Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'Our Ladies of the Highways,' A Kick-ass Group of Gals

Today I met Miss Lyn. The "Miss" is the Southern-style way of referring to women, no matter their status. Lyn Manz-Walters is the head honcho of the Pride of Mobile, AL, better know as 15 Place.

She's a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners kind of gal, and she's been running this center that cares for/with homeless folks, those most people avoid, for years.

Sitting down to write the post tonight got me thinking about the dynamic women I've had the honor to meet and see in action along my HEAR US journey. The thought left me inspired.

My too-tired brain is not going to try to list or describe these women. Someday, maybe I'll write a book about "Our Ladies of the Highways." But let me offer a few thoughts....

Women I've met, and many more I'd like to meet, are doing the work of compassion that most people run from--serving populations deemed too dangerous, too far gone, too much of a waste of time. These women do what they do, not for money, but because it's what we as humans are called to do.

They buck systems, stare down naysayer authorities, hug the "unlovable," stretch too-thin resources across giant needs, laugh in the face of absurdity, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (Finley Peter Dunne).

They're the spark in their community. They're the sparkle in the eyes of the disenfranchised. They're the reason things aren't even worse in society. They're conscience and compassion inciters.

If you know someone who fits this description, emulate them. If you have young girls, let them see what women can do. Stand with them when the going gets tough. Encourage them to run for office. Clone them.

My day is better for popping in on a whim to see if I could catch this whirling dervish. Her southern charm not withstanding, I'd much rather be on her side than going against her. And I will do all in my power to return to this quirky little city of Mobile, where the phrase "Damn the torpedoes" was born.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Heat and Warmth, Tragedy and Kindness

I'm obsessing about electricity this week, mostly because I'm doing without. It's not a self-sacrificing ploy. I'm in the wintery part of the country where campgrounds, at least reasonably priced ones, are scarce, and friends with flat driveways are even scarcer. So "Tillie," my motorhome and I are "parking lot rats," meaning no heat unless I give in and run my noisy, gas-consuming, big carbon footprint (in my mind) generator, so I seek public establishments with heat (and wifi), or park in lots where I can at least get a signal, swaddled in a ridiculous amount of clothing.

My heat deprivation is balanced by knowing how many people don't have electricity or heat--many because of that blustery super storm Sandy that chewed up large swaths of NJ, NY and CT a month ago. Some still lack heat/electricity, the most vulnerable--seniors, disabled persons, and little people. Forgotten in the hurricane's rubble, millions homeless because of the storm of injustice and poverty afflicting our nation.

Among the horrendous by-products of heat-deprived households (and even non-households--those squatting in the plethora of abandoned buildings, or those sheltered in tents or crappy trailers) are deaths by house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. When desperate for warmth, people do many ill-advised things in search of heat.

A couple years ago I got morbidly obsessed with a fire in Starkville, MS that snuffed the lives of 3 women and 3 little children under the age of 6. I figured, correctly, that their overcrowding was caused by homelessness, aka "hard times." Traveling through that part of the country on my HEAR US journey, I took a chance and stopped, and got to speak with the Mayor about this sad incident. He honestly admitted not knowing about his town's safety net. It didn't exist. It probably isn't much better now.

Google HOUSE FIRES and CARBON MONOXIDE deaths and you'll get tons of stories. None of them pleasant. I tracked house fires for a couple of years, until it got too gruesome. State after state reported house trailers, apartments, and houses turned to embers, taking adults and children in the process. Most of those deaths were probably preventable. Certainly poverty--inability to pay for home heat, faulty wiring, overcrowding, etc.--plays a significant role.

Fires and carbon monoxide have an equally common and lethal cousin--hypothermia. Increased deaths from this affliction are being reported in the Sandy-ravaged area. It freezes your brain, causing you to react sluggishly, erratically, and often leads people to self-medicate, using alcohol or drugs to ward off the cold. No matter that this technique is erroneous; it makes sense at the time.

