Sunday, December 11, 2011



As most of you know, it is now necessary to get a monthly police clearance to receive any services at St. Frances House – meals, showers, laundry, and to receive one’s mail. This is a deeply disturbing human rights violation, based on the totally fabricated illusion that the homeless community is rife with criminals and pedophiles. Nevertheless, it is what we are stuck with, and there is a whole team of people – the A Team – working to alleviate and ameliorate the situation as much as possible – Theresa Lowe at the Office on Homelessness, Jack Donovan of the Homeless Coalition, Bill Cervone at the State Attorney’s Office, Joe Jackson, pro bono lawyer to the homeless community, Holy Trinity’s Downtown Ministry (who help people get photo IDs, both in terms of money and navigating the bureaurcracy), and folks at GPD. There is work going on to help people clear warrants involving petty misdemeanors. The Alachua County Housing Authority is allowing people to receive mail at their building. They will accept any photo ID, even one that is out of date, and do not require police clearances. The homeless people themselves seem to be settling in to the new regime with patient endurance. This is a community of people who have endured tragedies and calamities in their lives that most of us cannot even imagine, and this is just one more thing.


For nine years and counting the Home Van went out twice a week. As of this past Thanksgiving we have reduced our driveouts to one day a week, the Thursday driveout. This was a difficult decision to make, but – due to advancing age and diminished resources – it was necessary. A church group from Chiefland has started coming to the plaza on Tuesdays and serving a meal. We overlapped with them for about three months. During those months we were giving people extra food to alleviate the 130-person meal limit. This also gave us an opportunity to see how committed the Chiefland group is. They came every single Tuesday – during rainstorms, on cold nights, after two jerks started a fight in the line, and just before Thanksgiving. They earned their ‘street creds’ as people who know what it takes.

In some ways the Thursday driveout has always been at the heart of what we do. We started out as a mission that went out to the woods where the people live. This changed the whole dynamic of delivering services. We weren’t standing behind a counter helping supplicants. We were guests in their homes, and we got to know who they are and how they live. We were able to intervene in crises – like someone who needed a trip to the pharmacy to get more insulin right at that moment. We became an emergency contact for people who needed immediate help. Just this past week we became aware of a very young homeless man who was in crisis with sickle cell anemia. Pat and I have been visiting him and bringing him the extra water he needs. This is our little slot and we will now be better able to do this work. In addition, we are going to be able to stretch our money further. Two years ago we lost our state funding to buy tents and since then have been almost totally reliant on donated tents. Now we will be able to buy a few tents each month ourselves. So, after the initial anguish we felt at making this cut back, we are seeing that it is for the best.


As I mentioned last time, our Home Van Christmas party will be on Thursday, December 22 at 5:45 p.m. in the little parking lot on the east side of the Civil Courthouse, right down from the Bo Diddley Plaza and the Lunch Box Café. Freeman will be there in an old green Aerostar Ford van to accept Christmas stockings. It is also okay to pass out the Christmas stockings you bring yourselves. We always have an abundance of stockings so it isn’t ‘one to a customer.’ The East Side Jazz Band will be playing Christmas carols and – it is rumored – Santa Claus is coming with them to make a personal appearance! It will be dark in the parking lot, except for light from the plaza, and that is unfortunate. We are all bringing flashlights and it would be good if guests bring flashlights with them also. With the help of the Home Van Angels, both physical and metaphysical, we are going to do the best we can and have fun also.

Many blessings to all of you, now and always,

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, duct
tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Friday, November 11, 2011



As of November 2 the 130-person meal limit at the St. Francis House soup kitchen came to an end. It was replaced by requirements so harsh, so difficult to meet, and so humiliating and demeaning that St. Francis House is now serving lunch to between 70 and 90 people a day. As of this writing, in order to eat lunch at St. Francis House one must have a photo I.D. and a police clearance that must be renewed once-a-month. A police clearance is a warrants check. These warrants checks can be obtained from GPD between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. every day and on Sundays between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Under the new laws passed as a result of the Homeland Security Act, it has become a long and complicated nightmare for homeless people to obtain state of Florida I.D.s or even to obtain the documents, such as birth certificates, necessary to obtain a state I.D. Many homeless people do not have such I.D.s and have given up trying to get them. Theresa Lowe, Director of the Office on Homelessness, and others, are working to have other sorts of photo I.D.s deemed acceptable for getting a lunch at St,. Francis House. This will certainly help but it does not address the underlying issue of what has happened to our society that we treat poor people like criminals and are willing to deprive them of food, even if they are children, pregnant women, veterans, and elderly and disabled people (as many of them are).

