Saturday, November 20, 2010



Sometimes very long, hard roads lead to happy endings. So it is with "Barbara." Barbara has been homeless for many years. After aging out of Florida's foster care system, she developed a serious problem with drugs and alcohol. She ended up in jail for slapping a police officer, which is a felony. Then she found it difficult to get work. She worked odd jobs anywhere she could, but wound up homeless for many years. About 15 years ago Barbara got clean and sober and has remained so ever since. She has continued to pick up work anytime she can, and also occupies herself with volunteer work, some through agencies and missions, and some on her own. She has often guided an elderly or disabled homeless person through the process of applying for food stamps and Section 8 housing.

Barbara is a loner who camped by herself, in the same spot for several years. She always left her campsite before sunrise and returned after dark, in order to escape detection in this tough town where it is illegal for a homeless person to sleep in a public place (or anywhere since they have no private space). One night Barbara was on her way back to her campsite when she encountered some GPD officers, who thought she was there to steal from a nearby construction site. She was arrested for prowling and loitering. Then, as luck would have it, Barbara was featured on a local TV station as an example of how law enforcement is protecting the community. Around the same time, her two best friends died, one from illness and one from old age. She fell into a profound state of depression and made a serious suicide attempt. By the grace of God, a friend discovered her and this terrible event lead to Barbara being accepted into a program at Meridian.

One reason Barbara has been homeless for so long is that, for the past 15 years, she has not fit into a particular category. She was not drinking or taking drugs, she was not pregnant, she has no children, and she is not a veteran. Like so many single homeless women, there was nothing for her. When she became depressed and suicidal, there was finally a place for her to get help. With the help of Meridian, the Hope program, and a caring disability lawyer, Barbara is starting to thrive.

Next week - ta dum - Barbara is moving into an apartment!


We are seeing many new faces in the homeless community, on a weekly basis. Things are pretty tough out there. We are, thank God, having a fairly mild winter so far, and that's a break. The courage and resiliance of our homeles friends continues to amaze and inspire me. Last night I met "Cedric" outside St. Francis House. He said, "I don't know why I'm here, but God wasn't ready for me yet." He was serving in Baghdad in close proximity with 15 other men. A bomb fell and no one but Cedric survived. Cedric has huge luminous eyes and he smiles. At the same time, he looks stunned - like a deer in the headlights who has no where to go. He smells faintly of beer, but is not intoxicated. He is living moment-by-moment, thanking God for his life and ready for wherever it may take him.

He reminds me that courage,like God, is in the moment.

peace and blessings to you all,

The HOME VAN needs candles, white tube socks, creamy peanut butter, jelly, tents, tarps, personal hygiene products (hotel size), Vienna sausages and protein drinks, both regular and diabetic. To donate money to the Home Van, send a check, made out to St. Vincent de Paul, to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesvillr, FL 32601, or donate through PayPal at our blog:

Saturday, November 6, 2010



I encourage all of you, regardless of your political persuasions, to go on YouTube and listen to the short speech Jon Stewart made at the end of the Rally for Sanity on the Capitol Mall. He was calling for an end to media-driven hatred, paranoia and suspicion against ANYONE - Tea Partiers, Tax and Spend Liberals, minorities, immigrants, Muslims and, as the old song goes "Baptists and Buddhists and Jews." Before a montage of cars driving down a highway - people of all kinds driving home to face their marriages, kids, bills, crabgrass - whatever it is - he encouraged us to see each other as human beings with much in common and not to demonize - from the right or the left - ANYONE. Amen.

I have noticed over my seven decades of life that there is always at least one official Bogeyperson who is going to end life as we know it. In grade school I sat in front of the TV and watched the Army-McCarthy hearings. Then it was Communists who were going to destroy us. It's always someone. Maybe Muslims or homeless people or residents of low-income housing. None of these groups have ever destroyed us and none of them are likely to if we can learn how to love other people as we love ourselves, get to know each other, and search for common ground.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society is a two-hundred year old Catholic organization with a long history of accepting everyone - of all faiths or no faith - as volunteers. The only rule is you have to be Catholic to be an officer, which is a nice break for non-Catholics who aren't fond of going to meetings, taking notes, and balancing books.

One of the things I appreciate most about the SVDP/Home Van family is our diversity and the fact that we have made some real progress in bringing the homeless community and the housed community together. Three of our five sandwich volunteers are homeless people and several of our outreach workers, who bring crises and special situations to our attention, and even oversee the distribution of valued donations, like tents, to make sure they are going to those who need them most and won't sell them. Many different groups from the community have joined us at the plaza for our driveouts and spent time hanging out schmoozing with our folks.

Recently two new groups are joining up with the Home Van family. First, Nkwandah Jah and her Environmental Ambassadors - a group of children who do service in the community. The Ambassadors are conducting a drive for donations, which they will bring to our Home Van Christmas Party, Thursday, December 23, at 5:45 p.m. in the little parking lot on the south side of the Civil Courthouse, right next to the Bo Diddley Plaza. Second, the Metropolitan Community Church. The Metropolitans have been making quilts for homeless people, and plan further efforts to gather useful donations.

As I mentioned last time, all of you are invited to our Christmas party. We have a lot of new people in the homeless community, some who have never been homeless before. They are scared and they need friends (a lot of us are have been scared and needed friends - you know how it is). This brings me to another necessary topic. Most of us have taken a pretty good hit in this economy, so here it is:


The Dollar Stores around town are a great source of stocking stuffers - candles, reading glasses, candy bars, playing cards, socks - for five dollars you can buy a whole bunch of great stuff. Also, garage sales! Paperback books, little stuffed animals, costume jewelry - make a great stocking for a dollar or two. Also, since we're having folks bring the stockings directly to the party, they can contain perishable presents like cookies and oranges.
In that regard, if you are planning to bring holiday stockings to the party, drop me an email and let me know that you are coming and how many stockings you plan to bring with you. If you would like to make stockings but have no way of getting them to the party, also let me know and I'll make special arrangements with you. I need to know that we are going to have at least between 200-300 stockings, so everyone gets one and I have a few leftover for the hermits out in the woods.