In my book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness, I share fire stories from my shelter running days. What a tragic and common reality: death and injury by fires among the homeless population. Many of our beloved guys (it seemed to be all guys) hung out by fires in the bitter cold. Yeah, they passed the bottle, thinking it would keep them warm. Too many of our friends ended up dead or injured.

Fires kill thousands of people in this country every year (not to mention fires across the globe, like the recent Bangladesh factory fire that killed over 120 workers who make our cheap clothing).

My hopes--and you can help:

Providing warmth--donating blankets, volunteering at a shelter, contributing to home heating funds, or sharing a cup of hot coffee with a bone-chilled stranger--will warm your heart. What a great payoff! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bone Chilling Reminder

We're soft. I'm soft anyhow. I'm a creature-comfort-lovin' gal. So when it gets chilly in Tillie...

Now I really can't complain. In addition to the countless children, teens, women and men on the streets of our fine country without homes prior to Hurricane Sandy, many more folks are learning the hard way how it is to be chilled to the bone.

Electricity still stymied by dangling wires. Furnaces slimed with salt and silt grime. And progress too slow to beat the path of the nor'easter heading in Sandy's footsteps. It's ugly.

For proof of ugliness--the kind most of us have to acknowledge owning at least a part of--the tragic story of a mother whose 2 toddlers slipped out of her storm-wearied arms in New York this past week. Turned away as she begged for help, maybe because her dark skin fired up fear, her boys were washed away forever. Inexcusably.

The bone-chilling cold has settled in over the northern part of the country, showing no mercy for those without electricity after the storm. Well, lest we forget, far too many don't have heat in their homes thanks to the economic storms that have battered those with limited resources.

One noble effort to call attention to this atrocity is heating up in Bangor, ME, the freezy-ass capital of the U.S. Right outside Stephen King's radio station (yes, THAT SK!), my dear friend Pat LaMarche is freezing, intentionally, living this week in what is playfully dubbed the "Hobbit House," a doghouse-like structure that lacks a whole lot as far as protection from the cold.

She's raising money and, more importantly, attention for the issue of heating inequity. It boils down to millions of babies, toddlers, children, teens, parents and senior citizens unable to stay warm. Too expensive. Houses too riddled with poverty-induced gaps that allow cold air in and heat out. Households that go up in smoke when dangerous practices are employed to stay warm.

In every community, someone--besides homeless families--suffers from cold at some point. Those whose houses were whomped by Sandy can often be heard whining about their discomfort. It takes a whole lot of self-control (which I'm about to lose here) to not harshly remind them that people suffer lots worse every day. They do.

If the cold can cause us to huddle together and warm our hearts, then bring on an Arctic blast. Just make sure that I'm out of the path of the north winds. Tillie doesn't like cold.
To help the Pat LaMarche's gallant efforts, here's the link for donations. Do it. It will warm your cold heart, and will touch lives whose existence seems more than a little bleak. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

End to Civilization, or ???

What’s one consistent thread through my 150,000 miles of mostly backroads travel? My astonishment of how devastated our country has become.  I’ve traveled some of the same paths, and can’t help but notice the increased deterioration of communities as I rumble through: for sale signs, boarded-up businesses, unkempt municipal properties, more people begging on street corners…not good signs.

My HEAR US trip from IL to Houston at the end of September was no different. As I wended my way through Illinois highways, I remembered back to the 80s when we saw massive grassroots efforts, led by the likes of Willie Nelson with his Farm Aid, to attempt to stave off the disastrous bank takeover of family farms back in the good ol’ days. 

Not so much anymore, as the tsunami-like economy has managed to ravage those who would help out as well as those standing too close to the edge. With this destruction comes a lot of survival mode, every man for themselves, forget women and children into lifeboats first. We're a nation deep into denial.

And what a mess we’ve made of things. State governments, free to drift the way of political winds, are seeing themselves holding the shredded bag of former government—as in the feds—support. The very states where poverty is the worst are making plans to refuse to extend medical care to people who cannot afford insurance, slashing welfare for those "freeloaders" who haven't managed the bootstrap trick, kicking homeless families in the gut, tax burdens that they seemingly are. All in the name of political brutality.