THIS IS THE SOCIETY WE HAVE BECOME. Earlier this month I read that Senator Steve Oelirich is working to have free and reduced school lunch programs ended because they ‘breed dependence.’ Letters have been written to the Gainesville Sun in support of his unconscionable plan. One recent letter of support stated, “Children can get a meal just by showing up.” Maybe these little dead beats should drop out of school and get a job.

This week we learned the horrrific news that a former coach at Penn State University has been raping the children of the poor over a 13-year period while the head coach, the president of Penn State, and various other high officials stood by in silence. When this head coach was fired, a certain portion of the Penn State student body (enough to create a major riot and turn over a police van) rioted in support of Joe Paterno, the head coach. These students believe that football is more important than stopping a child rapist.

WHAT ARE WE TEACHING OUR CHILDREN? In our own town of Gainesville, City Commissioners, past and present (excepting the two most recently elected) have sent the message that the interests of money and property are more important that the right of poor people to eat lunch. Pat Fitzpatrick repeatedly went to City Commission meetings and showed a TV20 video of a pregnant woman being turned away from St. Francis House. Commissioners were given eye-witness testimony that hungry children were being turned away from St. Francis House. They sat on their hands and did nothing to end this atrocity, for two long years. Now they have created a situation where even fewer people are able to eat.

May God have mercy on all of us, and lead us on to a better path.

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, duct
tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Friday, October 14, 2011



I used to tell so many more stories in this newsletter, especially in the old, old days when we walked through the woods, from camp to camp, sitting around people’s fire pits hearing the news of the day.

Maybe Jerry found a chicken, frozen solid and not past the date, in the dumpster behind Winn Dixie and he bought some flour and they all had chicken and dumplings....

or about Eva’s hallucination. Eva was a kindergarten teacher who took to drink after her child was killed in an accident. One afternoon, in a stupor of beer and listerine, she had a hallucination – but not of elephants or giant spiders. She saw little children running through the woods laughing and playing and she held her arms out to them. Soon after Eva stopped drinking and she had her own little apartment and was reunited with her family before the end. Maybe someone who drinks so much but has such a loving heart can have her own special hallucination and then find her way home...

I will never forget Henry who loved owls and felt he could communicate with them. One day he was standing in the parking lot of Shands, where he worked as a janitor. He looked up and saw an owl on the roof and then an owl feather fell at his feet.

It’s different now with so many homeless people, needing so much, but we still have our moments, especially at the small stops. Tuesday night two journalism students who are doing a class project on hunger rode along and they were talking to a beat up old hooker universally known as “Big Booty Judy.” She’s talking to them and our pharmacy volunteer says she has some donations in her car to give me. It’s a bag and sticking up out of it is a brand new fluffy pink teddy bear. Judy is saying, “It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry. People just walk by you. They don’t look at you, or if they do it’s like they’re looking at a piece of garbage. It’s because of how you look. But I’m not a piece of garbage. I’m a human being. I’d do anything to help anybody. I’d give someone the shirt off my back...if I had two shirts...” At that moment she glances over at me and sees the teddy bear and her eyes light up like candles. Of course I give her the bear and she wraps her arms around it...

At such moments I feel like the luckiest person on earth to have this job. To myself, I call them “the Jesus moments.”

Judy has had a long hard path through life, and none of us would have wished it on her. But we have the world we have. It is a gift to know these homeless people and to share such moments.


The Home Van’s annual Christmas party will be on Thursday, December 22 at 5:45 p.m. in the little parking lot on the east side of the Civil Courthouse. It has been an annual tradition in Gainesville for the past 6 or 7 years. People from all over the community join us and they bring Christmas stockings for our homeless friends (and sometimes home made cookies!). For you newbies on the list, here is how folks do the stockings:

Buy a pair of white tube socks. Roll up one sock and put it in the toe of the other. Then fill the stocking with presents and tie off the top. Here are some suggested items to put in the stockings: candles, batteries (especially triple As), duct tape, chocolate bars, reading glasses, playing cards, small games, crossword puzzle books, small stuffed animals, Vienna sausages, stamped envelopes, pens, small notebooks, lighters...The Dollar store is an excellent place to find stocking stuffers. We have two requests for the stockings:

1. Don’t put money in the stockings. It’s a wonderful thing to do, but it hurts too much if one person gets money in his stocking and another person doesn’t.

