On Homelessness


This picture reads "Homeless" at the bottom in both English and, I think, Russian. It's one of a collection that belonged to my grandmother who emigrated from Slovakia/Russia to the U.S. sometime during the 20th century. There are many of these drearily painted images- depictions of mood, states of being a box of her things that I still have. The box also has many family photos I saved. But they are unmarked and are possibly her siblings or perhaps things that belonged to my grandfather.

They are cousins I've never met. The children in the photos may still be alive today. I'll never have a way of knowing- so I give them shelter- a few things from that side of my family with few relatives left alive. Shelter to strangers who in concept I know are family.

I did my first Project Homeless Connect last week in San Francisco. It was an enjoyable and inspiring experience. I tended to get involved in the on-site emergencies that were happening: a woman who'd fallen asleep on the toilet in the women's bathroom, another who'd fallen asleep in her chair at the table hosted by Sprint where the homeless could make phone calls (one of tens other services including pedicures, massages, wheelchair repair, mental or dental health, optometry, chemical dependency and medical health services, SSI and social security counseling, ID generation, a sit-down and a to-go cafe, free food, free sweatshirts, hygene kits, socks, pet services, and I don't know what else I've forgotten).

All the services were centered in downtown San Francisco at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The Auditorium was turned into a huge makeshift center where the homeless could come and enjoy these services. This was the 10th Project Homeless Connect that's been done- here are the day's statistics:
Volunteers: 1,467
Total clients served: 1,663
CAAP: 132
Clothing giveaways: 1,537
Methadone treatment: 111
HIV testing: 28
Total clients seen at Medical: 204
Legal: 123
Dental: 168
DMV ID Services: 148
Voice Mail Account: 228
Vision Care / Glasses: 268

I spent most of the morning shepherding a disabled man*- I'll call him James (*I've changed significant facts to protect his privacy) and his friend Clark* get through services for a severe infection/injury James was suffering from. In the end, it was just kindness, listening and then having me share my life that seemed to perk both men up. James' life in particular was the intricate spiral of problems that often come from lives that have fallen into disrepair for one reason or another.

And I'll be the first to say, no one is immune- we call come apart at the seams at times, sometimes quite often-- but our economic, mental and physical health are the factors that allow us to be, or not be, resilient to sudden events, changes or tragedies that occur as part of life.

Also significant was the shame both men expressed to me in the hours I spent with them. They felt ashamed because they knew they'd messed up their own lives and were fully to blame and they felt too ashamed to ask their families for help. It was heartbreaking to hear and yet joyful to be able to provide the small service of my eyes, ears and time to these two men.

Clark: Yes, you see he [he meant James] has a trust fund, but it's not enough to get healthcare and not enough for him to qualify to get disability.

Now where have I heard that before?

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