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Sunday, July 13, 2014

HOME VAN JOURNAL: SPECIAL EDITION

This month’s Home Van Journal has a guest writer:  Tony Robinson, who was, until recently, a resident of Tent City.  Tony is now living in the vicinity of Grace Market Place.
 
Captains and Kings and the Common Man
 
First of all, I give all praise to an all knowing, all powerful God.  Second, I would like to thank the Gainesville community and its civic leaders for their efforts, time and monetary commitments to a place for those like me who at this time are less fortunate and struggling to live life in these trying times.  I don’t know why we are all at this place and in these conditions.  I don’t believe that 20, 10, or 5 years ago any one of us sat around and planned to be homeless, addicted, or physically or mentally ill.  But I do know that it is a fact that we are all here.  I have experienced many trying times as a homeless person, but also many good times and experienced a freedom like no other time in my life.  I looked at pictures of the One Stop Center with all its tall fences and guard post.  My first impression was, no I am not going in there.  But I challenge myself and you to try to imagine and view the One Stop as exactly what it is named – the One Stop, and allow this place to be just that – one stop in our lives.  A place of help, hope and rest.  Let the One Stop be a place of growth, mentally, physically and spiritually where we are all given a chance to be the best we can be.  A place where we can go not for pity, but a place for the betterment of ourselves, our community, our state, nation and world.  A place where we can become strong enough to advocate for peace and for those less fortunate than ourselves.  A place not of labels, but a place for one human family.
                                                                                                -Tony Robinson
 
I want to thank all of you who came out and helped with moving people out of Tent City.  Many thanks also to Occupy Gainesville and Ellen Allen of the Good Neighbor Society, who helped people move, and to Elizabeth Howard who walked Tent City making sure that no animals were left behind.  Uncle Vinnie, a tent city resident, walked the woods near Grace Market Place scouting out campsites.  After people moved he combed the grounds of Tent City gathering up items of value, like tarps and cooking pans, to distribute to the new campsites near Grace.  GPD paved the way for our efforts by going tent-to-tent informing people of the eviction and passing out flyers about Grace Market Place.  The folks out at Grace Market Place, and all the community volunteers,  are working very hard to make this facility a gracious and welcoming place to all refugees of these difficult times.  This was a true community effort.  Anyone who experienced the terrible, traumatic eviction of Tent City a few years ago, appreciates how far we have come in getting to know one another – whether housed or houseless – and in learning to work together.
 
Our drive to gather tents and money to buy tents for those who have had to move is also being widely supported by the community.  So far, I have had a tent for everyone who has come here to ask for one.  I make sure that people know that these tents come from their friends in the housed community.  They ask me to tell you, “Thank you and God bless you.” 
 
love and peace to everyone,
 
arupa
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, insect repellant, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

HOME VAN JOURNAL 6/29/14

TENT CITY EVICTION – HELP NEEDED
 
Homeless people who live along the bike trail, near the downtown RTS station, have until Tuesday, July 8 to move out.  The person who owns the land wishes to sell it.  He was holding off until Grace Market Place opens for actual shelter, but that date has been pushed to November 1 and he needs to get his land on the market now.  Other camping areas, including the Sweetwater Branch camp, remain undisturbed.  This particular portion of tent City has a fair number of people who are elderly or have other major challenges, so they are going to need help to get themselves and their possessions moved out.  We are encouraging them to move to wooded areas near the Grace Market Place, so they will have access to water, meals and other amenities.  According to the latest count, about half the people who were living in this area have moved out on their own, or with help from the good people of Occupy Gainesville, and between 20 and 30 camp sites remain occupied.
 
We have set SATURDAY, JULY 5 at 10 a.m. as moving time for those who remain in Tent City.  We are asking anyone who has a pickup truck or van to help.  People who may not have a large vehicle, but do have strong backs, are also invited to come and help.  Helpers should wear gardening gloves.   Generations of homeless people, some with severe addiction issues, have lived in this area, without access to water or to garbage pickup, so conditions are not good.  Tomorrow morning, I’m doing a walk-through of the area, with Bud our van driver.  We are going to take another count of who is there and who will need help.  People will be told to have their things packed up and ready to go for the 10 a.m. July 5 moving day.  For any further information, helpers can call me at 372-4825.
 
