THE GENTLE RAIN FROM HEAVEN
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 NEWS FROM NIMBY LAND
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.
HEARTFELT THANK YOUS TO SO MANY
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.
SH’MAL IS BACK!
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!
WATER WATER WATER
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 http://homevan.blogspot.com/