2. Make sure each stocking is not made up entirely of utilitarian gifts (like soap and toothpaste). Every stocking should have something pretty and frivolous in it like a Santa Claus candle or a chocolate bar.

We used to have designated drop-off sites for Christmas stockings, first at a volunteers house and then at the Alachua County Housing Authority. The number of people and the numbers of stockings has increased to the point that any drop-off site ends up resembling one of those homes on the TV show about people with Hoarders Syndrome. So now we ask people to bring the stockings to the Christmas party and, if they can, to stay and party with us and meet our homeless friends. If any of you make stockings and can’t bring them to the party, call me (372-4825) and I will make a drop-off arrangements for you.

Peace and love to everyone!


The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, bug spray, duct
tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Thursday, October 6, 2011



Mylar emergency blankets and candles – we need hundreds and hundreds of these two items during the winter months. Emergency blankets keep people alive, even when the temperatures go into the twenties. In fact, the homeless folks say that these blankets actually keep them warm on very cold nights and – good news! – they are extremely inexpensive – one or two dollars apiece depending on where you buy them. They can be purchased by the case online at many different sites – for a range of prices. If you shop around you will find a good deal. More good news – they’re light weight – minimal shipping charge. On very cold nights Pat and I drive around and pass them out, and we keep them in the van. When you donate mylars you are saving lives.

Candles are so, so important. A candle raises the temperature inside a tent by ten degrees. Equally important, candles keep people from sinking into depression. When it gets dark at five o’clock and you have no source of light – sitting out in the woods for endless hours of darkness – unable to read, unable to see what’s coming at you when you hear twigs breaking and leaves crunching - that is like being a prisoner of war.

In a way, our folks are refugees and prisoners of the war between corporate American and everybody else.

This winter I hope your generosity will allow us to pass out candles and mylar blankets by the dozens (mylars also make good makeshift tarps) so everyone has all they need of these two amenities.

One reminder: I no longer take in donations of blankets and winter clothing, because I don’t have the storage space. The Alachua County Housing Authority takes blankets and coats (large size coats are particularly needed). Once a week we take our van to the Hospice Attic Thrift Shop warehouse and load in blankets and sleeping bags and coats. The folks at Hospice Attic – who also donate to other small missions – are genuine angels, and there is one very special angel named Mary Lou who sorts out what we need from the vast middenheaps of donations they receive.

Every winter I hope that this is the last winter we will have hundreds of homeless people living outside. But the One-Stop Center is still a distant dream. One bright light in this darkness is Gail Monahan and her allies at the VA. I wish we could clone Gail, about 40 or 50 times. I think she’s gotten more people off the streets, permanently, than anyone else in Gainesville. She is the Albert Einstein of housing. Her goal is to get every single homeless veteran into housing and she is making great progress.

High protein foods also help homeless people survive the winter. Vienna sausages, or any little poptop cans of meat, will be needed more than ever in the months ahead.

Gary, who was treated for tongue cancer this fall and needed donations of protein shakes, asked me to thank everyone for helping him. We have been able to supply him with all the protein shakes he needed and he is making a good recovery. He can now eat applesauce and boiled eggs.

The Civic Media Center has given a temporary home to the St. Francis House Vet clinic. They also passed out bottled water to homeless folks all summer, and make their restroom available to homeless people.

Many thanks to all of you for being part of our Home Van family. The brothers and sisters in the woods appreciate you more than you will ever know.

love, arupa
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, bug spray, duct tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online

Thursday, September 1, 2011



This is the big news story from the Williston Road Camp. Four large alligators came down Sweetwater Branch and are now crawling around amongst the tents, scaring people, dogs and cats. One of these alligators is aggressive. Two of them died last week (water quality?), but two are left. James Wands, our onsite Home Van volunteer in that camp (he lives there), has made numerous phone calls to the Florida Wild LIfe Commission, which is responsible for capturing and relocating alligators. In the past they have done this several times for the Williston Road Tent Village, but this time there has been no response. Budget cuts? They are managing to co-exist with the gators, but if anyone on this list has pull with the Wild LIfe Commission, maybe they could do some pulling.


The Home Van is about to celebrate its ninth birthday (on September 26). In looking back, it suddenly hit me that the levels of racism and homophobia in the homelesss community have diminished considerably over the years. In the beginning, although there were some interracial relationships and friendships, for the most part all the homeless camps were segregated and mean remarks about crackers and ____ were uncomfortably frequent. Homeless people who happened to be gay had a hard time of it. Although we expressed our disagreement with these isms, we had a conscious commitment to serving people without judging them and were able to make friends across the board. Now integrated encampments are common, and openly gay homeless people seem to have friends and being doing as well as anyone. It’s a good change.