I find myself wondering if the pace of the destruction of civilization as we know it will match the pace of technological advances. A trade-off if you will. Then my thoughts snap back to remember this world has lasted millions of years, having undergone major events that were nothing less that catastrophic. Becoming immobilized by today’s crises would do no good.

And I call to mind the good people I’ve met along these 150,000 miles, those who have offered support—moral, financial, spatial, and material.  In whatever way possible, we need to preserve and strengthen the thread of goodness, kindness, and justice. Weave it like a rescue line, and cast it to those who would otherwise be lost.

It’s the same story told generation to generation: rich and powerful bullies against the impoverished and seemingly insignificant masses. What keeps me going, among other things, is knowing the sweet taste of victory of the little ones over the big bad ones. The turtle beats the hare. Good over evil. Yeah.  I still believe, after all these years and miles. So stick around. It will get interesting.
If you are able, I’m asking that you consider being a monthly HEAR US donor. It can be a small amount, $5 a month is fine. You may do this on our HEAR US donation page. Your info is secure and your support is treasured.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Almost Like Looking Through Pictures

He died, what, 4 years ago. She retired. I have no idea who that is. Oh my gosh, I forgot all about her...wonder what she's doing?

With time on my hands and limited brain power, I thought I'd do the task I kept putting off--cleaning out my Gmail Contacts list. I'm shifting from my PC to Apple products, my equivalent of a new house (and almost as expensive as one!), a perfect time to tidy up.

My list goes back a ways, especially if you count the grade school and high school friends I'm still in contact with after, ahem, almost 60 years. My perusal, in a minor sleep-deprived state, gave me food for thought, contemplating deaths of my sis, relatives and friends. Mortality. Rats. But it's there waiting for all of us.

Seeing names of my "old" interns got me wondering about their lives, knowing that spending months in the foreign territory of a homeless shelter is life-changing. I've heard from them over the years, and it's been a delight. So too with former co-workers, those who managed to keep in touch are the ones I still care about (funny how that works!).

Scratch the names or email addresses that left me totally puzzled. If you're one of them, sorry! You can reestablish yourself by sending me email.

The names that caused me to really pause were those whose lives were/are "on the edge." Unfortunately, I'm referring to homelessness. Kinda like our film on the edge: Family Homelessness in America. Knowing that our world has gotten a tad unforgiving, I wondered about my friends who struggled with addiction, health issues, and irregular/inadequate employment.

Mostly I had fond thoughts of the good people I've met along my life's travels. Yeah, having a birthday, 62, always gets me thinking back and looking forward. Fortunately I have the sweet taste of a bunch of recent feedback that reminds me (and, yes, I need reminding!) that my life is filled with purpose, both now and from years back--I savor hearing from former students, like Victoria, who thought I was the best teacher ever--way back when teaching meant getting your hands dirty with chalk and books were paper pages with ink letters held together by a cover.

Would I have ever thought that my life would be so wrapped in technology? Would I ever imagine I could reach out and give a shout to a friend or family member with a few clicks of the keys? That doing research means typing the question and getting the answer almost before your last keystroke.

With all the progress that we've made, and I believe lots of it is for the greater good, why are we vexed with solvable social crises? Have we made such tech progress that our human relations have faded like memories of names in a hodge-podge contacts list?

Take a look at your contact list--and you don't even have to clean it while you're there. Reflect on the names of people who've interacted with you. Take your mental temperature. Does this experience make you happy or sad? Either way, the choice is ours. Look back, look forward, but don't forget where you're standing right now, and realize all the love and effort that went into that miracle.

Makes me look forward to my next 62 (?) years! Hope you can join me!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Really?? Year 8 for HEAR US; Year 25 for Feds' Homeless Approach

I knew something was weird when I learned our HEAR US website was down recently. Emails bouncing back. Not good. What was the cause?

Well, 7 years ago, when HEAR US was born, the HEAR US website and email addresses were set up. My friend Ken Johnson, who took care of this task, asked me how long he should register it for. 7 years sounded logical.

