, and the untested wings of this little baby were useless. I heard the commotion, likely the mother fending off the much larger predator; feathered spectators sounded the alarm, but I was too late.(Click for more pix)

When I stepped out my door to investigate, I looked up. The owl stared down at me from the edge of the roof, surprised, probably disappointed, and swept away, without his meal. I stood there impotent.
One glance at the blood on the pavement confirmed the dire turn of events from seconds before. I helplessly watched this baby bird take its last breaths. Oh how sad. How powerless I felt. Frustrated chirps of bird-friends bemoaned the loss of this newcomer to our neighborhood, patiently nurtured from egg to hatchling and now life steadily and mercifully slipped away.

I sat and stared at this tiny creature for a while, surprised at how affected I was by this playing out of Mother Nature’s ways. It happens all the time, but not in my neighborhood. And I know nature will take its course. I’ll look up and the tiny bare little baby will be gone, feeding this hungry owl or any of the other nocturnal critters that about in this bucolic setting. The nest and the splotch of blood will remain until tonight’s wind and rain remove even those traces. The mother, I don’t know her, just an anonymous robin. I don’t know how birds mourn their losses, if she’ll have another. The owl, I can’t begrudge his action, though I don’t appreciate it happening on my watch.

And I could not help but make the leap from what I’ve witnessed to what I know happens every day, everywhere.

My world has lots of nests—and mothers I know nurture their young, with great hopes that young ones sprout wings. Predators a plenty, protections so few out here in the cruel world…. This scene plays out all the time, with greater consequences and probably more frequently than I would care to know.

May someone be there to help, to fend off attackers whenever possible, to comfort those left behind, or to bear witness, so the loss doesn’t go unnoticed. May we be touched by little losses, our hearts kept alive by our connection to all things living, no matter how small, how different.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Don't Count

My nomadic way of life for the past 5 years has been quite worthwhile and interesting. But one casualty--me. I will likely not be counted in the 2010 Census. 

Since selling my home so I could buy "Tillie," this venerable, now road-weary motor home, I've relied on a series of old and new friends for a place to park. My home is literally this 27' Gulfstream Class C recreational vehicle. But my use is far from recreational.

Tillie is headquarters for my nonprofit organization, HEAR US Inc., a unique and highly mobile effort to give voice and visibility to homeless children, youth and families, especially those off the beaten track. I've found I don't need much--a computer, a data card, and a cell phone; video and still cameras to do my work. Paper--I try to do without. My board provides essential support services, faxing mail to me as needed, handling bank transactions, and keeping our efforts in front of the folks back home, or what used to be my home territory for over 40 years, the western suburbs outside Chicago.

Among the casualties of this roving is a sense of stability. I awake early morning struggling to answer the question, "Where am I?" Of course, sometimes I get to park in some pretty cool places (like this picture, from a PA state park). But more often I'm in a driveway, tethered to a friend's house by a heavy-duty extension cord. I will happily stay at shelters if feasible, feeling the psychic connection and often getting grateful hugs as a bonus. Or I "boondock" (RVer lingo for parking without any connections) in a WalMart parking lot.

My mode of travel has several perks: preparations are quite simple--make sure Tillie is in shape. My stuff is in my "house," so I don't have to pack! My food can be my choice instead of depending on road kill, er, fare. And I have that bathroom handy--clean if I cleaned it!--for those times when ya gotta go! 

Five years ago I was shaping this crazy plan. Five years, 48 states and 92,000 miles later, thanks to some incredible support, I'm still rolling. Homelessness, among families, teens and single adults, has skyrocketed. The economy has tanked. Gas prices have soared. Economic devastation, while some signs of recovery are being touted, continues to destroy the most vulnerable. 

I'm heading off next week for a fairly short trip--Macon, MS, Sheridan, AR, and Baton Rouge, LA. Not areas that make the must-see lists of travelers. But I consider each stop an opportunity to share the voices and faces of those who courageously shared their stories with me via film. The homeless children and their parents in "My Own Four Walls," and our new documentary, "on the edge," offer powerful insights into homelessness.

Seems to me that being semi-homeless is the best way for me to represent this disenfranchised population. It sure has made me think about not counting. I'm glad the Census Bureau doesn't jail scofflaws.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Faith in America? I'm Trying but I Need Help

I’m travel so much I often struggle to figure out where I am when I wake up. Fortunately I’m in my “house” better known as Tillie, a 27-foot RV that’s been my home/office and wheels for the past 5 years as I pursue HEAR US Inc., my dream of giving voice and visibility to homeless children, youth and families. It doesn’t matter where I am unless I’m scheduled to be somewhere. If I remember a place, it’s typically because of a human encounter.

