Saturday, December 19, 2015


I hadn't planned to write to you all again before the holidays, but this story must be shared. 
Yesterday I heard a gentle tapping on my front door.  I went to my take out window and there was an old black man standing on my porch steps, someone I had never seen before.  He needed some food and cold weather gear, which I was fortunate to have.  There was something special about this old man - I had no idea what it was but I could sense it strongly.  He told me he was a Vietnam vet who had run into some trouble down at the Lake City VA and came here hoping for better luck.  I gave him Bridget Fitzgerald's card, telling him that she is not a bureaucrat and has worked her way through bigger kerfluffles than his to get vets into housing. 
Then, at some point, he told me that he had been a blues musician most of his life.  He began talking about the gigs he'd played and he lit up with with such joy and such amazing descriptions of the concerts, the music, the instruments, the riffs...  I literally felt like I was listening to someone who had walked out of history, like Blind Lemon or Muddy Waters.   Then I remembered that more than ten years ago I found a really nice harmonica in a box of donations and put it aside, thinking that someone would come along who wanted it.  I told  him to wait a minute, I had something he might want.  I showed him that harmonica.  I don't think I have ever seen a bigger smile or more joyful eyes on a human face than his when he reached through and took that harmonica!  It was really something. 
 I hope I see him again sometime, maybe in a concert.
Happy happy to one and all!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The Spirit of Grace Celebration out on 39th Avenue could not have been more beautiful and hopeful.  Grace continues to thrive.  The 131 Dining Hall is really, really nice - painted in bright, cheerful colors, commodious, and well-appointed.  Freeman slipped in and left the official Home Van soup pot, with two ladles, in the kitchen.  It is a five-gallon restaurant-grade pot that cost the proverbial 'arm and a leg,' and shows little if any wear after its 10 years of service with us.  It is good to think this pot will continue to bubble with good food for our homeless friends.  I was very pleased that Commissioner Randy
Wells won the Spirit of Grace Award.  Without his long and patient negotiations with the State, and other efforts he made, it is unlikely that Grace would be there, so the award could not have gone to a more deserving person.
At our end of town, the Home Van food pantry is serving a vital function for the homeless and marginally-housed people who remain in the downtown area, especially now that the Salvation Army has ceased providing an evening meal.  I have had many conversations with homeless people, encouraging them to move to Dignity Village and take advantage of the many services available at Grace - good food, clothing, medical care, job training, AA meetings etc. etc.  We have worked steadily to provide tents for people moving to Dignity.  I will not, however, participate in any strategy to starve people into submission to moving out there - not now, not ever.  As I have mentioned before, some of our customers do have a roof over their heads, but no money left to buy food.  Some cannot make that move to Dignity because of mental illness - they have to stay in their comfort zone and it would take one-on-one work with a social worker to change that.  And some are stubborn old geezers who just don't want to.  We will provide them with as much supplemental food as we can as long as they are down here.   And as long as you, our extended family, make it possible for us to do so.  Without your love and generosity we would not exist.
It is a great luxury to be working for a small mission rather than an agency, because there is the time needed to talk to people. Our local agencies do so much for so many people.   I have sat behind the front counter of an agency and had to answer the phone 10 times an hour, with people standing in line in front of me for other services.  There is little if any time for long conversations.  When people call here I may or may not be able to give them what they need, but I can talk to them, and  help them process what they are going through and, sometimes, in the course of that conversation, we noodle our way through to a strategy that might actually work.  Last week I had a 20 minute conversation with a very young mother with a toddler and a newborn.  Her partner had split town leaving her with an unpaid and fairly sizeable GRU bill and her utilities were due to be cut off the next morning.  She had some hope that he might return the next day and pay GRU.  She says he has left before when the stress of babies and bills got to be too much for him, but has always come back.  But what if he doesn't?  What is she going to do?  In the course of our conversation my brain came up with a couple more places she might go to for assistance, and I also told her that, if all else failed, we could keep her supplied with candles and bottled water.  I think something worked out because I haven't heard from her again.  The great thing is that I could talk to her. She needed to talk.  A lot of people need, as much as anything else, someone to listen to them.  I'm so glad to be able to do that. 
Liz McCulloch, my co-conspirator at our food pantry, also spends time talking to customers.  She gives out meds, candles and other miscellaneous items while I pack bags, and often finds out that this person needs a pair of work shoes or a severely disabled person needs a tent.  Liz  uses her resources to meet special needs. 
Our special needs right now are Triple A batteries, small jars of peanut butter, and diabetic food such as Glucerna bars, Glucerna Shakes, and sugar and corn syrup-free canned meats. Fresh fruit is also something we could use more of, particularly oranges, and vitamins, including Vitamin C.
Love and peace to all of you,
e Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, food for people who don’t have kitchens
, candles and batteries. 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

