Sunday, May 17, 2009



She was several inches shorter than me, which would be about 4'9" tall. Twenty years ago she looked to be about sixty. For years she pushed her shopping cart around downtown Gainesville and slept, summer and winter, on the bench beneath the big clock. She spoke to no one and did not seek services at St. Francis House or, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere else. She spent her disability check on food, bottled water, and hygiene supplies, which she carefully packed into her shopping cart. I never saw her smile, except one time, which I will tell you about later in this story. The GPD officers assigned to the downtown area watched out for her.

Around the year 2000, Maria came to the attention of Gary Matthews and Mike Shipman of St. Vincent de Paul. They got her into housing and looked after her. Mike or Gary would stop by regularly to make sure she had food or whatever else she might need, like a ride somewhere, the same way people look in on their parents or grandparents to make sure that all is well. Gary tells me that every month she would come in to the SVDP office with whatever was left of her disability check and lay out the money to be counted. Whatever was lacking from her rent money would be made up by SVDP funds.

Over the years I have come to understand that even severe mental illness is not who people are - it is a kind of overlay on who the person is. Our small and silent Maria was what the Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff referred to as a "good householder." She was frugal and worked hard at keeping her life in order. She took care of her money - I have been told that she could break her silence with great ferocity if a suspicious person tried to approach her. She spent her money on what she needed and maintained a routine. Sometimes Freeman and I would see her shopping at Publix and offer her a ride home (otherwise she would take a cab). She accepted our offers, rode in silent dignity, and then thanked us.

The last time I saw Maria she was doing her laundry at the laundromat on NE 16th Street, with the assistance of a young man, maybe 30 something and dressed in a suit and tie. They had a full array of soap, bleach, fabric softener, and were intent on separating whites from coloreds and shaking out each garment before placing it in the machine. Maria was smiling! She had a wonderful smile I had never seen before.

Our Maria Shriver died last week. There was a funeral mass for her at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. We wish you Godspeed Maria. You were one of the silent angels who spoke to my heart and helped it open up.

BILL AND SHAYNA, who lived in their big white van for two and a half years, are now living in a Section 8 apartment. Bill is an ordained minister and also retired from many years as a steel worker in Chicago. He and Shayna developed health problems and were no longer able to work. Their landlord kept raising the rent, finally so high their disability money could no longer enable them to live inside. Shayna says that living inside is pure, escstatic heaven. It is! The contact high I get - the pure bliss of walking from a bed to a shower - is the best part of this job. Enjoy your lives - we are living in heaven whether we know it or not.


Day Labor in Gainesville has largely dried up. We have always focused on getting tents for elderly and disabled people. The younger folks worked day labor for their tents and other basic needs. Now we have a situation where more and more people are sleeping on the ground, night after night, with no protection from the elements and nowhere to store their belongings. This is a cruel downward spiral that leaves people more and more sick, despairing and unemployable, even when there is work. I know this economic downturn is affecting everyone, but if you can get together the scratch to buy a tent or a tarp for the Home Van, it would be a wondrous act of mercy.

We are also starting to run low on over-the-counter medications. For the last year, thanks to generous donations plus meds available at Bread of the Mighty, we have been able to keep people supplied with pain meds, cold and allergy medicine, stomach medicines, and even vitamins for some of the frailer folks. Bread of the Mighty hasn't had any meds or vitamins for a long time and we only have meds left for about two weeks. With the health care situation being what it is (and soon to get much worse with the closing of AGH), these medications are the difference between heaven and hell, especially for those with intractable toothaches and arthritis. The cheapest place I know to get meds are the various dollar stores. Sometimes you can even get a bottle of aspirin for a dollar.

Thank you again to all the blessed elves who leave Vienna sausages, peanut butter, and protein drinks on our front porch.

Blessings on you all! love, arupa
The Home Van needs Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter and jelly, white tube socks, candles, bottled water, over-the-counter medications, tents and tarps. Financial donations to the Home Van should be made out to St. Vincent de Paul, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, Florida, 32601. All donations are tax deductible.

