Monday, September 10, 2012


On September 26, 2002, the Home Van went on it’s first driveout. United Church of Gainesville gave us our seed money and our first socks and peanut butter. Kelli Brew loaned us the van used by the Catholic Worker’s Breakfast Brigade. We started out assembling 15 bag dinners for each driveout. On Thursday September 27, we are having a birthday party in the downtown plaza, in the little parking lot on the east side of the Civil Courthouse, right next to Bo Diddley Community Plaza. We will be there right around 6 p.m. EVERYONE IS INVITED! Please come and join us. If you want to bring a treat to share with our homeless friends, that will be great. If that’s not convenient, please bring your selves. I’m always telling the folks that people all over Gainesville care about them and give us donations to help them, so this will be a time to show your faces and schmooze with the whole family.
I found the poem I wrote for our first birthday party, which was held on stage in the downtown plaza during a big rain storm. I’m reprinting it here. It will be a treat for the old timers on the list, who will remember many of the folks I mention.
One year later, “the homeless,”
discussed like a herd of unruly cows,
to be moved to a new pasture, for municipal convenience,
scatter across our less-blinded vision until we see
Opie 12-stepping through the woods,
Otis, silent like a Sufi saint,
Marcus, who loves sardines,
Arthur cursing the government,
Candy raising rats in her car,
Eric studying beetles in the woods,
Eva, taking a bath out of a plastic pail,
George, whose clothes always look like they’ve just been ironed,
Jerry, the leader of his tribe,
Charlie, of tattered magnificence,
Pete, his new hat decorated with feathers and Spanish moss,
Bulldog and Blaze propping each other up while they
enjoy a concert in the park,
Denise and Victoria sleeping in their car on winter nights,
Charles yelling, “I want a pen and a notebook. Do you think I’m stupid?”
Renatta eating canned fruit with such relish,
Donna in her scarlet dress dancing on the downtown plaza,
Ed tipping his hat as he says, “Pray for me, I need a miracle.”
Robert the vegan refusing new shoes because he’s finally found a job -
For all these, not cows, people,
and many more, Creator we thank you,
as we find our souls waiting for us along the path to South Camp,
just off Williston Road.”
None of us are the same people were were back then. The homeless people have been our teachers – of courage, patience and grace. Thanks to them we are better people than we were.
You may wonder if we still know the people mentioned in the poem, and how they are doing now. Opie, a Vietnam vet, joined AA and overcame a very serious drinking problem. Later he moved back to Arkansas. Otis, who used to be an electrical engineer at GRU, still walks through the streets of Gainesville, making his silent rounds. He started this practice after his wife died, for reasons known only to himself. Marcus had a spiritual awakening, after many years of being a homeless crack addict. He has been living in his own apartment for over a year. Arthur, an old Vietnam vet, was the philosopher king of the homeless community. We found him sitting on a park bench, on one of our first driveouts, and I whipped out my little notebook and asked him what he needed. “A living wage and affordable housing would be nice, “ he said in a genial snarl. Arthur got a room at the old Anchor Lodge, and did not die on the streets. Eric is a rogue entymologist who lives in the woods and studies bugs. He has published in several scholarly journals and occasionally receives a small grant. Last time I knew he was studying glow worms. Candy, a school teacher, has been living inside for the last few years. Eva was a kindergarten teacher who lost her bearing after her child died at 18, and wound up homeless. She did have her own apartment and was reunited with her family before she died. Bulldog and Blaze I don’t know, except they are not here anymore. They were quite a couple. We helped Denise and Victoria get housing. One of them was in a wheelchair and on disability and the other had a job at Burger King. So far as I know they are still doing well. Jerry was a Native American and a Vietnam vet. He loved the woods and taught survival skills to other homeless people. When Jerry died the choir of the church he attended came to the downtown plaza and sang, “I’ll Fly Away.” I looked up and saw a very large bird winging across the sky overhead. Old Charlie, another vet, got into housing before he died. Pete ended up in a nursing home, where he died. Charles has overcome his addiction and is in housing. Renatta is still homeless, but has a very nice partner, Huck, who cares for her. She takes care of homeless cats. Donna married a wonderful guy, himself homeless at the time, and they have been living in an apartment for the last few years. I don’t know Ed’s housing status. He has hoarders’ syndrome, along with other psychiatric conditions, and has a hard time hanging on to an apartment. He once electrified the Gainesville City Commission by telling them that the Mayor of Hawthorne had kidnapped him mother. I still see him around sometimes. Robert the vegan got his disability and so far as I know is no longer homeless.
As you can see, the homeless community is a cross-section of humanity.
When we cut back to one driveout a week, I took advantage of the money we saved to buy a few tents each month. I have been inspired to set this goal: that every homeless person will at least have a tent this winter. This is something we have never achieved, and winters are times of great suffering. If you can, give us a tent. One person at a time, we can do this! The tents we buy are $50 at places like WalMart, and can accommodate two people.
Vitamin B12
I learned from a recent Dr. Oz show that the homeless community is a textbook example of a community at severe risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency, which causes a myriad of problems, including chronic tiredness and mental confusion. So, we are hoping for donations of this supplement. Such donations can be given to us or to the Helping Hands Clinic at the First United Methodist Church downtown.
love 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