Thank you for all the Mylar blankets. We handed out more than a hundred last night!

Peace and blessings to one and all,


The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, mylar emergency blankets, 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 the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Free Poem - included in the cost of the newsletter!

Hope is the thing with feathers,
that perches in the soul,
and sings the song without the words,
and never stops at all.

-Emily Dickinson

Friday, October 15, 2010



"Simon" has been living in the homeless community for about two years. His presence there has been a mystery. He seems to have none of the problems that ordinarily result in homelessness. Gradually, we discovered that he is an ordained minister and is quietly assisting certain invidividuals who need help, often the most vulnerable and confused. I started to ask him to help out, here and there. Sometimes he said yes and sometimes no, once explaining that Spirit was not telling him to take on that particular task. Finally I said to him, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" He said he didn't so I asked him - did you leave your home and move on to the streets in order to follow the bidding of the Spirit moment-to-moment? He said, "Yes, I received this calling 22 months ago."

This is a centuries-old tradition, spoken of in the literature of, I believe, all the major religious traditions in the world: the wandering monk or sannyasin who walks out the front door and lives unemcumbered, under the stars, following the will of the Creator in the moment, dependent solely on the Creator for sustenance. In recent times, an old woman named Peace Pilgrim chose this path, walking the streets and highways of this country for more than 20 years, preaching peace. She never carried money or anything that didn't fit into her small backpack.

I am shaken with wonder when I meet someone like Simon in the homeless community - as I have before a time or two. He is part of the hidden universe of the poor and the faithful that coexists within our world almost like another dimension. We can have hope because it's still there - you won't find it on Face Book or anywhere else but in the universe of Now, where the homeless people live.

"Miss May, Bill and Mr. Leon"

Miss May worked all her life as a waitress. She has lived in the St. Francis House neighborhood for decades. All those years she helped out the homeless people, with food, friendship, and even shelter on stormy nights. Now she's 77, in poor health, and struggling along along on Social Security. She became ill this year and her weight dropped to 57 pounds. The homeless people, led by Bill and Mr. Leon, have made a project of helping her out. They go to food pantries and outdoor meals all over the dowtown area, gathering food for her and cooking it. Her weight is now up to 81 pounds, a fact they are celebrating. Last week they told me that her oven isn't working and her frig no longer keeps food cold. We have asked Christians Concerned for the Community to find a stove and frig for her. The waiting list at CCFC is long, but we're hoping for an intervention of Grace. It happens.

Monday, July 19, 2010



We have known Loretta for five or six years. When she first came to us for meals, she was often in her own world, talking to people we can't see and singing gospel songs. She liked to dress flamboyantly in those days, a blonde wig, a purple satin blouse. The last few months she has been calmer, more subdued in her choice of outfits, and also more in contact with what we call "reality." Tuesday night she arrived late and we were out of cheese sandwiches so she had to take a peanut butter sandwich. She came to me and began crooning words that were somewhere between a poem and a litany:

All I ever ate for lunch, kindergarten through 8th grade, a dry peanut butter sandwich and a carton of milk,
every day, a dry peanut butter sandwich and a carton of milk.
All around me other black children they have cornbread, greens, sometimes they have fried chicken I have
a dry peanut butter sandwich and a carton of milk - kindergarten through 8th grade, every day, all I have
a peanut butter sandwich and a carton of milk
every day, a dry peanut butter sandwich and a carton of milk.

There was a faraway look in her eyes - a memory that really hurt. The best I could do was get her a can of Vienna sausages, but I was rewarded with a big smile for this tiny crumb of grace. We have put her on the list to get a diabetic bag, which always has a cheese sandwich, on Tuesdays, an extra egg, Vienna sausages and a protein shake.


Mr. G, who is in his late 80s, has been coming to Home Van meals for about two years. He is not homeless, but - like so many old people on fixed incomes - doesn't have enough money for food. At least, that was my assumption. One of our volunteers, Steve Blay, is the founder of an organization called Friends Across the Ages that does outreach in nursing homes. Working with people in their 80s and 90s is what Steve does and he saw signs and symptoms of elder abuse. Mr. G. is very shy, but Steve got to know him and had a talk with him about his situation. Steve summarized what Mr. G had to say:

A while back my daughter asked me to sign something about the house. I didn’t want to sign anything and I told her so. But then some other day she came by the house with a man who had some paper for me to sign. She told me I had to sign it because they were about to start fixing up my house for me but they needed me to sign it first. I still didn’t want to but it was my daughter, and I thought I could trust her, so I signed it. I sure wish I wouldn’t have. After that people starting coming in my house throwing all my stuff out. They didn’t even ask me. I don’t know who they were, they just took all my stuff and threw it out of the house. That was stuff I worked my whole life for. Then the next thing they started replacing all the windows in the house. Those windows were just fine but they started replacing them all. Then my daughter told me that I would have to move out of my room. She told me I had to sleep in another room over by the kitchen. They took my old bedroom and locked the door. It’s still locked and I can’t get in there. I built this house by myself and now they are taking it from me. My daughter already has a house but they want to give it to my granddaughter I think.

