Friday, April 24, 2015

Coward or Courageous?

Last night I was comfortably ensconced in the Garden City, KS WalMart parking lot, Tillie (my van/home) parked on a nice flat spot, my shoes off, feet up, watching a movie I had downloaded earlier when I received a disconcerting text message from my Kansas friend:
"R u safe? Storms heading your way within an hour! Storm system coming from the west of you. Tornado warnings in Lakin..." 
I grabbed my iPad and checked weather radar, finding that she was not exaggerating the dire circumstances. Living in a "turtle" can be an advantage in times like this. I peeled off Tillie the Turtle's "nightshades" and jumped into the driver's seat, and skedaddled south, out of the path of the storm.

Lightning flashes lit up the sky when I peeked in my rearview mirrors. I could also see the ominous thunderclouds barreling down on Garden City. Feeling like a chicken, I ran. Better a live chicken than a dead one I reasoned. 

Having just the day before visited the jaw dropping display of the EF5 tornado that wiped nearby Greensburg off the map in 2007, I wanted nothing to do with being in the path of one. I experienced lots of guilt pangs thinking of the few people I knew in GC, and those I'm connected to by virtue of my humanity. Would the city be erased? Would people be killed? What would happen to my lot-lizard mates in the WM parking lot? 

With each flash I saw bits of the eerily moon-like landscape. The bowling-alley-straight pavement was helpful as strong gusts of winds blasted me and the few others escaping southward. Carnival-like lighting decorated the oblivious cattle-carrying semis heading northward.  

This area was desolate; flickers of light from silos and oil storage tanks the only signs of life. Oh yeah, and a neon blue cross on a building reminding me of the Christian warning of death’s power over us sinners. Not now, Jesus, not now, as I barreled hell-bent toward the unknown.

I knew Liberal was the next big city, 65 miles due south, so that was my plan. I’d find the ubiquitous Camp WM and park there. Then I’d return to GC for my meeting in the morning, if the tornado didn’t ravage this flower-oriented community.

When I saw a bedraggled truck stop in Sublette, a blip halfway between GC and Liberal, I stopped. The storm was, by all indications, 30 miles north, heading east. I checked with my KS friend who was tracking it on her computer and on TV, and she confirmed I was in the clear.

I pulled into the empty dirt lot next to this dingy truck stop haven, replaced Tillie’s night shades, and texted my friend that I was settling in for the night.

The advantage of being able to flee what could be a deadly situation was very clear in my mind. How many people experiencing domestic violence or other forms of life-threatening conditions can do that? I have resources—
My truck-neighbors and the mud hole awaiting me.
sufficient fuel, a reliable vehicle, credit cards and a bit of cash, my home wrapped around me, and the wherewithal to listen to the warning that came my way.

When a rumbling semi nestled next to me, his noisy engine running throughout the night, I vacillated between annoyance and appreciation. My weather app indicated Sublette would be in for hail, wind and rain later in the evening. My semi-buddy would at least block the wind.

Happily, I’m writing this the next morning, and not driving through the aftermath of Mother Nature’s ire. We didn't even get rain, a good thing because the dirt lot would have engulfed me 'n Tillie.

Life can change in a minute. Even with resources, one is not protected. When you’re given a chance to have another day, grab it. I’ll do what I can to make this one count!
I'm in Kansas filming a documentary, Worn Out Welcome Mat--KS on the invisible and misunderstood issue of homeless families and youth doubled up with nowhere to go. More info about my organization HEAR US Inc.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In the Shelter of Each Other the People Live…

As a nomad for the past 10 years, I’ve been more than aware of how my HEAR US mission —giving voice and visibility to homeless families and youth—is dependent on so many others. The Irish proverb, “In the shelter of each other the people live” encapsulates my reliance on so many people for my work to serve homeless families/youth.

Sunday, at the Church of the Bretheran in Topeka, I spoke about how we are all responsible for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters. In light of mean-spirited policies and practices aimed at making lives of poor people even more miserable, we now, more than ever, need to care for those struggling against the tsunami of poverty and homelessness.

I don’t mean to imply caring for poor and homeless persons should solely be on people of faith. Nope! It’s a 3-legged stool. Government, local communities, and religious organizations combined are needed to reconstruct the shredded safety net essential for record numbers of families and youth without homes.

It’s humbling to realize how much people have done for HEAR US/me over the years. I started out 10 years ago—driving out of Naperville, IL late afternoon behind the wheel of my new (huge, albeit 27’ long) motorhome— as the roads clogged with commuters returning home. Tillie the Turtle, as I dubbed my rig, served as my dwelling, vehicle and office until last September when I downsized to Tillie2, a more svelte and fuel-efficient vehicle (both privately donated, not HEAR US funds).
Since Nov. 2005, I’ve parked in driveways of friends, faith communities, shelters, convents; in parking lots of the noisy, ubiquitous Walmarts and truck stops; and campgrounds of all sorts. I’ve mooched electricity that powered my revered space heater. I’ve filled my water tank for washing body and dishes. I’ve glommed onto wifi connections of friends and businesses. I’ve begged for donations and solicited paying speaking engagements. I’ve been welcomed into schools and shelters across the land, connected with the experts for their stories of homelessness and survival. I’ve been taught the basics of how to film and edit documentaries. I’ve been bolstered in ways too many to mention from my HEAR US board members. I’ve been showered with generous support from countless friends and strangers. But most of all…
…I’ve been gifted by the trust and friendship of children, youth and parents experiencing homelessness. 
My talk today centered around the heroes and sheroes of my travels. The veteran-dad who persisted at a grueling work schedule to eventually be able to move out of the dilapidated tiny camper he and his 3 teen boys and dog called “home” for too long; the military mom who, with her 4 children escaped domestic violence, doubling up with friends/acquaintances until they landed on their feet; and the mom and her 7-year-old daughter who have bounced around from bad situations to worse, not giving up hope.

Being able to film and share painful stories of homelessness among families and youth has been my mission for the past 10 years. No one else does it. I know our nation suffers from a dreadful lack of knowledge of the extent of family/youth homelessness. I’m honored to be the instrument.

I don’t often sit and reflect, much less write, on how grateful I am. If you’re one of the countless individuals who has helped HEAR US in any way, I can’t thank you enough. 
And if you’re someone who appreciates the unique, essential work of HEAR US, and you have the financial means to do so, I’m asking for your help. We’ve got a 10 Years, 10 Friends campaign going. We want as many people as possible to commit to a small ($10+) monthly, tax-deductible donation, and if possible, getting 10 friends to do the same. This gives HEAR US a solid monthly income stream so I can continue my efforts, needed more now than ever.
As I strive to maintain my compassionate perspective and the hutzpah needed to pursue our Quixotic mission to get our nation to change the way we look at homelessness, I am painfully aware of how I need you to shelter me.