WATER AND BUG SPRAY ABUNDANCE
This we’ve had - thanks to many individuals and several groups in the community, including The Friendship Center, the devotees of Satya Sai Baba of the University of Florida, The Alachua County Homeless Coalition, and Holy Trinity’s Downtown Ministry. This is the first summer we have not encountered any heat-related illnesses in the downtown homeless community or serious skin infections from bug bites. Many of our friends out in the wood have asked me to tell you, “Thank you and God bless you!”
Throw out the life-line across the dark wave,
There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! O who then will dare
To throw out the life-line his peril to share?
-Edward S. Ufford
The VA social workers, that’s whom. This beautiful old song comes to mind when I think of the work being done by the VA social workers. The VA, in conjunction with the Alachua County Housing Authority, set a goal this year to get every single homeless veteran in Gainesville into housing. More than half of our homeless veterans are in housing now, and they are working their way through the other half. This success is based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by homeless vets. The social workers – Taylor and friends – aren’t sitting behind desks waiting for vets to hear about the program and come in to apply. They are walking through the woods, week after week, finding veterans and talking with them and helping them to overcome their obstacles their fears and suspicions, and then guiding them through the process of qualifying and moving in to housing.
Some homeless veterans have grudges against the VA and don’t believe that any good can come to them from that source. Others are afraid to leave the only home and support group they’ve had for many years. Some don’t feel worthy, like Clifford, one of the first Vietnam vets to be served by the Home Van. When we talked to him about housing he said to us, “A tent in the woods is all I deserve after what I did in Vietnam.” One of us gently asked him, “How old were you when you went to Vietnam?” “Nineteen,” he told us.
The VA social workers understand all this. They don’t make just one trip to visit a homeless veteran and invite him into the program. They go out every week, for as long as it takes. They are community heroes.
The Home Van has an opening for a chaplain, or possibly two chaplains who would share the duties. Ideally, a chaplain comes along on every driveout, first to the woods and then downtown. Their job is to circulate among the homeless people, offering friendship and, if requested, spiritual support. I often tell a new chaplain, ‘Look around. If you see someone off by themselves who looks like their dog just died, go over and talk to them’. The chaplain visits homeless people in the hospital and sometimes, as they build relationships with people, go out to the woods to see someone who has a special need. As near as I can tell, most homeless people seem to be Protestant and evangelical. Our past chaplains have come from a variety of religious backgrounds. It doesn’t matter as long as he or she has a heart for people.
THE NEWS FROM THE WOODS
Thanks to several folks in the Home Van’s extended family, Ashley is having the best birthday he’s had in many years. He received a tent big enough to stand up in, an air mattress, a tarp, a Coleman stove and a Coleman lantern. Every week now when he comes to the van he has a smile on his face. He asks me to thank all of you. I don’t think he realized before now that there’s people who care about him. In September, when his 80th birthday comes up, he will get a cake and a few other goodies.
James, as you may recall, was bitten by an alligator earlier this summer. When he made the bad decision to swim in Sweetwater Branch, alligators and all, he had fallen off the wagon after a long, valiant attempt to overcome a serious addiction. I am happy to tell you that now he has made a full recovery and has been accepted into the Honor Program at the VA. This wonderful program offers housing, counseling and many other kinds of activities for veterans battling addiction.
One of our van volunteers was a little stunned when Peg came to the van for services. She went to school with Peg’s children, and remembered Peg as a good mother of the ‘soccer mom’ variety. The company Peg worked for went out of business as a result of the Recession, and her many attempts to find other employment failed, as it so often does for people over fifty. Finally she lost her home and ended up in the woods. Like James, help came to her in the unlikely garb of misfortune. Her dogs contracted a serious and highly contagious skin disease. The folks from St. Francis Animal Hospital helped her out, both with treatment for the dogs and with with getting rid of and replacing her tent, clothing, and any other amenities the dogs had come into contact with. They became involved in her life and one of them gave her a lead that led to a minimum wage job. Now – TA DA – she is going to start nursing school this fall. I love happy endings.
BIG WOODS CLEANUP!
With the help of a construction dumpster from Solid Waste Management, the Williston Road Campers are doing a major woods cleanup. Keeping the woods clean and beautiful is an ongoing project for them.
Peace and blessings to all of you,
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, bug spray,Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, 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/
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.