One of the best books about ‘isms’ that I’ve ever read is Dr. Seuss’s book about the Star-bellied Sneetches. He captured two essential truths: (1) Everybody wants to feel that they are better than somebody else, and (2) Capitalists make a great deal of money exploiting this desire. (For anyone who is interested, Bayard Rustin, an African American philosopher who taught at Harvard, spoke eloquently on this subject. In his last speech before he died, which was broadcast on NPR, he said, basically, “Forget racism. It’s all about rich against poor.”)

Before I leave this topic, I want to share the story of Charles, one of our more hilarious clients, although he could be a major pain in the posterior also. Charles is now clean and sober, but in the early days he would often be drunk when we arrived at Lynch Park. He would go into long rants about “You gave all the good stuff to whose white people up at the downtown plaza.” He would go on and on. One night I got tired of it and said, “Charles you’re right. You’ve really nailed it. Tonight we served steak and lobster up at the plaza.” Charles got into a giant fit of the giggles and we didn’t have to listen to that sermon again.

This is a timely topic. I am glad to see fewer ‘isms’ in the homeless community because if they are ever going to become a political force in the community and work for their own liberation, they can’t waste their time fighting with each other. Nor can any of us afford that.


August, thank you Heavenly Father!, is over and everyone has lived through it, including us, but we still have hot weather and will for awhile, so water donations help a lot. I’m also really low on paperback books. People love to read, so if you drop a few off, that would be great.

Love and blessings to all of you,

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, bug spray, duct tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Friday, August 12, 2011



Anna Hall and Ryan Roberts, members of Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International (CFPI), and Vinita Patel, resident pharmacist at the UF College of Pharmacy Medication Therapy Management (MTM) have joined our Home Van driveouts. Anna is also a professor at the UF College of Pharmacy and this fall she will have her CPFI students going on Home Van driveouts on a rotating basis. One CFPI student will go out on the Tuesday driveouts and work under the supervision of Dr. Abbitt, our Home Van doctor.

This is a huge step forward for us. Although we only dispense over-the-counter medications, none of us felt comfortable in that role. OTC medications are not harmless and should be administered from an understanding of the individual’s underlying medical problems and any other medications they may be taking. We gave out meds because, for example, alleviating the horror of a blinding toothache of someone who may, eventually, after being on a waiting list for weeks or months, get the tooth pulled, trumped theoretical considerations.

Anna and Vinita constructed a mini-pharmacy for the Home Van of tupperware containers that exactly fit into a banana box, each one labeled with the types of meds it contains. They are also collecting donations of OTC meds and are going to, along with Dr. Abbitt, help us apply for a grant to get vitamins from CVS.

To branch off a bit here, it has occurred to me that effective pain management may be one small piece in the effort to keep crack cocaine use from spreading. A few years ago we met a homeless woman who had two bad knees. She would come up to the van very slowly, with a friend helping her along, grimacing in pain at each step. Until one day when she came walking up to to the van, unassisted, with a big smile on her face. I asked her if she had gotten some medical care. She said, “No, I’m just having a good day.” After she left one of her friends said, sadly, “She’s started smoking crack.” Then I learned that crack is a highly effective pain medication that is available to homeless people 24/7. Our friend with the bad knees was a woman in late middle age who had lived indoors most of her life, holding down jobs and raising children. If she hadn’t fallen into poverty and homelessness, if she had had timely access to medical care and pain management, I don’t think in a hundred years she would have become a crack addict.

I’m not naïve enough to think you can fight the crack epidemic with a bottle if Ibuprofen, but, if you can keep even one person from walking down that road, it’s worth the whole game.

Anna tells me that their drive to collect OTC meds is getting off to a slow start, so some of you may want to contribute also. The dollar store on 13th street, the one down the street from Gainesville High School, btw, has excellent deals on aspirin and cold meds. The most frequently requested meds are for pain, heartburn, allergies, sinus congestion and skin infections. Vitamins are also requested frequently and, recently, many requests for Vitamin C. One of our homeless men follows the Linus Pauling Vitamin C regime and has been spreading the word that Vitamin C boosts your immune system and helps fight infection. He’s won a group of converts who have discovered that it really does.