We don't know the extent of Mr. G's difficulties, but Steve is going to continue looking into it. He found out that Mr. G's favorite restaurant is The Clock, so they are going to have dinner together soon. One thing we know for sure, Mr. G is heart-broken and needs to know that someone cares about him. That's what Friends Across the Ages is all about.

I am so grateful to have volunteers with many different abilities and sensitivities. The story of Mr. G also illuminates how important it is to have volunteers who just hang out and talk to the folks. Sometimes volunteers feel that if they don't have a task like dipping up soup or passing out candles, they aren't needed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sometimes I'll suggest to a volunteer who is jobless, "If you see someone sitting alone looking like their dog just got run over, go over and talk to them." Some of you readers come down and join us here and there, and I want you to know that you're always welcome and always needed, whether we have a specific job or not.

Thank you for all the water donations! We are continuing to bring out extra water three times a week and the folks really appreciate it. You are saving lives.

love and peace to all of you,

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, bugspray, books 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 the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at



I am deeply grateful and happy to let you know that the Gainesville Police Department is joining in the effort to keep our homeless friends hydrated and well through the extreme heat of this summer. They are accepting donations of bottled water, sun screen and bug spray at their headquarters, 721 NW 6th Street, and taking them out to areas where homeless people camp. They have also created a flyer listing the early warning signs of heat stroke and dehydration - what to do when these symptoms occur - and tips to avoid these problems, even when you have to be outside in the heat. This is beyond wonderful!!! No one knows where the homeless people are better than GPD. Please support them in this project by donating to them.

The Home Van has had a long and positive liaison with GPD. It all started when one of our early chaplains observed a rookie police officer treating a homeless person in a way he deemed unreasonable. He wrote a fire-breathing letter to the editor about this event. Instead of crossing the Home Van off their Christmas card list, senior officers at GPD reached out to us and said, "When there are problems, bring them to us, and we will work with you to resolve them." They have been good to their word, all these years, and have helped us in many ways. We have also been helped by kind friends at the Alachua County Sheriff's Department.

Bottled water can also be donated to the Home Van at 307 SE 6th Street. As usual, space is our limitation, since I run this project out of my living room, but to this point the donation process is working well. Kind people have also been donating money, so that we can take the Van to Sam's Club and load it up with water. We are going out to the woods on weekends and dropping off cases of bottled water. The homeless folks are delighted!!!!! This is a real help for them.

One of our volunteers, Pat Abbitt, has started a recyling program at the Williston Road Camp, for plastic. I hope we will be able to extend that program to other areas as well. The environmental impact of all this bottled water is distressing, but keeping people alive has to be the top priority. I hope one of these years the City Commission will finally decide to run a water truck out to homeless areas in the summer, as many other cities do. (Actuallly, I hope one of these years everyone will be inside!) In the meantime, we do what we can, with the help of our big extended family. Blessings on all of you!!!

The story below was sent to me by the fabulous Ellen Allen! She started out as a Home Van sandwich maker, and then decided to start her own program, the Good Neighbor Society. She has her "office" at the library, where she talks with people, brings lunch to many, and - most vital of all - helps individuals with the mind-boggling levels of bureaucracy that must be traversed in order to get services. There are many people in the homeless community who, like Oscar and Felix, could make it off the streets if they had a friend and advocate to help them.


By Ellen Allen./ Founder of the Good Neighbor Society

I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last several months helping two homeless men access medical services and navigate the rest of the bureaucracy. The first one, Oscar, has been turned down twice for disability and is now waiting for a court hearing. if I knew at the beginning what I know now, I might have been able to help more with the claim. This man lives in the driver’s seat of his truck. That is the only place there is any room since the rest of the truck is filled with “stuff”. The second man, Felix, has also applied for disability and for public housing. A miracle happened - he got in to public housing. He had been turned down, but was entitled to a hearing. We opted for that and he was not only accepted, but there was an apartment available.
He had been living in the woods since September and was feeling pretty desperate to get out .

A few days after he’d moved in, he invited Oscar to use his shower. They were just hanging out and Oscar started having chest pain, rapid heart beat, and numbness in his arms. Felix called an ambulance. It turned out not to be a heart attack, but a severely blocked left artery in his heart. They put in a stent and released him with prescriptions for four different meds. He has a pretty severe short term memory deficit that does not bode well for keeping up with his meds. I spoke with a social worker at the hospital, explaining his circumstances. The only thing she was concerned with was, would I be available for transport. (Editor's note: In all fairness, hospital social workers are a pretty over-worked, overwhelmed lot. I have often received calls from Shands social workers wondering where a homeless person can stay after discharge - and I don't know either, most of the time).

Felix was so concerned for his friend that he arranged for him to stay with him and has taken on his care, including reminding him to take his meds. He told me it breaks his heart to think about his friend back in his truck, on the street. Bless his heart.

Felix is inordinately clean and orderly. He labels himself as “ocd”. As I said, Oscar has a truck so full of “stuff”” there is only room in the driver’s seat. I have dubbed them Felix and Oscar. They wholeheartedly cotton to it.

Unfortunately, public housing only allows a 15 day stay for any visitor. We are now scrambling to figure out another housed alternative for Oscar. He is 45 years old , smart, but not really able to take care of himself. I’ve been in touch with his family and they are not willing/able to take him in.

Just thinking about the kindness and generosity of Felix brings tears to my eyes. These men are family to me and also to each other. Thanks to arupa for opening the door to so many housed folks so that we can know the humanity of those who are presently not housed.

