Thursday, April 16, 2015

Home Van Newsletter 4/16/15

            Service with Compassion
a Roundtable on Homelessness
Randy Stacey, Helping Hands Clinic
Arupa and Bob Freeman, HOME Van volunteers
Adam Gurske, Family Promise
Thursday, April 23
7-8:30 p.m.
Upper Hall
Holy Faith Catholic Church
(747 Northwest 43rd Street, Gainesville, FL 326070
(handicapped accessible)
Following up on the January roundtable with Jon Dicarmine from Grace Marketplace, the Open Table group will sponsor a discussion among four of Gainesville’s most prominent homeless service providers:  Randy Stacey, director of Helping Hands Clinic; Arupa and Bob Freeman, long time Home Van, now food pantry organizers; and Adam Gurske, chairman of the board of Family Promise (formerly Interfaith Hospitality).  Each will describe their mission and current projects and take questions from the audience.  Persons of all faiths who are concerned with the issue of homelessness and social justice are warmly invited to join the discussion.
For more information contact
It’s good to be back.  I have been in recovery from my previous illusion that I was a really beat-up looking 35 year old.  I’m feeling much better now.  Our little food pantry is going well.  We’ve also been able to get a few starfish off the beach, including a young mother and a five-year-old who came to us on one rainy Friday.  They had an apartment as of Monday morning, but no shelter for the weekend.  We got them into a motel.  There will always be a need for small, nonbureaucratic missions like the Home Van, who are in a position to address situations like that.
I plan to start some kind of community project to inspire people to donate tents, but I’m not quite there yet.  In the meantime, tent donations are most welcome, as are donations of non-perishable foods.  Financial donations to the Home Van should be made out to Citizens for Social Justice and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL  32601.  Donations can also be made through PayPal at our website:
love and peace to all of you,