Sunday, October 4, 2015


The Home Van Food Pantry is doing a very large business as things continue to go badly, both in terms of the economy and the access to food in the downtown area.  The Salvation Army has stopped serving dinner except on Fridays and is planning to drop meal services all together at the end of the year.  There are also people coming down from Dignity Village to receive food, since the kitchen at Grace is not yet operational.  Although we are a food pantry for homeless people, some elderly people who have (thank God) a roof over their heads but not much else, are also coming to receive food. We do not discriminate.   Some people would like to be going to Grace for meals but they've lost their bus pass (as you may recall, the city gave out permanent bus passes to homeless people earlier this year).  They have been told that bus passes can't be replaced.  It is  hard to keep track of one's belongings living of the streets (it's hard enough living inside, as I've discovered), and one's belongings are much more likely to be stolen if you're homeless.  There is also the photo ID problem.  If you lose your photo ID you cannot get service at a food pantry or many other places.  That is bureaucratic cruelty.   Under the Patriot Act photo IDs are very hard to get and even harder to replace.  Is our society really going to let people starve because they don't have the right pieces of paper?  Sounds to me like something out of Germany in the early 30s.  My Jewish friends often say that we must never forget history, particularly that history, because, among other things, it teaches the lesson that good people can be lulled, one step at a time, into unspeakable evil. 
We might need some civil disobedience.  I am dealing with an extremely boring but non-threatening ailment called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I can't organize civil disobedience events or rallies at this time.  Maybe someone else could take this on.   "HEY HEY BUREAUCRATS, HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL YOU STARVE TODAY".  Well, surely one of you can come  up with something better than that.
In case anyone is wondering, yes, I am angry about all this.
Some of you may be wondering why we still have homeless people downtown.  There is the bus pass problem, the problem of people with mental illness who are afraid or unwilling to go outside their comfort zone, the old hermits who just don't want to, and others who for various reasons don't want to be way out on the edge of town.  I think Grace Market Place and Dignity Village are evolving into good places that will solve the problem of homelessness for many people, but in the meantime, everybody has to eat today and tomorrow and all the other days of the week.
In the meantime, I also have a lot of gratitude for the support so many of you are giving to to our little food pantry.   There are even elves who drop food through the hole in the screen and disappear! 
At this time, we are particularly in need of donations of small jars of creamy peanut butter. Chunky soups, canned meats, beenie weenies and anything Chef Boy Ardee are also much appreciated.
love and peace to all of you!
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, food for people who don’t have kitchens
, candles and batteries. 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

Sunday, August 16, 2015


The Home Van food pantry got off to a bumpy start because I was very low energy, and a lot of other things were going on, but we are now finding our stride, due in no small part to the fact that
Liz McCulloch is now working the Wednesday afternoon food pantry with me.  Liz brings a lot of expertise and good energy to any project she is involved in.  She deals with over-the-counter medications, candles, cold drinks and, of course, talking to people.  In any form of outreach, talking to people is an important part of it.  You make friends with your customers and have a chance to be involved in their lives in a positive way, as you discover small needs - huge and unobtainable to them - that you can fulfill.  I pack the bags.  I know the customers - who's diabetic, who's recovering from surgery, food allergies - that sort of thing.  Of course Liz is learning all that as well, so our roles are not cast in concrete.
A lot of our old guys love, love, love Vienna sausages - the more little cans you give them, the happier they are, and they do at least have protein.  So we will always feature God's lowly Vienna sausage at the Home Van.  However, I am finding great joy in trying to give out the best possible food we can - both in terms of nutrition and appeal, with the help of the food bank and our donators.  Almost every week we have fresh fruit, whole grain breads, cheese, chunky soups loaded with vegetables, Chef Boy Ardee, sardines (a healthy fish since they are small and contain little if any mercury), and protein shakes.  Lately we have been very low on peanut butter, so peanut butter (small jars, smooth not chunky) will be greatly appreciated.  We can also use more diabetic foods. 
Our other major needs are for batteries (double and triple A's and D's), and bug spray.  We hardly ever get donations of bug spray, due to the expense involved.  I understand that.  On the other hand, mosquitos are driving people stark, raving mad.  The first two people to bring me an entire box of bug spray will receive in return a painting by me. 
To arrange to drop off donations call me at 352-372-4825.  Financial donations should be made out to Citizens for Social Justice and mailed to 307 SE 6th St., G'ville  32601.  Online donations can be made by going to:
love and peace to everyone,