Freeman is going to make a little map of exactly where helpers should meet, and I will send that out ASAP.
 
 
PROGRESS REPORT ON THE IMPACT OF GRACE MARKET PLACE
 
IT’S WORKING!!!  Every Thursday we are finding fewer people at the Tent City stop and fewer people living in Bo Diddley Plaza!  I believe that almost half of those living in Bo Diddley have moved, and that is WONDERFUL news!!  No one wants to live on the sidewalk in the middle of a downtown area.  In talking to these folks, I have learned that most of them are afraid of living in the woods or are too old or too disabled to walk or bike back and forth from the woods to services.  They have been more or less trapped there, looked down upon by snoots and prey to drug dealers and other bad guys from the housed community.  On a recent visit Freeman and I made to Grace Market Place we found some folks who had been living on the plaza and are now volunteers at Grace Market Place.  The readers of this newsletter have played a major role in this transformation, by donating tents and money to buy tents.  Until we get everybody moved out there, we still need donations of tents or money to buy tents.  As of this moment, I have six tents in stock, and four of them are going out today to women who have been living in Bo Diddley.  I hear through the grapevine that some of you  have been donating tents directly to Grace Market Place, and that is fine also.
 
Thank yous and blessings to everyone!
 
arupa
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, insect repellant, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

HOME VAN JOURNAL 5/10/14

THE BIG PUSH FOR TENTS, TARPS AND CAMPING EQUIPMENT
 
Our major project right now is furnishing tents for people who want to move out to 39th Avenue, to the woods near Grace Market Place.  I’m usually pretty conservative about spending money on items other than food and water, especially in the summer, but this is our big chance to help people move away from lives of misery, sleeping on pavement, or in illegal campsites where they have uncertain access to water, no place to dispose of garbage, may be far from services, and are subject to eviction at any time.  When the City came up with 2000 one-year bus passes, that was the turning point.  Every day this week someone has come to me for a tent, and there is an air of optimism among our friends.  This is the first big break the unsheltered homeless people have received.  In bad weather people near the market place will have a place to go – not just in winter when the temperature goes below 45 degrees.  There is a horror in people sleeping outside when it’s 46 degrees and raining, or during violent thunder storms, or when hurricanes are on the way and they may be bashed by a tree falling on their tents.  This horror is ending for those who move!  As time goes by more services will be added and as more members of our community get involved with their homeless neighbors, more people will make their way out of homelessness altogether.  So this is everyone’s big chance to make a real difference.  If you can donate a tent, if you have some camping supplies you don’t need anymore, if you can donate some money for buying tents –please do this!  Although people moving from Tent City may already have tents, many of them are so old and ratty they can’t be moved without falling apart.  The whole community needs to come together and make this happen!
 
In the meantime, we are doing our summer water outreach, and will continue to do so as long as it’s needed.  The move to 39th Avenue is going to be in stages.  It will not be, as my hilarious husband says, “The Homeless Rapture.”  So we need water donations also.  And BUG SPRAY!  All campers, in town and out on 39th Avenue, are being tortured by clouds of mosquitos.  Every can of bug spray donated is an answer to prayer at this time of year.
 
THE FUTURE OF THE HOME VAN
 
The Home Van is not going out of business (some people heard that rumor).  We will continue to do what we can, as long as we are needed.  Freeman and I are Taoists and we will be following the Tao of this change, seeing where we are needed.   To the best of my knowledge, the Williston Road encampment is not being closed down.  The portion of Tent City that is along the bike path will be closed down on June 1, so far as I know, as the owner wants to sell the land.  We are hoping that the people there will move to 39th Avenue, and will do whatever we can to to support that.  Some of the folks from Occupy Gainesville are also very active in supporting this move.  They have been scouting out good campsites on 39th Avenue and furnishing transportation for people and their belongings. 
 