Friday, February 13, 2015


Dear friends,
Below you will find a personal letter from me to the homeless community that I passed out on last night’s driveout.  I know some of you work with homeless people, so I encourage you to print out the letter and share it with your homeless friends and clients, since we never see everybody on any one driveout.  In March I will be reviving the Home Van Newsletter and telling you more about what we are doing and how people can participate.  In the meantime, I want all our homeless friends to know that we are still going to be here for them, except in a different way, and I want them to know how much they have meant to me and how much they have given me. 
Dear friends of the homeless community,
            As of March 1, when the Bo Diddley Community Plaza is shut down for remodeling, the Home Van is going to change from doing driveouts to being a food pantry for homeless people only.  Our food pantry will be open every Wednesday afternoon from 1-5 and every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for the first week of the month.  Even on five Thursday months, we will be open the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Thursday of each week and on the preceding Wednesday afternoon.  Our
house is at 307 SE 6th Street.  Many of you have been there.  Many of you also have my phone number, in case of emergencies.  It is 352-372-4825.  So we will
continue to be here for you, except in a different way. 
The money we save by ending the driveouts we are going to put into getting tents and tarps so people can move out to Dignity Village.  I know some of you have beautiful, well-established campsites and are under no threat of eviction at this time.  You will most likely choose to stay where you are and pick up supplies at our food pantry.  Those of you who stay in the downtown area may be facing very hard times with the closing of the plaza and perhaps even more efforts on the part of the authorities to remove homeless people from the downtown area.  I am convinced that you will be much better off at Dignity Village, where you will be within easy walking distance of hot meals, water, showers, laundry facilities, and other services.  Dignity Village is not perfect but some very good people are working hard to make it into a good place with self-governance and safety from eviction and other threats.  You can help make that happen.
We are going to miss doing these driveouts.  I will admit to you, my dear friends, that some of this is old age.  I am fast approaching 70 and have been doing these driveouts for almost 13 years.  I’m tired and need to take life easier.  But I also think that supporting Dignity Village is the right thing to do.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank all of you for all you have done for me.  You have done more for me than I have done for you.  I am not the same person I was when I started doing these driveouts.  I have learned more about love, courage, compassion, patience and faith from you in these 13 years than in the whole rest of my life.  At the beginning, I was mainly concerned with myself, and was even someone who would complain about having to do housework.  I didn’t know that God had blessed me beyond measure with a house to live in.  I learned that, and so much more, from you, my dear and wonderful friends.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Seasonal Pome
Peace, may we have peace,
Republicans, Democrats,
Black, white, Chinese,
Vegans, locivores,
folks selling barbecue
From backs of trucks on country roads.
May we have compassion,
For doctors and dentists and hookers,
And chief financial officers,
For gated communities and homeless shelters,
For law enforcement officers, for thieves,
For all who breathe the free air around us,
For all who feel the sun and rain on their weary backs.
May there be candles,
Menorah candles,
Kwanza candles,
Christmas candles,
Candles adding their soft light
To the gentle beams of the Solstice moon.
May there be light,
May there be peace,
May we love one another.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Our friend and long-time volunteer Len Ringel passed away in a Hospice in California on Sunday, October 19.  He was in his eighties.  Len was an artist and a gardener and a man who loved ideas.  He enjoyed challenging his friends with concepts that were profound and well off the beaten path.  He learned of the Home Van when Sh’mal Ellenberg, our chaplain, gave a talk at the Unitarian Church.  Our Unitarian friends have given us many gifts over the years, but best of all was our friend Len.  He had a loving heart and, as a seasoned father and grandfather, took a special interest in very young people in the homeless community, doing a good bit of individual outreach.  Len, we love you and we miss you.
We are doing Christmas differently this year.  United Church of Gainesville is donating 100 Christmas stockings to the Home Van, and three other groups in the community have pledged another 125.  With the number of people we serve reduced by Grace Market Place, we have enough Christmas stockings and will not be doing a stocking drive this year.  Instead, we are encouraging the community to do their Christmas outreach at Grace Market Place.  I don’t yet know about any specific plans for Christmas at Grace, or requests, but will pass this information along to you as soon as I get it.  In the meantime, there is no reason that groups and individuals can’t initiate their own Christmas plans for Grace, clearing them with John and Theresa as need be.  It would be wonderful to have the first Christmas at Grace and Dignity Village be very special. 
November is National Hunger Awareness Month.   The Alachua County Commission for the Homeless and Hungry have requested that members of the community write letters to the editor this month, elucidating their own awareness and insights into hunger in our community, and any ideas about what we as a community need to do about it.  There is an excellent overview of this problem in an article about Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in today’s Gainesville Sun:
Marti Losten, long-time member of the homeless community, has written three romance novels and published two of them!  I am so proud of her – there are no words to describe it.  I’ve known Marti for 20 years.  The old timers back in Vermont used to say, of someone who had a long, hard struggle, “They’ve been through hell and high water with their ears sticking out.”   That would be a fair description of what Marti has been through.  Marti is one of those people who never give up.  Sustained by her profound faith that there is a loving God who is always on her side, she has gotten up and climbed back on the horse no matter how many times she was thrown off.  Marti is both a resident and a volunteer at Grace Market Place and you can catch up with  her there if you would like to buy a book from her.  They are ten dollars a piece.
Last week I ran into my friend ‘Aaron’ and his wife at the Texaco.  They were both riding bikes with nifty little carts fastened to the back.  Aaron told me, smiling so widely his face was about to crack open, that he has built a beautiful campsite with an actual wooden shelter made from scrounged materials.  He has also purchased a generator and now has a heater, an electric light, and a little DVD player so they can play videos from the library. This is the magic of having stability in one’s life.  They can eat a nice dinner, go home to a warm bed, and watch a movie.  Such an evening, familiar to us, is really a miracle straight from heaven, we just don’t often notice that the way the homeless folks do. 
Six people from the Williston Road community are in the process of moving into housing.  Two couples have found employment sufficient to rent an apartment, and two are veterans who have been assisted through the HUD VASH program.  Williston Road, although it is not a legally designated camping place, has been there long enough to become a relatively stable community with excellent campsites, some self-governance, and supportive relationships with members of the housed community.  Thus, many of them are also on an ascending octave.
It’s the time of year when we pass out many mylar blankets, so we welcome these to be donated.  A good online site for buying them:
Peace and blessings,
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, mylar emergency blankets, 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