We just re-upped for another 5 years. Maybe the world will end by then. Maybe not. Certainly homelessness will still be an issue, at least for families and youth.

In HEAR US' birth month of July, we also commemorate another anniversary: 25th year of the McKinney Act (now McKinney-Vento), the federal plan to coordinate homeless services.

My mentor/friend, Mitch Snyder, led the charge to get this mega-issue on the federal table way back then. Presidents have come and gone. HUD Secretaries have cycled, some into prison, and piles of plans and reports have received scant attention from the purse-holding Congress.

Homelessness changed from the visible scruffy guy stereotype, exploding across all populations as social safety nets were shredded. HUD has yet to catch on, resisting our plea to pay adequate attention to the millions of homeless kids, with and without families. (Check out our Help Homeless Kids Now website!)

HUD, stuck in their bureaucratic mud, continues to fight the essential move to align that agency's definition with other federal departments, resulting in a tragic skyrocketing of unsheltered families and youth.The Homeless Children and Youth Act, HR 32, could pave the way to change the way our nation looks at--and eventually deals with--homelessness.

So HEAR US has joined forces with like-minded organizations from across the nation to spell out what needs to happen a mere 25 years after Congress acknowledged homelessness.

Holding my breath? Nope. Turning in Tillie's keys? Nope. Quitting my efforts? Nope. 

I wish I could spend the time to list the impressive ways people have helped this improbable mission unfold and continue. It's amazing. The thoughts of your many kindnesses smooth the more than 148,000 miles of backroads and highways I've traveled.

Even more so, warming my heart and fueling my passion are the stories shared with me by courageous kids and parents experiencing homelessness. Yeah, those kids and parents who according to HUD don't exist.

I'm asking for something here...if you've read this far, kudos! HEAR US needs a modest influx of funding to keep going. A bunch of folks chipping in what they can afford will do the job. People buying our stuff helps too. We're one (we'd like to think worthy) cause among many. If you can help, please do so. And keep rooting for us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let's Start At the Very Beginning...Simple as ABC

Crossing the miles, in Tillie, my road-weary motorhome, I've been heartened by countless courageous homeless families and kids willing to share their stories. HEAR US Inc., my unconventional one-woman nonprofit, gives me a venue to share what I've learned about homelessness, particularly that of families, across the land. What I have learned, the ABCs of homelessness, has come mostly from those who experience life without a home.

Recently I enjoyed a reunion with a family I met and filmed last June for Littlest Nomads, our latest short film on the all-too-invisible issue of homeless babies and toddlers. Yolanda, Ken and boys, a delightful Long Island family, had been housed after their catastrophic period of homelessness. Sadly, they're homeless again. But they proudly sat in the front row of our Littlest Nomads screening.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have your image, and that of your homeless family, splashed on the big screen in front of strangers. This family's courage, and others like them, gives much needed voice and visibility to homelessness. Unbelievably some, including our elected officials and policy makers, still don't understand that MILLIONS of homeless families and youth comprise the bulk of the homeless population.

Surging poverty continues to ravage families. It doesn't take much to kick a family into the homeless abyss of destitution. And poverty-creation is now imbedded in our dysfunctional "welfare" systems of government assistance. HUD, the main federal agency charged with housing people, continues to fight our efforts to improve the way they count homelessness.

I watched this family as their images came up on the screen. The kids were smiling. Dad and Mom were somber, and Yolanda's tears could not be hidden.

Sadly, as more families tumble into deep poverty and homelessness, resources to help them are being slashed. Federal poverty policies are pathetic, creating more poverty than they're preventing.  The rich are undoubtedly getting richer.   Proof abounds that homelessness causes severe problems in homeless babies and toddlers. And bureaucrats seem determined to perpetuate homelessness.

At the end of Littlest Nomads, Yolanda, Ken and kids belt out the ABC's song, an annoying repetitive tune I included for one reason. Ending homelessness is like learning your ABCs. It seems difficult, but if you try you can do it. Yolanda, Ken, and countless more families could point out the basics to our government's leaders.