Oscar and Felix - chapter 2

After much scrambling and a few more miracles, Oscar is about to get off the street/out of his truck. There's one last hurdle. He needs to come up with a $300 security deposit. This is non-negotiable. I figure if enough folks chip in a little, we could do it. Oscar has to be out of Felix's apartment on Monday morning. He should be able to move in to his own efficiency apartment by the end of the week, provided we have the security deposit. Felix is committed to continuing to help his friend and to teach him some independent living skills. i too will be checking in on a very regular basis to help ensure Oscar's stability in his new digs. I feel deep gratitude to Kent, Gail, Karen.

Latest update... I called Oscar's sister, in order to get his parent's phone number. I told her I had gotten subsidized housing for him but that they required a security deposit of $300. I told her I was going to ask her parents for the money. She said she would pay the security deposit. she was VERY happy and grateful to hear that he would be housed. Sooooo....raising money for the deposit is no longer necessary. YEA!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just called Oscar to let him know and he is as delighted as Oscar is able to be. Now we just need to fill out the paper work blah,blah, blah and I think he should be in his apartment by the end of the week. Worst case scenario is he'll be staying in his truck for a few days if I can't get him an interim bed at St Francis House.

I love sharing good news.

with much love and appreciation.
ellen allen
good neighbor society

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, bugspray, books 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 the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Tuesday, June 1, 2010



Two days from now, on Thursday, June 3 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, Pat Fitzpatrick is asking doctors, nurses, physicians assistants and other knowledgeable people to testify during Citizens' Comment, on the effects of the 130-person meal limit on pregnant women who are turned away, and on their unborn children. Medical professionals who want to testify on the dangers of turning away hungry people with diabetes are also asked to give this testimony. A substantial number of people in the homeless community do have diabetes. Each speaker is allowed 3 minutes.

Pat is also asking people who are willing to fast in front of City Hall for one day, on behalf of those people who are being turned away from lunch at St. Francis House, to contact him at 352-642-6465. He is organizing a project in which one person will fast in front of City Hall every day until all meal limits at St. Francis House are lifted. In other words, if 30 people volunteer for this project, each person will fast in front of City Hall for one day a month, until the limit is lfted.

When the City Commission voted to impose a 130-person limit on meals at St. Francis House, a soup kitchen which had been feeding up to 200-250 people a day, they not only stole food from hungry people, they stole from us our humanity. The only way we can reclaim our humanity, as a community, is to continue to push the City Commission to lift the limit. This effort cannot be accomplished by calling them names and telling them how horrible we think they are. We as a society have all been dancing around the Golden Calf for decades, pressuring our elected officials to do more and more to enhance and protect a bloated sense of entitlement that has spread across our country like a Biblical plague. There are now many of us who feel we have a right to never see a very poor person and never have to hear their sometimes drunken cries of anguish. Through love, through education and through personal committment, putting our stomachs on the line (so to speak), we can heal our human community. We are the only ones who can do this.


It has been several weeks since I've written a Home Van Newsletter. Like many, if not all of you, I have been overwhelmed by sadness and snowed under by catastrophes. One realization holds true: the cure for this condition will never be found inside a bottle of Prozac or Paxil. The only way to continue walking in the Light is to live each moment, doing the very best you can. It's that simple. The Talmud tells us that each person's job to get up every morning and repair the world. The New Testament tells us that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Our beloved Buddhist community reminds us that Buddha is still standing outside the gates of Pardise, waiting for all souls to be lifted up from suffering and delusion. In living this truth we heal ourselves, retain our sanity, and bring light and healing to those around us, whether homeless or housed. We are all in this together.

Love and blessings to all of you,

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, bugspray, books 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 the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just Got to Heaven Going to Look Around

“Won’t you sit down? Lord, I can’t sit down,
cause I just got to Heaven going to look around.”

“I’m going to look around.”
says Raymond,
“I won’t live like an animal,
“I won’t sleep in alleys.
“I won’t live where I can’t build a fire,
where I can’t clean up.
I won’t.
“I’m going to look around.”

Deputy sheriffs with guns and clubs
evicted Raymond from the woods,
from his camp on the banks of Sweetwater Branch,
where he bathed and washed his clothes,
where he used to sit at night and read a book
by lantern light.

“I won’t live like an animal,
I’m going to look around.”

Raymond remembers
the days he used to live inside.

“I have nothing now.”
“I’m always alone.
“Where am I supposed to go?”
“I won’t live where I can’t build a fire,
“I won’t,
“I’m going to look around.”

I have no answer, though
I know what it’s like
to lose at musical chairs.
We stand together on the
pieces of ground
underneath the soles of our feet,
breathing in and out,
reviewing what we know,
strung thin like prayer beads:

Homeless people have the legal right
to be on a public sidewalk at night.
All other land forbidden as being
parks, private property,
closed until morning.
Homeless people have the right
to be on a public sidewalk at night,
as long as they don’t sit down.

“I won’t sit down.”

As long as they don’t lie down.

I won’t lie down.”

As long as they don’t sleep.

“I won’t sleep.”

“I’m going to look around.”

“May I breathe the air other people breathe?
Or should I breathe only into my cupped hands?”

“Won’t you sit down? Lord, I can’t sit down,
cause I just got to Heaven going to look around”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010



She got her street name because she takes care of people. I met her in the winter of 1994/1995. An overly zealous night manager at one of the local shelters evicted an old man with Alzheimers because he smoked in his room. It was a January night with temperatures in the thirties. After a few choice words about "Why the **** didn't he just confiscate his cigarettes?" Mom took this old guy to her tent and kept him warm through the night. A few months ago she actually managed to get me to do snuff outreach (with my own money, not Van money). She found an old, old man named Earle living in a shack near Tent City. Earle, who was well into his eighties, showed signs of senile dementia. He had a pack of half-starved cats and he himself was not doing so well. Mom got some groceries and cat food from me and then said, "I need five dollars toward a tin of snuff."