My recent time in DC, especially during the final health care vote, is etched in my mind. It saddened me to be around so many people who seemed so filled with hatred for the multitude that struggles to afford health insurance. That’s what it boils down to in my mind—the haves and the have-nots. It’s not policy, because few could accurately cite policy. It’s money. With the growing number of people without money, you’d think we’d all be a bit more sympathetic, but we’re not there yet.

Fortunately, my experiences also include the other end of the spectrum, where people go far beyond what’s required to help those who need it. And I never know where I’ll find these jewels. Such is my luck here in the Dutch Country of Pennsylvania. Six years ago, Pat LaMarche ran for Vice President of this fine country on the beleaguered Green Party ticket. A chance contact with her gives me reason to believe that I’m not the only crazy person trying to preserve, protect and defend this nation’s virtuous heritage.

Pat now runs a homeless shelter in Carlisle, PA, down below Harrisburg. In the midst of what I know are long days and nights, she continues penning politically-related columns and is working on another book about homelessness. I’d recommend her first one: “Left Out in America: the State of Homelessness in the United States." When our paths crossed it was like we’ve known each other since the Revolutionary War. In fact, the first thing we did was take a walk to the furnace where George Washington’s people made cannons. PA has lots of historical places that I would never see if not for people like Pat.

Sitting at my keyboard, pondering what makes Pat special, I’d offer this: she’s one of countless people who believe in the goodness of those she encounters, at least those at the shelter. We shared stories of experiences with materially-endowed but unenlightened individuals. Nope, we both gravitate to the have-nots. They at least have heart.

The good news, if any can be shared, is that this land is filled with good people. They are just flying under the radar, unsung s-heroes and heroes who continue to patch this nation’s quilt as it is torn by those who fail to realize, or remember, what a gift it is to live in America. Just like faux-“Christians” have all-but destroyed religion for some, those proclaiming to be patriots shred more than the flag—they destroy the very fiber this nation was founded upon.

Seems to me that my photo of this man’s silent vigil on the steps of our Capitol speaks volumes. I don’t know his issue, his position, or anything about him. His dramatic solitude, his simple pose, his courageous presence spoke to me of the kind of reminder we need, which also needs to be issued to our lawmakers. The fragile fabric of our country was woven by persons who believed that this should be a land of plenty, a land of opportunity, a land of peace. I’d love to awaken and feel that we are that nation again. This nightmare needs to end.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Amazing Civilization!

Having spent this past Sunday seeing the dregs of society on the south lawn of the Capitol, I was ready for an alternative experience. Little did I think I'd get it on Amtrak. 

I decided to ride the rails to Chicago, having not taken the train for longer than the Joliet to Springfield stint years ago. Something about spending $500 on a r/t air ticket between DC and Chicago that rubbed me wrong, especially when it is for a George Winston benefit concert for HEAR US, my organization.

Union Station was a-buzz with junior hi kids being herded by chaperones and "suits" hopping between the Hill and Wall Street, or so I imagine. With time to spare I meandered and observed, though not able to get to my camera deeply embedded in one of my 2 carry-ons. 

The Amtrak area was packed, and with very little direction--a scarcity of A personnel--civilization worked. The cattle-gates helped, but no one seemed annoyed or irritated as they lined up for what is a full train. The A-folks seemed to drop the ball when it came to organizing the early boarding, but even that went better than I expected.

If you look at any public scene--from crowded intersections ruled only by traffic lights, or busy urban sidewalks--you might be amazed to see what can normally be pleasant encounters. It can happen. We humans are still capable of it, despite being egged on by media and pundits.

I'm happy so far to be bouncing along on our nation's railway, enjoying the last moments of daylight over the West VA and MD countryside. It's reassuring that we can still be trusted to be with each other and even extend a bit of concern and help when the opportunity arises.

Seems to me the true test will be in the morning as we all awaken and grope for coffee or whatever else gets our engine rolling. I'll wear a warning label!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tillie Perks Make My Witness Possible

Sometimes Tillie is a blessing, sometimes a curse. Today I'd say blessing if I can extract the moment where, after missing a turn, I had to back down a narrow residential road that dead-ended on me. 

I'm in the DC area for a few days and, because I could, I spent several hours witnessing democracy at its worst and best today. I took the Metro into the Capitol area, and saw the health care issue splayed out on the Capitol lawn. Testing the capacity of the Capitol police, but much more orderly, immigration supporters amassed on the trampled grass mid-Mall by the, um, merry-go-round. Seriously! 

People who know me know where I stand on both of the issues. So I'll share my photos and a few thoughts I think are worth sharing.