peace and love to everyone,
 
arupa
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, insect repellant, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

HOME VAN JOURNAL 4/8/14

THE NEW HOMELESS SERVICES CENTER ON 39TH AVENUE
 
I have postponed writing this newsletter until we could get some clarity on what is going to happen after the May 1 opening of Grace Market Place (also called the Empowerment Center) and what this is going to mean for the homeless people and the grassroots providers.  Yesterday the downtown meal providers met with Theresa Lowe and Jon DeCarmine, who will be running the Center,  and were given the big picture.  It is a fluid situation, with a lot of variables and some unknowns at this point.  I’m going to describe the upcoming plans as best I can.  Ultimately, the center will provide two meals a day for 200 or more people, restrooms, showers, washers and dryers, and emergency shelter (in barracks).    Other plans include (but are not limited to)  educational and job opportunities, case management, church services, health care, camping spaces,  and long-term supportive housing.  Right now, a good deal of work needs to go into getting buildings and facilities renovated, finding additional funding sources (grant writing, fund raising), and bringing in both volunteers and employees, as the center is seriously under-funded and understaffed  for all that it needs to do.  The city will be providing the center with 2000 one-year bus passes to give to the homeless people.
 
Grassroots providers, such as the Home Van, are invited to move our services out to the new center.    Most of us will not be moving out there immediately, because a lot of our folks are going to still be homeless in the downtown area.  We will be serving our food where the people are, as we must, and will also be educating them and informing them on the possibilities of the new center.  We can do this with a whole heart because I don’t think you could find two better people than Theresa and Jon to manage this project.  They know and understand the people they will be serving,  have vast experience in navigating the bureaucracy, and are hard, hard workers.
 
There is a certain urgency in this effort to talk to homeless people about the center and encourage them to give it a try, since a mass eviction of Tent City is going to happen in May.  One and possibly both of the people who own the Tent City land are planning to put their tracts up for sale.  Gainesville police officers are encouraging the displaced folks to move out to the wooded areas near the new center.  At this point, I’d like to thank the Gainesville Police Department, and especially Lieutenant Brian Helmerson and the men and women under his command, for all their help and kindness to the tent city residents and the folks who sleep downtown.  They are required to enforce the laws, some of which are not fair to homeless people, and that can create a hostile duality between homeless people and law enforcement.  These officers have, through patience and many acts of kindness, through taking responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of homeless people in every way they possibly can, over come this barrier.  They are out in the woods and downtown talking to people, educating them, giving them encouragement, seven days a week.  Without their assistance this whole process would be much more  difficult.
 
I am looking forward to the shelter aspect of this new center.  Every week we come across  people who are trapped in grim, unbearable circumstances – Molly, an elderly woman with severe arthritis who spent the winter living in an abandoned house; Jake, a man in late middle age who is biking back and forth from his tent to Shands to receive radiation and chemotherapy for his second bout of cancer;  Amy, a pregnant woman who has been sexually assaulted on the streets;  Milton, a young man in a wheelchair who is hooked up to various medical appliances.  Ye Gods and Little Fishes how long is this nightmare going to go on!  I almost live for the day we can find such a person and drive them up to the Grace Market Place for a hot meal, a shower, clean clothes, and a warm, dry bed to sleep in. 
 
The whole Gainesville community needs to get behind this new center, participating in all possible ways – volunteering, donating, organizing fund raisers, planting gardens, painting murals, cooking, working one-on-one with homeless folks, holding church services,  bringing in recreational opportunities – horseshoes, bingo, cards, books for the library – the possibilities are endless.  The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry have a website people can access to get updates and contact information.
 
TENTS ‘n TARPS – BOOKS ‘n BUG SPRAY – SOAP ‘n SHAMPOO
 
That’s what we need.  Summer is on the way and bug spray is more important to quality of life than almost anything else.  Many people spend the long, light summer evenings reading.  In the heat of summer, the call for personal hygiene products gets pretty intense, and we are running low.
_______________________________________________
I will be keeping this list updated on the progress and needs of Grace Market Place, as they arise. 
 