Arupa: "You've got to be kidding. We don't do snuff outreach."

Mom (tears running down her face): "He's 86 and he's been dipping snuff since he was 12 and he's just sitting out there jonesing and jonesing..."

Arupa: "Okay. Snuff outreach it is, coming right up."

Mom and I were discussing the economy yesterday. She said that Day Labor had dried up so bad people aren't doing drugs out in Tent City because they don't have the money. I asked if she knew how business was for the ladies who work on SW 13th Street and she told me that it's really down. Now, this is a side of the economic downturn you aren't going to here about on MSNBC - It's BREAKING NEWS in the Home Van Newsletter.

It got me to thinking about the Web of Life with the endless interconnecting tapestry of cause and effect. There is much suffering connected to this Great Recession, and will be for a long time to come. Can it be that there are also little miracles - lotuses growing from the mud - silently sprouting and putting forth roots? People planting vegetable gardens, people playing board games with their children because they can't afford to go out - people in Tent City getting a "time out" from the nightmare labyrinth of doing drugs and turning tricks - a silent place where something new might grow. I believe in this.


That's what we need. Hallelujah for Spring and long evenings when people can read and play cards. This summer I am going to emphasize recreation in the Socks 4th Avenue section of the Van, with your help. Art supplies are good also, and anything else you can think of that is fun We are also low on personal hygiene products.


Love and blessings,


Friday, March 12, 2010



Last time I wrote to you a serious crime had occurred at Williston Road, and we feared that this camp's existence might be endangered. If a serious crime occurs in one of our neighborhoods, it is most unsettling, but we don't have to worry that landlords and mortgage holders will come around and evict us. Our homeless friends do have that worry. I am happy to report that our Williston Road campers are carrying on. GPD has kept a close eye on life at the camp, to make sure serious problems aren't brewing there, but that attention is waning, since all has been going well. Several officers have told me that GPD respects the Williston Road camp, because they work hard at being clean and self-governing.

It is spring at Williston Road, at long last. O'Malley planted a spring garden last December, a little prematurely, but he reports that his potato crop has sprouted. The other big event was the deer. A deer was hit by a car on Williston Road. After GPD left the scene, several of the guys inspected the deer. It had been killed in such a way that there was no visible damage to its body. So they brought the deer into the woods, dressed it down (Is that the right term? As a long-time vegetarian I am not in familiar territory here) and gained 30 pounds of meat, which they salted down and distributed amongst the populace. Then they buried the deer and conducted a little ceremony, thanking the deer.

Another one of the fellows asked me if I had any extra plastic bags he could have. He remarked, a little shame-facedly, that his camp has so many tree roots he can't dig a latrine. So he collects waste, pooper-scooper style, and transports it to a public facility. Now this may be more than some of you want to know, but I think it's important to note how hard some of our homeless citizens work to respect themselves and the environment, and what is involved in that.


Reverend David Swanson, known always as 'Rev Dave," one of the Home Van's first chaplains, died last week at the VA Hospice. Rev. Dave was a street minister who was out amongst the homeless community all day, several days a week. He ate lunch at St. Francis House (back when you could do that without displacing someone), hung out at the downtown plaza, and visited outlying camps. He counseled and prayed with people, took them to appointments and bought needed items for them at WalMart. When he was with us, we didn't have Elizabeth and the Home Van Pet Care Project, so he bought both pet food and people food at Bread of the Mighty and took it out to those who needed it.

He baptized people in the homeless community, after a three-month program. Candidates for baptism who had an addiction had to be clean and sober for three months before they could be bapized. During these three months, they were expected to travel with Rev. Dave, doing service. I attended a few of these baptisms. The person had earned their baptism by hard work and struggle, and they were very special events.

He is most famous for the Home Van's Potty Protest, which he initiated. It was about three years ago, I think. The City was locking the downtown public restrooms at dusk and all day Sunday, to the great inconvenience of our homeless friends. Rev Dave and Pat Fitzpatrick barricaded themselves in the downtown men's room at dusk, as a protest. GPD officers were on the scene along with a crowd of supporters (Liz McCulloch even wrote a song, "This can is my can, this can is your can....".) Rev Dave and Pat were arrested and given tickets. This led to a new city policy whereby the restrooms remain open until the park closes, and all day Sunday.

Rev Dave's friends and family wanted his service to be in the downtown plaza, amongst the homeless people he cared about so much, so they scheduled it for immediately after the Home Van's Thursday dinner. It was a beautiful service.

They say no one is irreplaceable, but that hasn't been the case with our Rev Dave. May the Creator send us another one like him, if such there be.

Love and blessings to you all,

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, and white tube socks. 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 the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Mission Statement

The mission of the Home Van is to bring food, clothing, blankets, hygiene supplies and other services to the unsheltered homeless people of the downtown Gainesville area. There are no tests of worth to receive services from the Home Van. We believe that all people are worthy of the necessities of life. We work in partnership with those we serve, for the higher purpose of making our world a more human and loving place.

The HOME Van provides the following services:

· 400 meals a week to homeless people – delivered on Tuesday’s
at 7p.m. and Thursday’s at 4:30 p.m.

· blankets, hygiene products, clothing and other necessities of life for poor and homeless people

· Friendship and personal assistance from volunteer social workers, nurses, lawyers, and chaplains.