First, isn't it amazing that despite the apparent "crazies" and the amount of ignorant nay-saying that naturally arises about any issue, that people can walk about our nation's capital and express themselves? When I saw guns strapped to the hips of some seemingly strange people I did hesitate being happy about this unfettered democracy, but's why our country was formed.

Of the issue-ites, I bow to immigration reform supporters. Most people of color and some  pale-faces (though I'm tanned after today's weather) did more to get to this spot of being able to wave flags and signs in support of a controversial issue than any of the rest of us, myself included. For example...

...for most, their trip to the good ol' US of A wasn't first class. The accounts I've heard and read about were harrowing to say the least. Read Enrique's Journey for starters. I've driven close enough to Ciudad Juarez, across the river from El Paso, TX, and felt like I could hear the cries for help. Violence, the complicated kind that thwarts the officials' attempt to halt it, has wreaked unimaginable horrors on residents and visitors alike. 

I've heard firsthand of labor abuses common to those whose documentation may be questionable. It's hard to call the cops for crimes when the cops will want to arrest the complainants before the abuser. I could go on and on. I only hope that the stand taken today, at greater risk than most of us would be willing to take, will bring about some massive improvements in how we treat P-E-O-P-L-E.

HC conversations either spilled out as heated "discussions" between people with little in common, or as small groups of righteous-sounding people vehemently upholding their opposition, with tones acceptable for Super Bowl games and the insights to match. I resisted chiming in from the other side about people I know, from family to homeless adults and children, who suffered mightily because of this greatly-tilted unhealthy playing field. 

This isn't the Super Bowl, but you couldn't tell that standing outside our nation's place of deliberation. I won't excuse the bipartisan buying and selling votes that runs rampant, but we have a process, and need to stick with it to make it work.  Let's take the energy expended on confrontations and use it to examine the actions of our political and governmental leaders.

I'm back in Tillie now, comfortable for the most part, waiting for the official outcome of the HC vote, much like I did when I sat in a state park in north Louisiana awaiting the final score of the Super Bowl game. 

Seems to me that when we have so much at stake we might want to try committing ourselves to civility as step one (such as the silent vigil this man made). It makes the next steps so much easier. But what would people do for entertainment? 


Friday, February 26, 2010

Ugly All Around Makes Beauty Glow

Was it just that it's Friday, the last day of the shortest month, and the news media are winding down, or is today just a sewer-story day?

It started with me getting my shorts in a knot reading a story about Angel Food Ministries, an Atlanta area (supposed) nonprofit where the CEO is getting something in the neighborhood of $1MLN for a salary, plus perks including a corporate jet. Others are apparently upset, so I'll let this be someone else's problem.... but I can assure you my salary/perks for HEAR US don't quite hit this benchmark.

Then the shit-splattering story of NY gov David Paterson's demise. His wanton disregard of any good sense, much less legal behavior, re: his aide's alleged domestic violence incidents make me, a non-New Yorker, want to scream for his head on a platter. The competition between NY and IL on bad governors has heated up considerably.

Perhaps I'm suffering from a serious Health Care Summit hangover. I sort of watched yesterday as I slogged through other tasks. Considering this was a last-ditch opportunity to cement some decent deal for the American people, I'd say it was a little too polite and a little light on impassioned focus. Imagine standing on the shore, watching a bunch of people drowning, with a lifeboat nearby, and pointing to the poor suckers going down for the last time, "gee, looks like they might be having hard times..."

All that ugly makes Beauty glow. Last Friday morning I met with Starkville, MS Mayor Parker Wiseman, a new, young mayor in one of the poorest areas in Mississippi. He and Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk sat and had a sincerely compassionate discussion with me about how the tragic fire that killed 3 women and 6 little children at the end of December has spurred their concern that others might, without intervention, suffer the same fate. They promised to convene local agencies and leaders to examine the current safety net and repair if necessary. Here's a quick little petition to thank them for caring. 

And, I took the above photo while in Las Cruces, NM last month. I had met with the mayor there, screened our new documentary, now called "On the Edge" (working title), and connected with some like-minded people there. Mayor Ken has called to let me know he's still working on some short and long-term solutions.

Much to my delight, I learned about another woman traveling the country to raise awareness of homeless children. Agnes Stevens, 75, who started and ran the nonprofit "School on Wheels"  that tutors and provides school supplies for homeless kids, is now traveling the country exploring and encouraging efforts to help this mostly invisible population. Check her blog for a delightful change from all the ugliness.