Blessings on all of you!
 
arupa
 
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, insect repellant, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.
 
 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

HOME VAN JOURNAL 1/26/14


THE CHRISTMAS PARTY
 
First, I want to thank all the people, the many churches and groups and individuals, who came to our Christmas party.  Everyone got Christmas stockings and baked goods and oranges and fudge.  I also want to apologize for the level of confusion and crowding.  Clearly, we have outgrown the little parking lot and adjoining areas.  There was supposed to be a church youth choir there singing carols.  I fear they might have gotten discouraged and packed it in.  I would like to think that next year there will be a wonderful Christmas party at the new homeless center – inside with light, warmth, a Christmas tree, food on tables.  It has always bothered me that the homeless people are so incredibly grateful for these stockings, and look forward to them so much.  By mid-November people are asking me, “Are we going to get Christmas stockings this year?”  No one should be so happy for so little, in our society overflowing with comfort and endless stuff.  But they are.  In part because it means to them that there are people out in the housed community who care about them.
 
TENTS/TARPS/MYLARS
 
This winter we have had more tent donations than ever before in our 12 years of collecting tents.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am!  When some shivering, desperate person comes to my door wanting a tent – I have one!  For the first time ever, this terrible month, I haven’t had to tell anyone that I don’t have a tent to give them!  Your kindness, your willingness to spend some real money in these hard times – I don’t know what to say except God Bless You!!  That’s what the homeless people almost always say when they receive a tent.  I also need tarps, since they add a lot of rain-proofing to the tents.  And MYLARS!  More mylars.  Usually the mylars I get in December last me the whole winter with a few leftover for next winter’s start up, but this year we’re running through them fast.
 
JANUARY HORRORS
 
A warm up, followed by a hard rain soaking everyone’s blankets and clothing , an immediate plunge down into the twenties and thirties – this cycle over and over again – it doesn’t get any worse than that.   Every year one of our local TV stations does a ‘feel good story’ about homeless people going into cold night shelter.  THIS IS NOT THE STORY – the story is the many hundreds of people who aren’t in cold night shelter.  The amount of cold night shelter available is only sufficient for a small fraction of our more than 2000 homeless citizens.  Many hundreds of people are outside when the temperature goes into the twenties. 
 
Pat goes downtown on cold nights to make sure everyone has an emergency blanket to wrap up in beneath their other blankets.   Lately he has also been bringing food to the folks who sleep on the pavement downtown.  By nine o’clock they are ravenously hungry.   It takes a lot of calories to survive outside in winter.  One night he couldn’t make it so Freeman and I went downtown.    It was a night in the twenties and six people were sleeping on the sidewalk around the plaza.  They were under piles of everything they owned and did not even look like people anymore.  A casual passerby would have thought there were  piles of garbage and black plastic on the sidewalk waiting for a morning pickup.  Underneath each of these piles was a human being.  A bit of face would peep out, and I would hear a voice saying, “Thank you, God bless you.”
 
Pope Francis is calling on the entire human family – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists – everyone – to come together and take care of poor people.  He is calling for a new era of love and sharing and compassion.   This is what we need.  Each of us can make this happen, working from wherever we are stationed in life.  We are the only ones who can make this happen. 
 
Love and blessings to everyone,
 
arupa
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.
 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

HOME VAN JOURNAL 12/6/13

CHRISTMAS PARTY
 
 I have received many emails from people who plan to come, bringing stockings and sometimes treats as well.  The homeless folks have been asking about it, and are looking forward to it.  It is wonderful that Gainesville has taken total ownership of this annual event.  If Freeman and I ran away to join the carnival (unlikely), this party would go on and would be a terrific event.  See you there!
 