Monday, September 15, 2014


That’s an old saying from the 1960s.  It has been that kind of a late summer/early fall at Home Van Central.  But now I’M BACK! and glad to be
speaking with you all again.
Grace Market Place is continuing to face challenges.  This project was woefully underfunded by both the City and County commissions.  They have had to close down the Pavilion, where many people slept, and the chapel, in order to save on their utility bill.  They can’t afford to  hire needed staff members.  Joe Jackson is working with the city on a new contract with the Homeless Coalition that will hopefully address some of these issues.  In the meantime, community support is very, very, important.  Donate to Grace Market Place.  Volunteer there if you can.  Do not be complacent that this facility is up and running so our homeless community no longer needs your help.  If we all pull together, we will get there, but it’s going to be a long pull.
When Grace Market Place opened, Freeman and I were still not clear what our role would be or if we would want to continue offering services on Williston Road and downtown.  We decided to wait and see how things evolved.  Now it is clear that there is still a need for services at this end of town and will continue to be until Grace is better funded and does some growing, so we are going to continue as we have.  We are the ‘go to’ people for tents for those moving out to Grace.  Many thanks to all of you who have donated tents or money to buy tents.  It is an ongoing need so one way to help Grace is to give us money for tents, especially now that the Pavilion is closing. 
Joe Jackson reports that the threat of further evictions of people camping outside the gates of Grace (now doesn’t that sound like a country western hymn somebody needs to write – “I’m a campin’ outside the gates of Grace...”) has been averted!  People are diligently establishing a tent city that they have named Dignity Village, after the tent community on the west coast that has become a model of self-governance and upward mobility for homeless people everywhere.  I encourage you to Google Dignity Village and learn more.  There are weekly meetings, also attended by Occupy folks and other grassroots activists, where rules and goals are being established.  People beset by addictions are camping together, in a designated area.  As Grace evolves, there will be more hope and help for them.  In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea if there were 12 Step Meetings out at Dignity Village.   The idea of bringing meetings to people has fallen out of favor in AA – or so I am told – but it is something that was done by Bill W and Dr. Bob and I think for this special population it would make sense. 
These are our two greatest needs.  The many rains have caused an explosion of mosquitos out in the woods.  We’re about out of soap and shampoo also.
On August 12 Kirk Stender, a gentle, wonderful man who was homeless in a wheelchair for at least four or five years, left this world.  We were very fond of Kirk.
We hope to plant a tree in his name out at Grace Market Place.  Grace needs trees so maybe other people can plant trees there, for homeless or housed friends who have moved on. 
Peace and blessings to all of you,

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Hi Folks,
I hoped to have more definitive, and maybe even more positive, information before updating you, but that has not happened.  First of all, the trespass warning/eviction notices to the campers along the west side of 39th Avenue were instigated and delivered by employees of Taccachale.  The Alachua County Sheriff’s Department had nothing to do with it, nor did any other local law enforcement people.  The homeless campers were quite convinced that they had been served by deputies.  Perhaps Taccachale employees wear green uniforms.  I don’t think any of us realized that private citizens can carry out trespass warnings and evictions.  Live and learn.  Since this event an attempt has been made to convince Taccachale to reverse their position, but they are adamant. 
Also, another group of campers had to move their tents at the request of the administration of the Work Release Program that is located near Grace.  This was not carried out as a formal eviction process.  Rather, Jon Decarmine helped people relocate.  There is now a shortage of wooded areas for people to camp, and people cannot camp under the blazing sun with no shade and no privacy.  That would be hazardous to their health both physical and mental. 
So, our Brave New World has been NIMBYED.  The City of Gainesville is going to have to arrange to buy or lease some wooded areas where people can camp. 
I am so sorry not to have better news to share with you.