Seems to me it's getting way too easy to get caught in the mud-slinging, greedy grabbing, business as way-too-usual of power-mongers. That's why the people I meet along the road, and new-roadies like Agnes brighten my day. They're real, they're trying to do good despite the sewer-swirl around them, and they remind me that, as a button from folk singer Anne Feeney reminds me every day, "There's a whole lot more of us then there are of you!"   

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sorting Wants and Needs

I can still recall the Friday I picked up Tillie, my RV, and maneuvered it back from Bartlett to Naperville. Aside from being freaked out by my 20-year mortgage commitment and the 27' body extended behind my driver's seat, I had to figure out what I needed to take with me, where to put what I thought I needed, and I needed to do it fast because I was scheduled to shove off the following Monday.

The picture of me with bins and boxes stacked in this cramped space was plain ugly. I'm setting out on a journey to who-knows-where to do who-knows-what and I'm sitting in a friend's apartment complex parking lot sorting and storing shit. I had no clue what I needed. 

Fast forward, 87,000 miles and 4 years and 4 months later. I'm parked for the night in a southern Louisiana WalMart parking lot, knowing storms are destined to dump rain soon. I look around at the inside of Tillie and I smile. Most of what I thought I needed--bins, file folders, office supplies, etc.--I didn't need. I still could pare back considerably, but the folks here at WM wouldn't appreciate me having a yard sale.

One of the most surprising lessons I've learned (and I'm still in kindergarten) is how little I really need. I'm not austere--at least not by my thinking. I eat well, albeit a limited (by choice and practicalities) menu. I am comfortable, though I've become a cold weather wimp. And I work hard, though I've learned to set limits, like no computer in bed. 

What I've become aware of is the difference between need and want. And I question my want category much more vigorously. I'm not the one stimulating the economy by amassing goods. 

But I have what I need. And I'm painfully aware that many people don't begin to have what they need. And I need to check myself when getting angry about all those who have way more than I think they could need. 

I'm grateful for incredible support that empowered me to pull out of the parking lot and point Tillie's nose out of Illinois. I've met some amazing people--homeless families, people who work with homeless children and youth, and those who truly care about what happens to people in poverty. I've seen some amazing sights, backroad fan that I am. And the dream of creating a documentary to give homeless kids voice and visibility has been realized, and then some! If you haven't seen the HEAR US website, I invite you to do so. 

Seems to me that the leap of faith back in '05 was a good one for me.  And I believe that our nation is at that "leap of faith" point now, staring at the biggest challenge our country has ever faced--how to overcome hatred that spews from every possible source, further impairing our democracy that was far down the road to dysfunction. My fantasy--to have a committee to sort national needs and wants. It'll be an ugly process, but now's the time.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Journey--Getting Interesting...

Today's an anniversary of mixed emotions...the day that 7 years ago ripped me from the job--and mission--I thought I'd have for life, director of the shelter at Hesed House.

As the Universe is prone to do, my unexpected anniversary reminders came today gift-wrapped--unrelated pleasant messages from some folks I knew from my shelter days.

Thankfully I don't remember the anguish of the days surrounding the break. And, even more thankfully, my life has had lots of rich moments since then.

I peeked ahead at tomorrow's reading from Mark Nepo's Book of Awakening, my "bible" of sorts, and found the quote that I inserted on this photo I took on my journey. 

I guess I'm a pilgrim. I'm constantly being transformed. I'm learning how each moment of NOW, each encounter, each surprise and opportunity is a gift. I'm amazed at the gifts and opportunities that come my way.

This isn't a journey that I planned. That's what makes it so wonderful...when I take that moment to be awake to my world. 

I've met incredible people. I've seen breath-taking scenery. I've learned to be quiet, to listen to my inner voice and to what is being said to and around me.

And I'm still journeying. I don't know for certain where I'll end up, but I'm getting better trusting that I am where I should be. This anonymous quote hangs over my bed, an essential reminder when I lose my way, as I still do...
It is simple...I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing, otherwise I'd be somewhere else doing something else.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Unsung S-heroes

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream. -Martin Luther King Jr.

S-heroes, heroines. Can't we come up with a better name for amazing, courageous women? But I digress. On this day of honoring Martin Luther King Jr., I'd like to pause and honor special s-heroes, specifically the 7 women whose stories are featured in our new documentary, "It's All About the Children."

We've struggled to find a name for this film, an hour-long look at homelessness from  women's perspective. It's All About the Children comes from words spoken by Darlene Newsom, CEO of the impressive Phoenix program, UMOM, that houses and assists homeless families and women. It is all about the children. That's why we do anything worthwhile in this world--so children can have it better. That's what led me to my s-heroes.

