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