Might as well get this topic over with upfront. Despite vast and successful efforts, by Joe Jackson and others, to rally the community in support of dropping meal limits, the City Commission voted to keep those limits except on 3 holidays a year. All but about five of the many people who spoke during Citizen Comment gave compelling testimony in favor of dropping the limits. Joe and his crew did everything right, we had big support, and we lost anyhow. We have, however, became a major burr in the backsides of the Powers That Be, and we need to keep going. It is always like this. Many years ago I and my little buddies stood on a street corner in Norman, Oklahoma, and sold cookies to raise Grayhound busfares to Missisippi for Freedom Summer, while thugs in pickup trucks hurled insults and beer cans at us. It was a long and bloody summer. The road ahead seemed to stretch on forever, and enormous powers were aligned against us.

You keep working for the good and eventually you win. Winning doesn't mean just dropping meal limits. It means establishing, for all times, the principle that it is illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their economic status. It means you can't ghettoize poor people in a compound out on 53rd Avenue, next to two cement plants and a swamp. It means that all members of the human family are invited to the table.

I'll keep you posted on further actions.


Lee, the young man who was almost beaten to death out at the Williston Road Camp, is back in North Carolina at his mother's house, and is doing well in his recovery. This was a love triangle turned deadly. Such tragedies happen in all economic strata. One issue that needs to be addressed, after food and shelter issues, is identifying people who are arrested as "homeless," while not so identifying those who are housed. Until sometime in the sixties, African Americans who were arrested were identified by race, and no one else was. Logically, this should have made people think, "Gee, most crimes are committed by white people." Of course it didn't. These arrest reports served as red flags for racism. So it is with the arrests of homeless people. So far, we don't know of any repercussions from the crime at Williston Road Camp, and are praying that there will be none. Willston Road is a long-established camp with a solid track record for stability and good behavior.


to all of you who donated Mylar blankets! Consider yourself people who have saved lives. We have, knock on wood, gone through this long and terrible winter with no tent fires, no fires in abandoned houses, and no hypthermia deaths. They do tear, but thanks to you all I have had an unending supply. On every driveout I carry a bag of these mylars and the homeless folks ask for them. One night a couple of the Lynch Parkers, who slept out in 30-degree weather, told me, "We felt like baked potatoes." That became my advertising slogan to all those who regarded the mylars with suspicion.

Love and blessings to all of you,

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Home Van needs peanut butter, jelly, Vienna sausages, white tube socks, candles, tarps and tents. Call 372-4825 to arrange for drop-offs. Financial donations to the Home Van are tax deductible. Checks should be made out to St. Vincent de Paul, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601 Donations can also be made online at

Friday, February 5, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010


When I was volunteering at St. Francis House in the mid-nineties, I met a young woman named Duffy. Duffy, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, became a guest at SFH just before giving birth to a child. Her family took the baby to live with them. Duffy lost her bed at St. Francis House and was living on the streets. One day she came into the lobby and fell asleep in a chair. She looked exhausted beyond measure. Since it is against the rules to sleep in the lobby at St. Francis House, a staff member asked me to wake Duffy up and ask her to leave. I did so. Three hours later Duffy lay down in traffic on West University Avenue and died.

For a long time it has been my goal to establish something beautiful in Duffy's name, so she will not be forgotten and so that we will all be inspired to love and help one another, unstintingly.

Now, with the sponsorship of the Helping Hands Clinic, a free medical clinic for homeless and low-income people that has been helping folks, from their enormous hearts, for the past twenty years, this dream is going to become a reality. Helping Hands Clinic is setting up a special fund for homeless women, to be called DUFFY'S HEART FUND. The Home Van will be helping out with fund-raising, referrals, and errands (like going to WalMart and buying a tent).

DUFFY'S HEART FUND will be used, with discretion, intuition and love, for the special needs of homeless women - both practical and, sometimes, impractical. (The Home Van has a small Heart Fund. I once took $30 from it and bought ferret food. This hungry ferret was a homeless woman's child and best friend and, in any case, like all God's children, ferrets gotta eat). This fund can be used to put down rent and utility deposits for a homeless woman who gets a check but never has deposit money. It can be used for tents, a job interview dress, a motel break for a woman who is on the verge of a melt down, a copay on a prescription, a chain of Christmas lights for a lady who just got an apartment, ferret food....

Donations to DUFFY'S HEART FUND should be in the form of checks made out to Helping Hands Clinic, earmarked for Duffy's Heart Fund, and mailed to P.O. Box 1481 Gainesville, Fl 32602-1481. All donations are tax deductible.

love and blessings to all of you,



The Home Van needs tents, tarps, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, mylar emergency blankets and latex surgical gloves in sizes large and medium. 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 the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601.


On Tuesday, December 23 we went to the downtown plaza for the Home Van's annual Christmas event, when we pass out holiday stockings made by folks from all over Gainesville and Alachua County - families, grade school classes, Girl Scout troops, Sunday Schools, parishioners from many different churches and synagogues, office staffs.... We had an abundance of food, and many wonderful Christmas treats like cookies and homemade fudge.

This year our Christmas party began in a way I would never have anticipated. Danny, one of our homeless volunteers, stood in the open door to the van and said, "I have something to say, and it's something special, so I want you to take off your hats."

The line of some 200-300 people fell silent and hats came off. Danny said, "I lost my daughter this year (Danny's daughter was a soldier in Iraq), so I'm not going to be seeing her this Christmas. I want us to start tonight with a prayer."

He then led the group in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Without discussion, this prayer was done in the ancient style of call and response.

Although the Lord's Prayer is part of a particular spiritual tradition, it is also the most universal of prayers: "Give us this day our daily bread." "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us..."

It is said that Christmas celebrates a day when God came down to earth to live amongst us. At this Christmas gathering, standing in the December darkness reciting this ancient prayer with several hundred homeless people and their friends from all over Gainesville, I once again felt God among us.

There could not be a better way to start out a New Year that is fraught with uncertainties.