We continue to receive wonderful donations from you, our extended Home Van family. A special thank you to all who have brought us bottled water. I wish you could directly experience how grateful people are for this assistance. So far this summer, the group of homeless folks we serve have not lost anyone to dehydration, which seems like a miracle to us when we are out there with them. After two hours we are fried, frizzled and done in. Spring Hill Baptist church makes their outdoor water faucet available to homeless people and undoubtedly other churches as well. It’s also a good idea to carry a few bottles of water in your car as you drive around. If you see a homeless person dragging down the sidewalk in this heat, give them some water.

Many blessings to all of you,

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, bug spray, duct tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Saturday, July 16, 2011



Rain has always felt like a sacrament to me, and never more so than this July, coming after one of the worst months we have ever experienced since the Home Van began going on driveouts. The June heat wave – day after day of temperatures around 100 degrees and heat indices from 105-110 degrees - made life in the homeless community a daily struggle with dehydration and heat exhaustion.

In addition, four of our homeless women died horrific deaths during the month of June. One was murdered by an unknown predator, one was beaten to death for the money from her disability check, and two died from complications of HIV they contracted from using drugs and working the streets. Maybe one of them was over the age of 50. Since several of these women were lifelong residents of the community, survived by many innocent relatives, I am not going to tell their stories. I will say that the two who died from HIV entered into drugs and street work after a childhood of being abused and molested, which is true of roughly 90% of the women who work the streets, according to the research I’ve found on this subject. These women were in and out of jail throughout their short lives.

It costs a great deal of money to continually put people in jail. When are we going to decriminalize prostitution and use that money to set up halfway houses where sex workers receive counseling, medical care, and job training? When are we going to realize that an abused child does not turn into a criminal and ‘dreg of society’ on her 18th birthday?


The City Commission has postponed the meeting to consider ending meal limits at St. Frances House from July 21 to August 18. No comment. I leave the commenting up to Pat – that’s his department. Also, NIMBYS are trying to derail the 152-bed shelter and rehabilitation program for homeless vets that the Alachua County Housing Authority is attempting to put in place. I have more respect for the NIMBYS who say “We don’t want homeless people near our business or neighborhood” than I do for those who are claiming that this facility is not good enough for our homeless vets. I suspect that most of them want to be seen as humanitarians, not NIMBYS. Well, let me see – where would homeless veterans want to be? In a moldy tent out in the woods or in a private room with a bath, a bed, and a microwave, on a bus line to the VA, with case management on site? Napolotano’s restaurant has filed a lawsuit attempting to stop this shelter for vets. I would suggest a community-wide boycott of Napolatano’s, and if someone wants to set up a picket line outside their restaurant, that would be a good thing also.


First of all, the public school system of Alachua County, who will be feeding all children under the age of 18 – no red tape – for the entire summer. Many hundreds of people are making this happen. Then, and always, the downtown public library. Year after year this library serves as the de facto cooling and warming center for our homeless people, makes their restrooms available, allows homeless people to check out books (that is rare in this country), has a special movie day for the homeless folks, with snacks served, and gives out street cards. Now they have added another amenity – bike repair tools. These librarians and library staff are my heros. Never once, in all these years of service to the homeless community, have I heard one librarian, or even library patron, at Citizen Comment whining about all the homeless people blighting the bibliophilic landscape. God bless them. And another thank you to The Civic Media Center, which makes their restroom available to homeless people, is giving out bottled water this summer as they did last summer, and have chained a bike pump to the front of their business, available to everyone. I recommend that all of you pick up a copy of the Iguana and start taking advantage of this counter-culture library and its many offerings of concerts, lectures, art exhibits and movie nights.


Our beloved Sh’mal, movie star and one of the Home Van’s first chaplains, has moved back to Gainesville after three years of living in Seattle. (For you new subscribers, Sh’mal was the star of a wonderful movie – “It’s a Sh’mal World” – made by UF students, about his work with homeless people in Gainesville.) He is returning to his chaplain duties with the Home Van. We have one chaplain, Larry Condra, who, happily, is also an addictions counselor, but we have always needed to have two. The homeless folks love Sh’mal, along with just about everybody else. Welcome home Sh’mal!


We are giving out enormous quantities of bottled water. A special blessing on all of you who bring bottled water and leave it on our steps. Keep up the good work!

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, bug spray, duct tape, 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Friday, July 1, 2011



I am pretty good about thanking the Universe for the blessings bestowed upon me, but not so good at remembering to have gratitude for life’s difficulties, which may be the greatest blessings of all, because they are our teachers. Gratitude for life’s difficulties is the path out of the woods. If I spend five minutes a day on the path, and the rest of the day crashing through the bushes (a common scenario), it’s still good. Because of those five minutes I know where the path is, and that I can be on it any moment that I remember to be.