Friday, June 5, 2015


Dear Home Van friends,
I’m sorry to be so long in thanking you for the amazing outpouring of food and money for food when I requested help. ( My pilot light has been a little low since we ended the driveouts, but I’m on the mend.)  We have been able to feed everyone who has come to us.  The uptick in business at Bread of the Mighty Food Bank seems to be a permanent situation.  More and more people are in need of food assistance over the five-county area Bread of the Mighty serves, so your help makes all the difference.
The major surprise for me, when it comes to our food pantry, is that I am now meeting homeless children, very young homeless children.  We hear about them every year in the Point-in-Time Survey.   Roughly 600 children in Alachua County are homeless.  But I rarely met these children when we were driving out.  One young single  mother, B, became homeless with a four-year-old, after a horrific and totally unexpected family tragedy.  She came to Gainesville because she believed there was a person living here who would help her get back on her feet.  That turned out to be untrue and she found herself on the streets, for the first time in her life.  B is one of the most centered and courageous young women I’ve ever known.   She went to agencies and missions all over Gainesville, barking up every tree she could find.  When I met her she had lined up subsidized housing, subsidized daycare, and 15 job interviews.  I met her on  a Friday afternoon.  Her housing was going to become available on Monday, but in the meantime she was facing a rainy, stormy weekend with nowhere to go.  She went to a shelter and whoever she spoke with – staff member?  volunteer?  I have no idea.  In any case, this person told her that there was no bed available for her and that if she ever came back with her child, they would be obligated to call DCF and have her child taken.  Fortunately, some of our homeless friends overheard this conversation and gave her my name and address.  We put her up in a motel for the weekend with a bag of kid-friendly groceries.  She came back last week to tell me that she now has a job and things are going well.
Another young family, parents and a very young toddler, were actually living in a tent when they came here for food.  Nevertheless, their child was clean, well-dressed, healthy-looking and had a smile on his face.    With some help from us, they are moving into what I would term “marginal housing.”  It is not ideal, but a step up from a tent and they and their baby will be safe and dry.  One of the parents is working fulltime at a fast food restaurant and they are saving every penny they can to get for real housing soon.  The third young family had a very small baby with them.  Fortunately, this baby stays with relatives at night and is with them during the day.  They want a tent for themselves, to camp near where their baby is living, and have a place to keep their belongings and prepare for job interviews.  It is hard to get a job when you are living in a tent, and basically impossible when you are roaming the streets.  All these young families impressed me with their courage.  Thank God for cell phones.  I had each of them put our number into their cells.  I told them to call me when they need to, and assured them they can get food from us whenever they need it, not just on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
The other major group who comes here is very old men.  Most of them are the old hermits and mavericks who have always come here for services.  I talk to them about Dignity Village but they’re just not interested.  Some of them have been out in the woods since Vietnam and expect to live out their lives in the woods by themselves.  They are a remarkably cheerful lot and always say God Bless You!
I am hearing about Iraq veterans.  I had a long conversation yesterday with a young man who is not a veteran himself but says that most of his friends in the homeless community are.  He tells me that they are in very bad shape, psychologically, and he is doing what he can to help them.  I haven’t seen the VA social workers lately, but so far as I know they are still out there rounding people up for the HUD VASH program.  But there are always more.
Peace and love to everyone,
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, food for people who don’t have kitchens
, candles and batteries. 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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Home Van Newsletter 4/16/15