Monday, May 11, 2009



This story was told to me yesterday, by Marcia from our sister ministry, Fire of God. R grew up in a home where the father of the family was beating his mother, and sexually abusing his sister on a daily basis. When R was 13 he shot and killed his father and then went on the lam. A year or so later a body was found in a wooded area outside R's home town and police believed that it was R, although no tests were run to confirm that fact. His family held a memorial service for him and the case was closed. In reality, R was not dead. He roamed the United States for the next 30 years, sleeping wherever he could and eating from dumpsters. He believed himself to be doomed and unfit for human society.

Eventually, he wound up in Gainesville and went to one of Fire of God's Monday evening dinners and church services, which are held outside the courthouse in downtown Gainesville. After dinner, Fire of God's pastor, Brother Arnold, preaches a sermon. He is a loving man and a powerful preacher who focuses on love, grace, forgiveness and redemption. He often
tells our homeless friends that no one is lost from God's love, which surrounds them always.
After hearing Brother Arnold's sermon, R went back to his hometown, contacted his sister, and turned himself in to the police. He was given a sentence of five years. Because he has had such a strange, lonely, isolated life, R was not sure whether he actually went to this church service or whether the whole event was a dream. He asked his sister to contact Fire of God. He couldn't remember the whole name, and told her it was a church with the word "fire" in the title and that it holds services in front of the courthouse in Gainesville.

She began making phone calls. On the third call, the pastor she spoke with said - "Oh, you're talking about Fire of God Ministries." He gave her the phone number. She called and spoke with Marcia. Marcia tells me, "We're saving them, one at a time."


Melody is 50. Until age 45, she was just like everyone else. She worked as a dental hygienist and had an apartment, shelves of books, plants, and a cat. At 45, her epilepsy, which had been under control for many years, came back and she had a series of grand mal seizures. She lost her job and her drivers license and wound up homeless. She had no living relatives to bail her out and she couldn't find a program that fit her. She often told me, "If I was a single
mother, if I was a drug addict, a prostitute, or an alcoholic, there would be a program for me." Melody was an angry and articulate spokesperson for single, homeless women. She was beaten and assaulted numerous times, during her years on the streets, and had raccoons eat their way into her tent during her monthly cycles. She asked, time and again, "Why doesn't Gainesville have a shelter for women?"

Tuesday night Melody told me that she has been accepted into a program that provides six months of transitional housing. In the roar of the crowd (we were slammed with people last Tuesday!), I didn't get the name of the program, but I can tell you, Melody is the happiest woman in Gainesville right now! I hope to see her again and get more
details. She did say that she was asked if she thought she would have a hard time adjusting to life off the streets. She said, "Well, I lived indoors for 45 years. I think I remember how it's done."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What They Like About Us

Two new volunteers, UF students who want to start outreach to the homeless community through their church, joined us on Tuesday's driveout, to meet the community and find out more about their needs. They asked folks what they like about the Home Van. The most frequent response was, "They take our word for things." If someone tells us they need sandwiches or blankets, or socks, for people back at their camp, we believe them. We decided from the beginning to operate on the basis of trust. We would rather be snookered by someone occasionally than treat everyone with suspicion. People used to make up stories, in the beginning, but found out it wasn't necessary. You can have an extra sandwich just because you're extra hungry.

Many agencies would be happy to trust people more, but the vast amounts of paperwork/documentation required by granting agencies, particularly the state and federal governments, doesn't allow them that privilege. We get that privilege from you, our extended family of donators and supporters. When someone is taking advantage of us in a substantial way (like selling a tent we gave them to buy drugs), other homeless people quietly inform us. When people are treated with trust, they become self-policing. People who have had a good week at the Day Labor, sometimes donate to us - amounts ranging from $1 - to $10.

What works is treating people like relatives. Some you can loan money to and you'll get it back. Some you loan money to and kiss it goodbye. Some arrive early to help with Thanksgiving dinner, and some you hope won't get drunk and pass out into the mashed potatoes. Most of them you love and some you put up with. The homeless community is just like that.