My current cross-country journey now has several purposes, but my deepest pleasure comes from sitting down with each woman in our film and letting them see it privately. Julianna (left) in Tempe was the first. Her gripping account, augmented by footage from home movies, shares a saga known by many women, told by few, domestic abuse that traps and debilitates, inevitably destroying the mom and her kids in the process, unless they escape.

Watching her modest, hand-me-down TV with her as these stories unfolded was humbling. While the other six stories touched her, leaving her in admiration of her "cine-sisters," I, knowing the painful details of her story, remain so grateful that she, and the rest of our ensemble, had the courage to share their unique but similar personal accounts of how their lives fell apart and their struggles to regain forward movement. Each woman has deep insight into the underlying causes and effects of their tribulations, as well as hopes and dreams for the future.

Homelessness is, was and will always be misunderstood and misconstrued by unenlightened ones. Blaming the victim, Pat Robertson's specialty, is pointless. The bootstraps theory--insensitive, maybe well-intentioned--oozes from people who don't know the rest of the story. The one antidote to misunderstanding is learning from experts. It's All About the Children provides that opportunity.

My s-heroes are these women, and so many more like them, who struggle to survive, to help their children not only survive but thrive. They fight the injustices that MLK railed against in his campaign for justice, injustices that seem to multiply with each passing day.

Our best hope is to direct today's efforts to the future, ensuring this world will be ready for the children. Julianna, the women of "Children," and countless s-heroes are doing just that. I'm just the humbled, honored instrument. Their stories fuel my quest for justice and equality, especially for the children. We cannot rest until that happens. 

Julianna's photo provided by her

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Wrecking Ball of Life

Now is as good of time as any to transform "Camper's RVue" to its new bent--a more personal/societal reflection. Today contains a dark cloud that needs to be shared.

Having worked for 25 years in human services, with perhaps the most in need of help populations, homeless adults and children, I'm no stranger to suffering, mostly of others, though I've had my share of "stuff." Today, a Friday, the day most emergency service workers will tell you is a magnet for disasters, especially right before closing, shift-change, etc., proved true to its reputation.

A woman I've been trying to contact for a few weeks called me back finally, and I settled into what passes for an easy chair in Tillie, ready to catch up. But her first sentences crashed down like a huge wrecking ball, not on my life, but on my image of what I thought her life was. Trust me, without hearing the gory details that I can't share, she has far exceeded the standard of "if anything could go wrong it did." And she doesn't deserve it, nor does her ever-so-fragile family that's swirling around in crises now.

I could only share this with the one person we have in common, and I was grateful for at least that gift of a knowledgeable, compassionate listen. But when I hung up, the cloud returned.

This Crises, deserving of more than just a capital "C," is not unlike what happens to other families. And this family has
endured and survived a lot, though what they're going through now probably equals the sum of their history, a heavy dose concentrated in 3 months. It's more than I'd ever imagine being able to endure or survive, much less come out on top.

But that's what troubles me--this family HAS TO come out on top or they lose everything they've worked so hard to accomplish. And I'm not talking about a nice house, lots of cars, jewelry. I'm talking about the basics of life--a home they call their own, albeit a single-wide somewhat ramshackle trailer, a reliable car with lots owed on it, school loans and a few outstanding bills for stuff they really needed.

What most people don't realize is that the theoretical safety net--the one we imagine would be there if we had lots of bad stuff happen--it's not there. Sorry. It's gone, leaving in its wake the trail of bodies on the streets, in homeless and/or dire straits. And perhaps that's the worst part of this for me....

It's like watching someone drowning, with sharks patiently waiting nearby, with the entire family falling overboard.

I believe in a higher power, though I haven't settled on the design that makes most sense to me. Right now, I'd look for a knight on shining armor, charging in on a powerful white steed, to undo all the tragedies that swirl around this sweet family. But I guess I don't get to pick my form of divine intervention, and I suspect I have no control of the outcome.

My fervent hope--that the incredible mettle that has kept this family moving forward will be tested and found true. In my wildest imagination, I don't know how they'll do that. But that's where the unknown
indomitable goodness comes in, the Grace that somehow keeps at least most of creation on the right track.

And I need to sort out my role in this. Why am I in the path of this wrecking ball, being splattered by debris? I certainly can't change the wrecking ball's trajectory, but perhaps I can extend a hand, maybe even gently guide my friends in a less perilous path. Or at least let them know I care. And I do.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A little late--but coming soon, a new blog!

Yeah, I know I've neglected this blog. Sorry. But I'm going to revise it, real soon if I have anything to say about it.

So check back, or better yet, sign up as a follower so you'll get notice of my new post. Or join me/HEAR US on Facebook.

Thanks for stopping by!