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