NATIONAL HOMELESS PEOPLE’S MEMORIAL DAY
 
December 21 is National Homeless People’s Memorial Day, when all the homeless people who died on the streets or in the woods during the previous year, are honored and remembered.  We used to celebrate it in Gainesville, but the last few years this event has fallen by the wayside.  This year we are bringing it back.  In the last week, we lost three members of our homeless community:  Michael Johnson, Henry Lee Robinson, and Daniel Adkins.  This year we will have a service to honor these friends, as well as all the people lost this year.  December 21 was chosen by the National Homeless Coalition because it is the longest, darkest night of the year.  Usually this service has been held downtown and only a few homeless people have attended.  On such a long, dark, and often very cold night, homeless people go to bed early to stay warm.  So this year we will have it on the grassy area on the edge of Tent City, where Henry and Michael lived.  This will make it easy for their friends to be there.  We will have a candlelight circle and hot chocolate and doughnuts afterwards.  When we have the details worked out, I will let everybody know, since all of you are invited to join us.
 
THE MAGIC OF ONE-ON-ONE
 
When the Home Van was having major driveouts four or more times a month, the numbers rose to the point where we were doing very little one-on-one outreach except with a few people we knew from older and simpler times.  It was a big loss.  Now we are rediscovering the magic of working with people one at a time.  It also opens up more volunteer opportunities.  Even when all the regular volunteer slots are filled, like the soup ladler and the candle-giver, people can come along just to socialize with our folks.  Simple friendship, conversation, is valuable in itself, and also can lead to opportunities to really help someone.  Liz was speaking with a young woman who finally found a job, after months of searching, but did not have a pair of black shoes, which this job required.   Liz got her a pair of shoes – simple problem, simple solution.  In the absence of one-on-one contact, people can spiral downward for lack of a small piece of help at the right time. 
 
One-on-one contacts occasionally help in a major way.  A few weeks ago, Ellen Allen, the Good Neighbor Society, who devotes herself to individual outreach, discovered that “Cary,” an elderly homeless woman who had been convalescing at a local medical facility, had apparently disappeared off the face of the earth. The story of how we found Cary and what it took to get her back, is long and complicated, so I will just hit the high points here.  Cary had been transferred to a group home in Ocala.   Cary’s longtime partner and best friend, “Mark” wanted to talk to her and maybe even go up and visit, so various people tried to call Cary, but were given a runaround every time.  I did an Internet search on the facility where Cary was living, and discovered that the owner/manager was up on charges for elder abuse, and had been in trouble with the law and with DCF on and off since 2000.  Her most recent arrest was last July, with charges still pending.   Ellen and I went up to Ocala to see Cary and, if need be, bring her home, and discovered that the house at the address of record, was empty.  A neighbor told us that the Sheriff’s Department closed the facility down due to severe problems.  We called the phone number again, first being disconnected and then being told that Cary had left two weeks ago to stay with relatives in Orlando.  Cary has no relatives in Orlando.  After a lot of help from a lot of people, including DCF, we got Cary back.  She is with Mark again and is doing fairly well.  In this situation, a potential tragedy was averted. 
 
We are in the time of the midwinter Festivals of Light and Hope.  May all of you be blessed!
 
arupa
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.
 
 
 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

HOME VAN JOURNAL: NOVEMBER 2, 2013

COMING FULL CIRCLE:  TWO STORIES FROM PISTOL ALLEY
 
Since the nation’s economy went south, the Home Van is serving an increasingly broad demographic of people.  In the early years we were a mission to chronically homeless people.  That first winter we were out delivering blankets one night and one of our friends told us that there were a group of people living in a  house in Pistol Alley who had no utilities, no food and no blankets.  Pistol Alley runs behind North Main Street Publix, so we headed over there.  The scene we found was unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before or since.  Some twenty to thirty people were milling around in front of a small house and in the backyard, where someone had built a bonfire.  These people were so intoxicated that they were staggering in blind circles, some babbling and some screaming.  Their eyes were entirely blank – no one home behind those eyes - their souls in hiding.  It is the first and only time in the course of doing this work that I have felt scared.  We did talk to a couple of people who hadn’t quite reached that point, a man named Bill, and Margaret, a woman with two black eyes and a cut on her forehead.  We left the food and blankets and took off.  I decided that we could help these folks but we would never go there again except during the morning hours. 
 