The Home Van began in the fall of 2002, as an outreach to the unsheltered and chronically homeless folks who lived in and around downtown Gainesville. They were small in number, at least compared to now. Many of them were old Vietnam veterans still struggling with the wounds of war. For me, this is a special group because these were the boys I went to high school with. I remember them when they were mowing lawns to buy their first cars, getting up the courage to invite a girl to the high school dance, learning algebra....

In a way, I felt like I was going back to find them, after having deserted them for a very long time.

We saw ourselves as a small group of friends who would minister to this group.

We fell in love with them. Through their courage and patience, they changed who we are.

We had no idea that our little project would turn into major outreach to an ever-increasing number of people who are homeless and hungry. We didn't know that efforts to help the unsheltered homeless people would be stalemated for years on end in a quagmire of bureaucracy and fear. We didn't know that the economy was going to collapse.

Running this outreach out of a couple of livingrooms has become an effort for which the word
"lunatic" was invented. We are part of a tsunami of change.

In the coming year, we will be, as always, taking it one day at a time. In addition, we will be attempting to reinvent ourselves - to learn how to do what we can do, as well as we can, supported by God and our wonderful Home Van angels, among whom I count you, our extended family.

Thank you for everything, and blessings on you.

love, arupa


Unless there are trees toppling and lawn chairs flying through the air, the Home Van goes out.  We figure if they can live outdoors in all kinds of weather, we can take it for two hours.  Also, we knew the Salvation Army had closed down entirely for two days, so they would have no dinner unless we went out.  I'm sure there are people on this list who donate to the Salvation Army, and that's a good thing, since they run a shelter and soup kitchen that are sorely needed.  However, it wouldn't be a bad idea to contact them and suggest that a shelter should be open, not closed, during weather emergencies.  You could even throw in a little WWJD, just for good measure.   We were glad to be out there with our folks.  It always feels good.  It was, however, a harrowing drive out.  People soaked to the skin, shivering uncontrollably.  People whose clothing and blankets had been stolen.  People without tents.  Newly homeless people terrified of the situation they were in.  Worst of all, we could not console ourselves with the thought that all these folks would be going into emergency shelter at St. Francis House at 7 p.m.  In the early 1990s the City Commission passed a law requiring all homeless shelters in Gainesville to require police clearances for their guests.  A police clearance is a warrants check.  The police go onto their computers and see whether the person in question has an outstanding warrant in this state or any other.  If he or she does, they are arrested.  If they don't they are given a piece of paper to present when they check into shelter.  If you don't have a photo I.D., you can't get a police clearance.  Gainesville is one of the very few cities in the United States to have such a law.  Housed people who check into an emergency shelter are not required to present a police clearance.   Many of our homeless people suffer from mental illness and addictions.  They have trouble holding on to a photo I.D.  Replacing a lost I.D. is also a daunting task.  So some of the most vulnerable knew they would be out in the storm all night.  One newly homeless man was in a state of terror about this, begging me to come up with a solution.  I didn't have one.   Equality under the law is one of the cornerstones of a civilized and democratic society.  Our City Commission needs to either repeal the police clearance law or require police clearances for all housed people who check into a shelter.   If this comes up before the City Commission, someone, either from the podium or the audience, is going to bring up the fact that Danny Rawlings was a homeless person.  This would be useful information if there were a demographic profile for serial killers.  In reality, serial killers in the United States have included a law student and Republican campaign worker, a railway porter, a data processing clerk, a codes enforcement officer who was president of his Lutheran congregation, and the founder of the Save-a-Lot stores.  Oddly enough, there have been no outcries demanding that the UF law school be moved to a feed lot on the far outskirts of the community, and no petitions circulated by people who don't want Lutherans living in or near their neighborhoods. The vast majority of warrants out on homeless people are for the misdeanors of being homeless, such as sleeping in the park after 11 p.m., public urination, open container etc.  Homeless people deeply fear and resist being put in jail, because the price tag on these misdeamors can be so high.  Most of the time, the homeless arrestee is denied bail because he or she does not have an address.  Then they sit in jail for weeks, sometimes months, awaiting a court date.  When they finally get into court, they are judged guilty and sentenced to time served.  In other words, first they are punished and then they are found guilty.  While they are in jail, all their meager worldly goods will probably be stolen, including the tent they live in.  If they've managed to find a job, they will lose it.  If a homeless man has a wife or girlfriend who is homeless with him, he has to live with the knowledge that she is out there alone, without his protection.  If he or she is the caregiver for a seriously ill homeless friend (and this is a common situation), there is the anguish of wondering how this friend is faring.  I have known people to stay outside during hurricanes and when the temperature is in the twenties, to avoid going to jail.   SAVING LIVES  The Home Van does not accept money from any organization that has rules about how we can spend it.  All our money comes from you, our extended Home Van family.   Last Tuesday that meant you helped us save a life.  We found a woman in mortal agony in the downtown plaza.  She had been given two prescriptions at the ER - one for an antibiotic and one for an anti-spasmodic drug.  She had gotten the antibiotic RX filled at wonderful Publix - who give antibiotics free to poor people.  To fill the other RX she needed fifteen dollars.  She had been to every agency she knew of, all over town, trying to get the copay for this prescription, to no avail.  The medicine in question is classified as a narcotic and is on a list of drugs these agencies are not allowed to pay for.  She went back to the ER, but they would not give her the pills (rules).  By this time her plumbing had been out of commission for six days and she had been living in the August heat, having to severely restrict fluids.  She was crying from pain, unable to sit, lie down, eat or sleep.  We gave her the fifteen dollars.  Pastor Reggie, a minister who lives in Tent City in order to be a counselor and caregiver there, found her a ride.  Thank you one and all, and thank you God, if we have to have emergencies, for giving us those $15 dollar emergencies.  love, arupa___________________________________________________________________________The Home Van needs tents, bugspray, Vienna Sausages, creamy peanut butter and jelly, and white tube socks.  Call 372-4825 to arrange for drop-off.  Financial donations to the Home Van should be made out to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL  All donations are tax deductible.       