This has been a month of one tragedy after another in the homeless community, and yet we still hear so much gratitude from them, and so much ability to seize the joy of the moment. Last Tuesday they came together with the volunteers and threw me a fabulous birthday party downtown – with cupcakes, watermelon, red velvet cake, ice cream, flowers, cards, and tsunamis of love. I’ve never been to a better party in my life.


Joy is having something fun to do. The vast supply of books, games and art supplies we received at Christmas is finally running low. We need more. These gifts mean more than having fun (although that would be enough). My old Vermont granny would often tell me that “The Devil finds work for idle hands.” She was right. Long hot days aren’t so hard if you have a good book to read, games to play, a sketchpad and a pencil. All those are absolutely terrific alternatives to drinking and fighting (being Irish I’m kind of an expert on that).


In India July 4 is Gurupurinama Day, when one thanks the Universe for all Teachers and all Enlightened Beings – Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Aristotle, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi............We have been blessed with so many. Happy Fourth of July and Gurupurinama Day to one and all.

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries books, games, personal hygiene supplies. 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 Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Home Van Newsletter 5.29.11


I was sad to read in the New York Times this morning that Gil Scott Heron – poet, musician, visionary, lifelong champion of the poor and the oppressed - died this week in a New York City hospital, another victim of the crack epidemic. Drugs are no respecters of persons, places, money, fame, talent or anything else. I look forward to the day (if I should live so long!) that our country redefines drug addiction as an illness rather than a crime. Ever since I can remember this country has been fighting a ‘war on drugs’ and drugs always win. I imagine that the money fighting this endless war would build a lot of rehabilitation clinics and hospitals.

I wanted to post a poem by Mr. Heron, but his poems are very long and excerpts do not do them justice. In his honor I am posting one of my own poems, a poem I suspect he would like:

The Least of These


you got the shakes
picking up butts
on 13th Street,
some of them are long,
God is good.

Tennessee splits a
6-pack with you along
the banks of
Sweetwater Branch,
it’s all good.

Except Keesha’s on a rampage
wants your butt hanging from
a rusty tent pole
you head up stream,
fill a water bottle at the bus depot
for JC so he can boil his
colostomy bag,
out here
where You live.

-arupa/May 2011

The Meal Limits

It appears that the City now has some willingness to change from a 130-person limit to a three-hour serving period. I will update you on any information about that. Unfortunately, those person who support the meal limit have requested a rather Draconian tradeoff – an end to all meal services to the hungry and homeless in the downtown Gainesville area. So, if this comes to pass we will be trading one battle for another. I will keep you updated about this also, as information comes my way. It is still in the discussion stage at this point.

In the meantime, we keep on keeping on. Recent guests to our evening meal included five children, an elderly woman in a nightgown who had just been discharged from Shands, a former AGH employee....


These are most needed now. The need for water donations will be ongoing through out the summer. To arrange to drop off donations, call Home Van Central at 352-372-4825

Peace and blessings,


Sunday, April 10, 2011



Sometime in the coming weeks, the Meal Limit battle will be fought in front of the City Commission. Outraged citizens, along with wealthy downtown developers, will inform the City Commission that St. Francis House, as well as other do gooders, are feeding junkies and hookers.

The theory is that if we stop feeding these ‘dregs of society’ (another phrase we hear at public meetings), they will go away, leaving us with a prosperous and vibrant downtown.

Yes, the Home Van feeds junkies and hookers and we are proud of it. They are folks we have known for many years, and people who have taught us more about love and compassion than we ever learned anywhere else. Two years ago, when a middle-aged woman was discharged from Shands hospital, into homelessness, with a feeding tube hanging out of her stomach and a bag of medicines that require refrigeration, she wound up in Lynch Park, since there was no bed available at St. Francis House. The junkies and hookers took care of her, and brought her to our attention so that we could find a social worker to help her out. I will never forget the sight of Peanut, one of the Lynch Park junkies, on his knees grinding up her pills between two rocks and carefully pouring the grains into a bottle of water, as the directions from the hospital required. Others take care of Maria, who has asthma and diabetes. When newly homeless people find themselves on the dark street that runs behind St. Francis House, it is the junkies and hookers who orient them to their situation and tell them where to get help. Two weeks ago an elderly couple, who looked very middle class and beyond terrified, were brought to the Home Van by our junkies and hookers. Actually, the old man refused to come – he was too humiliated. Charlene took the old woman by the arm, saying softly, “It’s okay. They’re nice people. They will help you.”

If only the City Commission were more like our junkies and hookers.