One Sunday morning Rod and I went over to check on this group and Bill came out of the house.  He asked us if we would drain some antifreeze from the van and give it to him because he really needed a drink, which of course we did not do.  There are people who think alcoholism isn’t really a disease, but some kind of choice or lack of character.  They’re wrong.
 
Over the years since I would see Bill occasionally, usually panhandling in the Publix parking lot.  He was a quiet, gentle person, and he had more friends than I knew.  The women who tend the north Main Street cat colony counted him as a friend, and it was one of them who let me know that Bill had died.  The next weekend we went down to the small Tent City on the north end of Main Street to have a little service for Bill.  I brought some food to give the folks down there in memory of Bill.  We were joined by one of his friends, a man who used to work construction until the recession hit.   We shared the good memories we had of Bill, and our gratitude that his troubles were finally over.  Then his friend said a prayer of blessing, for Bill, for the homeless people, and for all people.  This prayer came from such a deep place within him that I felt the presence of God there in that little gathering to remember Bill. 
 
Margaret we came to know much better, because she moved to South Camp and became partners with our beloved friend Jerry, a Vietnam vet and Native American who was a leader in the homeless community of the time.  Jerry loved to cook.  He dumpster-dived behind supermarkets, bringing home soup vegetables and frozen meat that was close to the expiration date.  He’d make big pots of food and invite everyone to eat.  He also treasured his Native American heritage.  He taught other homeless people how to survive in the woods, and when Jerry left this world, several of his friends said they owed their very survival to the help he gave them.  Jerry had severe PTSD, and the drinking problem that often goes with that, but it was not at the level of Pistol Alley.  Margaret had moved up in the world, and gotten onto a path that would eventually lead to her deliverance from homelessness.  Margaret loved Jerry and when Jerry became terminally ill, she wanted to be his caregiver and to be able to visit him at the hospital, so she struggled heroically to get control of her drinking.  The Christian Bible says, “With love all things are possible, and there is nothing that is not possible.”  That verse comes to mind sometimes, because I can think of more than one person whose path out of homelessness opened up because there was another being – a human or an animal – that they truly loved and were determined to care for.  Maybe that’s what that verse means, in practice.  I would suspect that it is.  Margaret’s struggle had its victories and its failures, but overall she succeeded in doing right by Jerry during his time of leaving this world. 
 
It was of course a very different story after Jerry died.   She was in danger of losing the little section 8 apartment that she and Jerry had shared and drinking didn’t help. Joe and Liz took on the endless task of keeping Margaret in housing and getting her into new housing after she was evicted from the old housing.  Joe, in particular, is a kind of Clarence Darrow of getting difficult people into housing and keeping them there.  One time Margaret was evicted from Bailey Village because she would get drunk and run around the courtyard hugging people.  It was always something.  Eventually, though, Margaret stabilized.  It is almost impossible for people with severe problems to become stabilized while they are homeless.  Having a home very often leads to a good outcome.  Margaret now has a nice little apartment off Tower Road.  Before drink took over her life, she had been a fabric artist, and she went back to this pursuit.  The walls of her apartment, which she keeps immaculately clean, are covered with tapestries and dream catchers.  She has a few cats.  She still experiences bumps in the road, and is high maintenance, but consider the trip she has made – from Pistol Alley to this warm, little home. 
 
Pistol Alley was a scene from Dante’s Inferno.   I feel privileged to have seen it and to know these stories of deliverance.  At one time, when I was particularly steeped in “literachoor,” I hypothesized to my self that all of life is like a Tarot layout, and all stories go back to Dante and to the Greeks.  I don’t  have all that sorted out like I did when I was younger and knew so much more, but I still think there’s some truth to it.
 
MYLARS, TENTS AND TARPS
 
These are the items we need most.  This is a winter like no other, because so many people are living outside.  May it be the last one.
 
Love and peace to everyone,
 
arupa
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The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
 
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.