Happy Birthday Home Van

Seven years ago today, on September 26, 2002, the Home Van went on its first driveout. Below I have reprinted the poem I wrote for our first birthday. Politically, nothing much has changed - the discussions go on and on and on.... Although we would love to be put out of business by a great tidal wave of compassion and justice sweeping across the land, we continue to be blessed by this work.

One year later, “the homeless,”

discussed like a herd of unruly cows,

to be moved to a new pasture,

for municipal convenience,

scatter across our less-blinded vision

until we see

Opie 12-stepping through the woods,

Otis, silent, like a Sufi saint,

Marcus, who loves sardines,

Arthur cursing the government,

Candy raising rats in her car,

Eric studying beetles in the woods,

Ellen taking a bath out of a plastic pail,

George, whose clothes always look like they’ve

just been ironed,

Jerry, the leader of his tribe,

Charlie, of tattered magnificence,

Pete, his new hat decorated with feathers and

Spanish moss,

Bulldog and Blaze propping each other up

while they enjoy a concert in the park,

Denise and Victoria sleeping in their car on winter nights,

Charles yelling, “I want a pen and notebook. Do you

think I’m stupid?”

Renatta eating canned fruit,

Donna in her scarlet dress dancing on the downtown plaza,

Ed tipping his hat as he says,

“Pray for me. I need a miracle.”

Robert the vegan refusing new shoes

because he’s finally found a job -

for all these, not cows, people,

and many more,

Creator we thank you,

as we find our souls waiting for us

along the path to South Camp,

just off Williston Road,

standing in Lynch Park,

patiently wanting to help us

find our way home.

Arupa Chiarini Freeman


One of our readers asked for more information about the Iraq veterans we are seeing. I don't know how many we are seeing. Except during the Point-In-Time Survey, we never ask people why they are homeless, or any other personal questions. The first Iraq veteran we saw, a year or two ago, was very young and extremely angry. He didn't attack anyone, but he did take his guitar off his backpack and pound it on the sidewalk. I've never seen him again and don't know what happened to him. Another young Iraq veteran was homeless because his family had taken out a restraining order against him, because he was doing them violence. Domestic violence by veterans with severe PTSD is one cause of homelessness among returning soldiers. This young man took full responsibility for what he had done. He knew he couldn't go home until he had gotten treatment. He did take every opportunity to work and gather money for his children. He also bought a bicycle at a garage sale and fixed it up for his son's 12th birthday. And he donated money and bicycles to the Home Van. He has moved on now, to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere.

Julie is a young woman veteran from Iraq. While she was over there, her father, her only surviving parent, died. She came home from Iraq with severe PTSD and nowhere to go. She is living in a tent with two other veterans, both older and with worse medical problems. She takes care of them and brings them food. She is on various waiting lists to get help for herself.

The last time she was here she noticed I have a small electric piano. She said, "Oh, please can I play it! I have been dreaming about being able to play a piano again! Please!" She went over to my little piano and started playing classical music, beautifully, and then segued into a beautiful improvisation she created herself, one that included a mysterious, ominous, relentless beating of drums.

I think it was Ghandi who said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." What better advice is there, for these dark times?

love, arupa
The Home Van needs peanut butter, jelly, Vienna sausages, white tube socks, bugspray, bottled water and tents. Call 372-4825 to arrange for drop-offs. Financial donations to the Home Van are tax deductible. Checks should be made out to St. Vincent de Paul, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601


Kelly showed up in Lynch Park about two months ago.  She is from Long Island.  How she ended up in Gainesville I do not know. She has severe asthma, cysts on her knees that make every step she takes painful, and a host of other medical problems.  We've had the A Team trying to get appropriate services for her for awhile, but she keeps disappearing - either to the hospital or to the home of a 'friend' who takes her in for a few days when her disability check arrives.  Last Tuesday we found Kelly in Lynch Park wearing surgical scrubs with a feeding tube hanging from her stomach.  She had been discharged from Shands in this condition.  They gave her a liquid that requires refrigeration to put down her tube, along with several medications thatmust be ground up and stirred into this liquid.  She tried to get a medical bed at St. Francis House but was told that they were filled to capacity.There is a storefront mission near Lynch Park.  I went there, to see if they would let Kelly sleep inside their facility, while we worked something out.  I received an extremely cold reception and left them to their activity of singing about Jesus and passing a collection basket. When I went across the street, I found Peanut, Kelly's caregiver, slowly grinding up her pills with a rock, stirring them into the water we brought, and pouring them down her feeding tube.  Peanut is chronically homeless and, in all probablity, a crack addict.  I wondered who Jesus would recognize as his friend, Peanut or the folks at the mission?  Next morning, Sh'mal got Kelly into a nursing home.Patient dumping of homeless and very poor people is a national problem.  It has been going on in Gainesville for some time, but this is the most egregious example I have ever encountered.  We tried to get a story about this into the Gainesville Sun, but have not succeeded.  People can draw their own conclusions about that.service and I would like to be able to do that also.

Take care everyone,  love, arupa________________________________________________________________________________The Home Van needs bottled water, peanut butter and jelly, Vienna sausages, tents, bugspray, and sheets.  Call 372-4825 to arrange for drop-off.   Checks to the Home Van should be made out to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville,  32601.  All contributions are tax deductible.