If you want to do something to help, urge your Congressperson to co-sponsor The Homeless Children and Youth Act, HR 32. Simple, just go to this link. It will help HUD rethink their approach to homeless families. They can use the remedial lesson. Makes me want to do a Julie Andrew's Sound of Music version of Do-Re-Mi. That'll get 'em.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tongue-tied Trouble-maker, Awed...and Grateful!

I am rarely at a loss for words. But on 4/27/12 at the Bridge Communities Celebrating Women, Transforming Lives luncheon, I didn't say what I'd like to say. So let's see if I can take a shot at it now.

The Transforming Lives award is what they gave me. Yeah, perhaps they can make an argument for that, but it's a one-sided case. What I'd say is my life has been transformed. Since I've been on this crazy-as-a-loon venture called HEAR US, a seven-year journey to raise awareness of homeless children and youth, I've met some inspiring people. They've transformed me from a narrow-minded former shelter director/homeless advocate to a rabid pit-bull advocate.

How could I be anything else? Not if I have been listening and observing the incredible efforts of these families and youth to not only survive homelessness but to thrive in spite of it. I could fill blog after blog with story after story of intrepid parents (mostly moms)  and youth who make me look like a wuss when it comes to persistence.

I have been honored to stand by their side as they've tried to move mountains of federal, state and local bureaucracies that caused/perpetuated their homelessness. What help I've been, and we've shared some success, has kept me sane.

I've witnessed the unconditional love of parents when their kids, well, messed up. Kids that others would toss to the streets find their deeds punished but their personhood intact. This from parents who've many times have known intense rejection from their parents.

I've been showered with blessings, grace, support, encouragement, and lots of opportunities as Tillie, my beleaguered home/office on wheels (gotta be a more fitting name for RVs when recreation plays no part in the vehicle's life) and I traversed over 140,000 miles of the amazingly beautiful and revealing back roads, strewn spaghetti-like over our great nation. The lion's share of the well-wishing comes from the families and kids I meet.

I've had people toss money in Tillie's window. Folks I know who have little to spare put HEAR US in their budget as monthly online donors. My high school English teacher, a Joliet Franciscan sister, gives me "gas money" when I stop to mooch electricity from their parish's aging parking lot light pole.

Audiences of every ilk, from colleges in California to the tarnished halls of Congress, have responded to the stories I've been honored to share via My Own Four Wallson the edge and YouTube. I wish I could take full credit for these documentaries, but nope. My video guru, Laura Vazquez out at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb gets buckets of credit. She and her students, past, present and hopefully future, have shaped my fledgling film efforts.

Kind and generous people have donated impressive sums of money to support these films. School districts, shelters, youth groups, religious education programs from Florida to Hawaii have purchased HEAR US stuff which goes a long way to keeping me rolling. Social media fans did a powerful lot of clicking to earn HEAR US a $5000 gas card from CITGO this past fall. Facebook friends fling encouragement and interesting stories my way.

Yeah, the HEAR US board deserves heaps of kudos too. Just being my friend doesn't cut if for the board. They've had to go way out of their way to make this implausible approach to running a nonprofit organization work. And besides that, they've had to encourage me when things seemed, um, a little goofy.

Before you go accusing me of devising a brilliant scheme to garner attention to homeless families and youth, let's back up. I'm the instrument. No matter how "brilliant" this might be, it's nothing without the trust, confidence and articulate openness of the countless people--kids and adults--that I've filmed. When they risk it all to let me into their lives, I hold that as a treasured jewel that I'll "show off" but protect. Media friends old and new have covered the HEAR US saga, shining a light on homelessness in ways that can only help, like the incredible coverage we got on this issue from HufPo last week.

With homelessness likely to be with us for quite some time, I won't be able to rest. I'll end this with Bridge Communities' founder and poet laureate Mark Milligan's poem he penned for me:

for Diane

Fit a camel
straight through the
eye of a needle?
Hard to do, hard to think about.