Friday, August 1, 2014

HOME VAN JOURNAL August 1, 2014

This is going to be a tough newsletter to write, but enough time has passed that I must let our extended Home Van family know what’s been going on. 
July started out on a high note.  The residents of Tent City had been successfully moved, with the help of Occupy Gainesville, Home Van volunteers, and other groups and individuals in the community – a few to the Williston Road Community but many out to the woods near Grace Market Place.  The Home Van’s tent drive was going well and we were working with the people who had been living for so long in and around the Bo Diddley Plaza – telling them that now there was a safe harbor – a place where they could establish camp sites and be within an easy walk of water, food, and many other amenities.  The people who were already living near Grace Market Place were coming back with glowing reports -  of delicious food cooked by church women, an air conditioned room where they could get respite from the heat and watch a movie on a large-screen TV (some of them had not seen a movie in years), volunteer opportunities, church services in the chapel on Sunday.  Every Thursday we would find fewer people living on the pavement downtown.
We were completely confident in our belief that the woods around Grace, which are owned by the State, would be a safe haven for our homeless friends.  Since the beginning of the meetings to develop Grace Market Place, we had been told that these woods would be a place where homeless people could camp.  We were encouraged to help people move out there.  There was not the slightest hint of NIMBY protests throughout the process of developing Grace and moving people to the nearby woods.  The fact that the woods were owned by the state – well, hey – no local NIMBYS to fear.  Freeman and I were clapping each other on the back – we had stayed the course throughout long, tough years – and now our homeless friends were finally safe.
On the morning of Friday, July 25, my phone started ringing – hysterical phone calls from homeless people living in the woods to the west of Grace.  Sheriffs’ deputies had come around at 7 a.m., posted the area with NO TRESPASS signs, and walked from tent to tent telling people they had to leave within seven days or be arrested.  We drove out there.  Our friends were walking up and down the road looking numb and stunned, like accident victims, the walking wounded, unable to take in what had just happened.  We found out that this eviction took place at the request of Taccachale.
I have rewritten this newsletter in my head several times – the first five or six mental drafts being full of hysterical verbiage, some not appropriate for a family newsletter.  I don’t know what to make of the ruling forces within our government and community who did not MAKE SURE that this was going to be a safe haven.  What were they thinking?  Was it, “Have them move out there and hope nobody minds?” 
I don’t know.  There is a small wooded area to the south of Grace that is owned by the city.   This area is filled to capacity with as many camp sites as possible.  The pavilion within Grace is also full of people.  All other areas out there are owned by the state, and could be posted with eviction notices as well.  Some people are moving back downtown and a few have gone out to the freeway to hitchhike somewhere else.  Grace Market Place is a wonderful facility, with great potential.  If the city of Gainesville wants it to be a success – they need to find a place where homeless people can live while they avail themselves of the health care, job training and other services that are going to be available there.  Otherwise they will be, in the famous words of Robert Kennedy, “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
In the meantime, we continue supporting Grace Market Place and wait for further developments.  There are people looking into what to do about the situation, and I will keep all of you in the loop.
I am encouraging people who have large donations to bring them to Grace Market Place.  We are still accepting small donations of the things we particularly need, as noted in the footer below.  One of our greatest needs is for bottled water.  We are still taking care of the folks in the Williston Road Community as well as people who camp in isolated sites.  The url that takes people to our web site works on some computers and does not work on others.  I don’t know what to do about it, and I am sorry for the inconvenience. 
Hang in there – as the wonderul Annette of  Occupy says – PEACE AND CARROTS TO ALL!
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