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