            Service with Compassion
a Roundtable on Homelessness
Randy Stacey, Helping Hands Clinic
Arupa and Bob Freeman, HOME Van volunteers
Adam Gurske, Family Promise
Thursday, April 23
7-8:30 p.m.
Upper Hall
Holy Faith Catholic Church
(747 Northwest 43rd Street, Gainesville, FL 326070
(handicapped accessible)
Following up on the January roundtable with Jon Dicarmine from Grace Marketplace, the Open Table group will sponsor a discussion among four of Gainesville’s most prominent homeless service providers:  Randy Stacey, director of Helping Hands Clinic; Arupa and Bob Freeman, long time Home Van, now food pantry organizers; and Adam Gurske, chairman of the board of Family Promise (formerly Interfaith Hospitality).  Each will describe their mission and current projects and take questions from the audience.  Persons of all faiths who are concerned with the issue of homelessness and social justice are warmly invited to join the discussion.
For more information contact
It’s good to be back.  I have been in recovery from my previous illusion that I was a really beat-up looking 35 year old.  I’m feeling much better now.  Our little food pantry is going well.  We’ve also been able to get a few starfish off the beach, including a young mother and a five-year-old who came to us on one rainy Friday.  They had an apartment as of Monday morning, but no shelter for the weekend.  We got them into a motel.  There will always be a need for small, nonbureaucratic missions like the Home Van, who are in a position to address situations like that.
I plan to start some kind of community project to inspire people to donate tents, but I’m not quite there yet.  In the meantime, tent donations are most welcome, as are donations of non-perishable foods.  Financial donations to the Home Van should be made out to Citizens for Social Justice and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL  32601.  Donations can also be made through PayPal at our website:
love and peace to all of you,

Friday, February 13, 2015


Dear friends,
Below you will find a personal letter from me to the homeless community that I passed out on last night’s driveout.  I know some of you work with homeless people, so I encourage you to print out the letter and share it with your homeless friends and clients, since we never see everybody on any one driveout.  In March I will be reviving the Home Van Newsletter and telling you more about what we are doing and how people can participate.  In the meantime, I want all our homeless friends to know that we are still going to be here for them, except in a different way, and I want them to know how much they have meant to me and how much they have given me. 
Dear friends of the homeless community,
            As of March 1, when the Bo Diddley Community Plaza is shut down for remodeling, the Home Van is going to change from doing driveouts to being a food pantry for homeless people only.  Our food pantry will be open every Wednesday afternoon from 1-5 and every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for the first week of the month.  Even on five Thursday months, we will be open the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Thursday of each week and on the preceding Wednesday afternoon.  Our
house is at 307 SE 6th Street.  Many of you have been there.  Many of you also have my phone number, in case of emergencies.  It is 352-372-4825.  So we will
continue to be here for you, except in a different way. 
The money we save by ending the driveouts we are going to put into getting tents and tarps so people can move out to Dignity Village.  I know some of you have beautiful, well-established campsites and are under no threat of eviction at this time.  You will most likely choose to stay where you are and pick up supplies at our food pantry.  Those of you who stay in the downtown area may be facing very hard times with the closing of the plaza and perhaps even more efforts on the part of the authorities to remove homeless people from the downtown area.  I am convinced that you will be much better off at Dignity Village, where you will be within easy walking distance of hot meals, water, showers, laundry facilities, and other services.  Dignity Village is not perfect but some very good people are working hard to make it into a good place with self-governance and safety from eviction and other threats.  You can help make that happen.
We are going to miss doing these driveouts.  I will admit to you, my dear friends, that some of this is old age.  I am fast approaching 70 and have been doing these driveouts for almost 13 years.  I’m tired and need to take life easier.  But I also think that supporting Dignity Village is the right thing to do.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank all of you for all you have done for me.  You have done more for me than I have done for you.  I am not the same person I was when I started doing these driveouts.  I have learned more about love, courage, compassion, patience and faith from you in these 13 years than in the whole rest of my life.  At the beginning, I was mainly concerned with myself, and was even someone who would complain about having to do housework.  I didn’t know that God had blessed me beyond measure with a house to live in.  I learned that, and so much more, from you, my dear and wonderful friends.