But it must get easier
to contemplate the Kingdom
if you actually sell all--yes all--
of your stuff.
Your precious stuff.

Every do-gooder's dream come true.
Sell your stuff.
Hit the road. 
Do something really strong--
Kerouac with a cause.

Trouble-making, film-taking, idea-baking, politician-shaking
Advocating, demonstrating, agitating
She is just a Troublemaker.

Tell the truth, tell it loud,
tell it often, tell it proud.
It's about time they hear us.

Hear Us Now!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Convergence: Catholic and Country

Convergence. Big word that, in this case, means amazing the way things came together. Today--International Women's Day--was one of those days. First the Catholic piece.

My Facebook page is fairly active (you're welcome to friend me!). I try to post items that encourage interaction, centered around my nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., or other related  topics. Today I heard from a woman who was a feisty 13-year old when I last saw her. Way back in 1974-75, Cathy sat in the class of 8th graders at a Catholic grade school where I malformed my students, teaching them to think for themselves. Being of English-Irish heritage in a Slovenian school, replacing Sister Dominic Marie who must have taught the grandparents of these kids, I was, um, not appreciated by most parents. I lasted a year there.

My surprise hearing from Cathy was doubled because she brought greetings from an old friend, Elizabeth, who was, and probably still is, a venerable lay leader in the Catholic church where I was quite active from the mid-70s until 1990. Liz and I taught together, conspired (for the good) together, and respected each other as the out-of-the-box thinkers we both tried to be.

Country. Fast forward to this afternoon when I landed in Savannah, hoping to interview parents and unaccompanied youth who are homeless, those "not homeless enough" to be considered really homeless by HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Persons who've lost housing due to crisis and are staying with friends/family or others, in motels, and/or are bouncing between couches, motels, and other places aren't counted by HUD in their annual census. It's another story, but if you're curious, go to our website, for more info.

Savannah, this vibrant, picturesque community, is also the birthplace of Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low, founder of the venerable Girl Scouts. My Girl Scout sash, filled with merit badges, was my pride for many of my preteen to teen years. I pugnaciously bought a box of GS cookies this week in honor of the Indiana congressman who ranted about Girl Scouts destroying America, "bent on promoting communism, lesbianism and subverting 'traditional American family values,' according to"

So, convergence. I'm here in Savannah on the 100th birthday weekend of the Girl Scouts. My mission is, as it has been for over 25 years, in some way helping homeless persons. This recent news story outlines my involvement. Mary Ann Lopez, the adept reporter, had asked why I do what I do? How did I get started?

I'd have to give credit, in part, to the Girl Scouts, with their other-focused mission. And my Catholic upbringing, with the Joliet Franciscans working furiously to true-up my moral and spiritual compass as I cantankerously stumbled through my grade school through college education under their influence.

Convergence, Part 2. With much dismay I read my homelessness-theme news headlines tonight as I sit in Tillie, my motorhome/office/vehicle, parked in a social service agency's lot in Savannah. A shelter director in Sacramento, CA had expressed support for abortion rights and gay marriage. Her shelter receives (a piddly amount of) funding from the Sacramento Diocese. Make that received. They are ending their support of Francis House because of her remarks.  

For that very reason I will stick around until Saturday for the centennial events celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouting. I will proudly stand with my non-conformist sisters whose subversive influence has led me to a life of service with the people rejected by money-grubbers and robber barons.

St. Francis and Juliette Daisy Gordon Low would be pleased.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pigeons and People

The line formed slowly but steadily outside Reno's one homeless shelter. Men standing patiently, quietly on the sunny sidewalk adjacent to railroad tracks and on the back side of the minor league baseball team's outfield in the "Biggest Little City In the World."

Like clockwork, 2 men appeared, pushing a cart and carrying a card table. As they unfolded the legs, the men in the line perked up just a bit. Plastic bins filled with donuts were distributed, a free Dunkin' Donuts if you will. Each man selected his favorite and moved on, man after man after man. Most took a bite as they walked away.

