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.