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.