I watched as one man took a bite, chewed vigorously, and then spat out the finely ground morsels, spraying them on the parking lot like a donut sprinkler. Hmmm. Wonder what that's about? He took a few steps repeating the ritual with no one paying him any mind, except the pigeons. They appeared to know him, waiting for him to distribute donut crumbs to the swarms of these "winged-rats" not lined up as orderly, but every bit as patient and expectant as their 2-legged human counterparts.

My dismay oozed forth, on many levels, as I thought of this dehumanizing ritual, 2 wordless but efficient donut distributors, dozens of men without homes. Death by donut probably won't be instant, nor will death by dignity destruction.

Wonder what kind of lives each of these men had before standing in this line? Wonder if their career plan included a survival donut break? Wonder if the distributors feel good about their "charity," serving day-old donuts to men and pigeons?

Sure, homeless people may get free stuff, but they have to wait a long time, and after all that it's not good for them anyhow. No coffee. No tables. No chairs. No dignity. No respect. Just like feeding pigeons.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Power to the Campers! (And Bring on the Politicans!)

James, one of the coordinators of Camp Hope
When is "camping" not really camping? When it's done for survival.

Sadly but predictably, the theme of "ending homelessness in 10 years" has faded like the Wendy's iconic commercial asking "Where's the beef?" The hucksters that sold the bill of goods to the unquestioning lawmakers and the public really didn't pay attention to (or give a rat's ass) how this strategy would work with the economy tanking (even in the early 2000s some folks were coming up short).

So now we have a slogan and no money (they say) to end homelessness. What's a woman (or man) to do? Camp. Well, if you can call survivalism camping.

Last week on my western leg of my HEAR US tour, I visited a municipally-sanctioned campground in Las Cruces, NM. Camp Hope, the latest addition to the Community of Hope, a campus on the edge of LC with services for the desperate and disenfranchised, was set up in November to accommodate at least some of the hundreds of homeless men and women roaming this mid-sized city's streets.

It gets cold here. And hot. And the gospel mission across from Camp Hope which houses those willing to pray for their place in a crowded dorm room still has plenty of customers. Folks still roam the streets, and sleep wherever they can when they can. It's a hell of a life.

Perhaps the brightest spot of this short-term venture (it's slated to close in March--just in time for the winds and crappy weather to blow in) are the guys who've organized it and the attitude of the "campers" who occupy this dusty patch behind the Community of Hope building.

Matthew and James are the dream team coordinating this effort. They share the Camp Hope office trailer--as administrators and as residents of CHTC--a tough combo to balance. One compensates for the other--PR spokesperson, as impressively demonstrated in this Jan. 1 article in the Albuquerque Journal.  But they both take their responsibilities seriously, and they're both rightfully proud of what they've done.

They should be. As the founder of the nation's 1st municipally-sanctioned Tent City in Aurora, IL way back in 1990, I know of the challenges this type of establishment presents. The findings of my unannounced visit would earn them a 5-star rating. Safety, respect, responsibility...those are priorities.

One caveat--which we discussed--was that their success might lull the unenlightened to think that sleeping under the stars, albeit under a nylon wall--would be considered a solution to homelessness, much like the snake oil salesman promised in the early 2000s.
The other critical issue --homeless families are still shelter-less in Las Cruces. That hurts my heart the most. As it should all the leaders and citizens of this otherwise delightful community of the City of Crosses.
What these enterprising guys prove is that people without homes are not without the ability to accomplish great things. They've committed to the concept of communal responsibility and neighborliness far more than the hoity-toity folks in fancy digs.

Maybe going backwards is a good thing. Sure will be lots of us looking for nice neighborhoods for our campers and tents. They invited me to join them. With gas prices heading upward, it's a tempting offer! At the very least the presidential candidates should stop by.

Seems to me Mayor Ken Miyagishima has an important issue in his 2nd term of office. Make sure families have a safe place to stay when they lose their housing. I think with all the big-box stores shuttered he might consider setting up a family version of Tent City inside, using tents to provide "rooms" for parents and kids. He can get valuable pointers from James and Matt about empowering people and campground logistics.