Where do they come from and why are they out there? Virtually all of them are long-time Gainesville residents. Some of them were born here. Why they are out there is a question you can research for yourselves, online or in the many books on the subject. You will find that they come from childhoods of poverty, abuse, trauma, and in the case of women who work the streets, long-term childhood incest. If they were still children, everyone would believe in the importance of helping them. Because they were the invisible children of the poor, because many of them were sent off to fight a war they could not avoid by enrolling in college – they have now achieved the status of “dregs of society” and we are supposed to let them starve.

We will do that the same day the City Commissioners sprout wings and fly off to the Planet of Condominiums and Upscale Shopping.

If you have been downtown lately, to an arts festival, a play, a concert in the park – if you have sat outside at Harrys enjoying food and music - you will see that we have a wonderful and vibrant downtown. A few lost souls in the plaza or Lynch Park, have little or no impact. The only time I would advise you to stay away from downtown is at bar closing time on weekend nights. Hundreds of poor little inebriated college students staggering to their cars, with valiant warriors from GPD saving as many of them as they can, is not a pleasant sight.

This how a good many of the morality mongers who ask the commission to keep the meal limit are getting their money, directly or indirectly. They sell beer to college students.

Maybe we need a class on morality and compassion taught by junkies and hookers.

I will give the last word here to my old friend Bill Shakespeare:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

love, arupa

Sunday, March 27, 2011



This is important! Below is an edited excerpt from the Gainesville Sun on this issue and this meeting:

“[On Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall] the City Plan Board, which advises the Gainesville City Commission on planning issues, will hear a petition to change the 130-meals-per-day limit on soup kitchens. Kent Vann, the executive director of the St. Francis House on South Main Street, the only establishment affected by the meal limit, filed a petition to have the limit lifted. The petition instead asks that the ordinance, Section 30-111, be changed to allow three hours of serving meals in a day. Vann said meals would be served between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to give clients with jobs flexibility to get there and to avoid a clustering of people downtown.

According to the St. Francis House, the average number of lunches...served increased steadily between 2005 and 2009, when the Plan Board voted to more strictly enforce the ordinance, which had been on the books for years. In a reversal, the Plan Board suggested removing the limit altogether last year during discussions on whether to lift it during holidays. Downtown merchants and residents — along with city commissioners — contend that the meal limit spreads the “burden” of the homeless population instead of concentrating it downtown.

Nathan Collier, owner of The Collier Companies, which has a number of apartment complexes in Gainesville, including Arlington Square downtown, recently wrote an email to commissioners with a plan to ‘keep Downtown Meal Limit.’

‘Gainesville’s Downtown plaza, instead of being an inviting location for families to converge has become a DMZ, occupied by an army of daytime campers,’ Collier wrote. ‘I applaud the kind instincts of those who wish to help those in need BUT not in a manner and a location that hurts so many others who work so hard to make downtown a pleasant place to live. Why must the vagrants take over one of the very best locations the City has to offer?’

Collier also offered a novel idea that is sure to upset homeless advocates: “Why not LOWER the limit? Phase downtown meals out over time? Downtown has suffered long enough!”

Vann said that would only fuel panhandling — not to mention take away food from people in need. ‘You’re hurting human beings is what you’re doing’ he said.”

So this is what we’re up against. The notion that homeless people are vagrants and if they are denied services they will disappear –rolling down Interstate 75 like a little group of tumbleweeds – has been tried, in various arenas, ever since I can remember. If it worked, there might be about three homeless people left in this town.

The idea that the meal limit will result in “services being dispersed through out the city” doesn’t work either. Alternate meal sites throughout the city have not magically “appeared” during the year the meal limit has been in place. Any attempt to make such sites appear would be met by the usual horde of NIMBYS who would enjoy the support of the City since they are committed to
“protecting neighborhoods and businesses.”

The meal limit has resulted in more meal services happening in the downtown plaza, not less (duh). I would be happy to disperse my meal service, but I wouldn’t be able to disperse it very far, since wheelchairs, crutches and canes are a common site in our food line. Perhaps I could disperse it to the banks of the Duck Pond. The Duck Pond Neighborhood Association would need to install porta-potties, a water fountain and picnic tables but I’m sure they could manage that.

WE NEED A BIG TURNOUT FOR THIS MEETING!!! And not just the ‘usual suspects’ - new faces, new voices, and plenty of them.


We are low on personal hygiene products and on vitamins. Almost all the folks out there want one-a-day type vitamins, because they have discovered they feel better when they take daily vitamin. Sometimes I can meet this need out of the Food Bank, but there has been a total dry-up of vitamins there (which happens periodically) so I really need to get these donated. The Dollar Stores often have good deals on vitamins and places like Walgreens often have “two for the price of one” sales.

Enjoy this beautiful Spring, and many blessings,


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 Citizens for Social Justice, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at

Saturday, March 19, 2011



Years ago, when I volunteered on the swing shift at St. Francis House, I often noticed that, after dark on the day the disability and Social Security checks arrive, a car would pull into the parking lot of the convenience store across from St. Francis House and a man in a suit and tie would disappear into Lynch Park. It wasn’t always the same man, but it was always a man in a black suit driving a black car, probably to be more invisible to law enforcement. This was the crack man, come to harvest the homeless people’s money.

The crack man gives out free samples of his wares, a deadly practice. Addiction experts say that crack cocaine is the most addictive substance on the face of the earth and many people become permanently addicted the first time they use it. The crack man also extends credit, just in case someone might decide to spend a little of their money elsewhere, so he is there to get all or most of their checks. He is a scary guy. I met him once face-to-face, in the early days of the Home Van. We were parked in the same parking lot. He walked over and stood there staring into the van. Competition will not be tolerated. After a moment of frozen silence, I gave him my best “Suzie Stupid” smile and said, “Would you like a cup of hot chocolate?” He pulled a big wad of paper money out of his pocket, snapped it in my face, and said, “I don’t need your hot chocolate.” Then he disappeared into Lynch Park. If you cross the crack man you are going to end up dead or seriously disabled. This man participates in inducing or even forcing homeless women to smoke crack and then putting them to work on the streets.

The crack cocaine trade is also financed by selling food stamps. The going price for food stamps is 50 cents on the dollar. I have been told that some convenience stores located near drug areas buy food stamps for 40 or even 30 cents on the dollar. Individuals buy food stamps because they need more food than they are getting, or as part of the general trade by which people obtain tobbacco, batteries, dog food and other amenities that are unavailable or scarce to poor and homeless people. Every governmental body that cuts down on the amount of food and other services available to homeless and hungry people are helping out the crack man and other predators. As the Taoists say, the web of life is an unbroken whole and every act, every decision, reverberates through all our lives.

Sunday, February 20, 2011



Hello! You haven’t heard much from me over the winter. It has been a winter of two Home Van computer crashes and a lot of work.
Winter is always a bleak time for homeless people and those who serve them, but we have never, in our nine years of working the streets, seen a winter as harrowing as this one. It’s also been hard times for many in the housed community. I don’t think anything is gained by sending out one Dickensian newsletter after another. It disempowers people, including me. I take it one day at a time and don’t spend a lot of time looking at the big picture or the long-range prospects. Fortunately, there are courageous souls who work with the big picture and the long-range. For us, it’s who gets to eat today, or get their prescription filled, or have a candle to read by during the long, cold nights.

You blessed souls continue to support our mission even during times of silence. Once again we have made it through a hard winter without losing anyone to hypothermia, in part because of the steady donating of mylar blankets.

We received very large book donations this fall, and ongoing donations from Haven Hospice Attic, and that was certainly a blessing. Nina likes to read romances where Broderick, of the cleft jaw, courts the lovely Desiree. Joe wants a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Nick wants anything by Michael Crichton. Melvin is into weighty tomes on history and politics. No problem – we have had it all. At each stop people pull the book box out of the van and start going through it – giving each other reviews of the books they’ve already read. Kim hugged her book and says, “This takes me into a different world.”


I am declaring the next 30 days DUCT TAPE AND BATTERIES MONTH at the Home Van. We need rolls of duct tape to be donated, so people can repair their tents. We can never get too many battery donations. Batteries for flashlights and radios make a huge difference in quality of life for people living in the woods. Light. Music. Voices.

Also, if any of you are visited by the Money Elf – we need tents. Tents that are donated go to the most vulnerable people, with ‘vulnerable’ defined as pregnant, elderly, or disabled. We never have enough even for these groups. Lately there has been an influx of very young adults into the homeless community. They can’t find work. They ask for tents with scared, amazed faces: “I have nowhere to go at night.” If any of you can have a tent drive at your church or other organization???


It was wonderful last Thursday to stand around with the Williston Road campers, basking in the sun and watching Sheba peel an egg. (Most dogs will eat an egg shell and all. Sheba peels her egg – quick and delicate of paw.)

Thank you Creator, for Spring.

love and blessings to all of you,

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________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