The April 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

US Government Created Housing Shortages

Hate Crimes in S.F. and Boston

Urban Removal in S.F. Bayview

Stop Bulldozers of Gentrification

The Death of Two Eloquent Homeless Voices

Grandmother Is Left Homeless by Car Wreck

Building Strong Unions on U.S./ Mexico Border

Transit Justice Is Derailed

Poor People Use the Internet to Organize

Just Wage for All

Ruling Class Runs Economy into the Ground

Art & Altruism: The Paintings of Elizabeth King

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Writers

April Poetry of the Streets


March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005




Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

April Poetry of the Streets

For the Gates
by Carol Denney

(For the rally against the death penalty at the gates of San Quentin)

I remember a time
before all this madness started
I remember a time
when no prisoner had to die
now our leaders have decided
that we need an execution
and I stand here tonight
and I cannot tell you why

are we suddenly clear
on who needs execution
are we suddenly sure
of our wrong and our right
did we suddenly learn
we are never mistaken
are we ready to learn
are we ready tonight

does it help us to take
our hope from each other
does it help us to take
our own brothers' lives
I have tried with my mind
I have tried to understand it
I have tried with my heart
I have tried and I've tried

does a righteous world
need to have such a prison
does a righteous world
need to have such walls
does a righteous world
need to kill to be kinder
does a righteous world
need to kill at all

I hear my brothers' heartbeats
by Judy Jones

yeah sweet baby
I hear my brothers' heartbeats
and see yo tears of blood
dying 'fo our eyes
on dem cold fuckin'
concrete streets

system's made to kill
not heal
people gettin' rich
off po man's back

so have a drink
sweet darlin'
it's on me
oh yeah baby
humans not made
to die like animals
on filthy streets

while people walk on by
hatin' the po homeless man
eatin' outta garbage cans

and police arrestin'
the poor
fallin' down
from hunger and neglect

yeah baby
I hear my brothers' heartbeats
and see yo tears of blood

your piercing screams
echoing in da night
beggin' one person
to give a damn
if ya sees
the morning's light

so darlin'
have a drink on me
yeah sweet baby
this one's on me
man's not made
to die on cold filthy streets
and tomorrow
it could be me
it could be me

yeah sweet baby
I hear my brothers' heartbeats
and see yo tears of blood
dyin' 'fo our eyes
on these cold fuckin'
concrete streets

let's gift wrap the poor
by Judy Jones

let's take the
ugly sorrid lot of 'em
the poorest of the poor
gift wrap
bind and twine them into
'worldly pretty'
for you and me

who wants to see those
people dying on streets

let's clean 'em up
new clothes
comb their hair
blow their nose

now that's better
easier on my eyes

gift wrap the poor
make their
tears fears and moans
pretty and neat

as we idly walk by
laughing as they
eat from the trash
falling down on the streets

but at least
we can make 'em
prettier for us to see

it's all outer anyways
that's what the commercials say
get those teeth cleaned
make their lice go way
and your life will be
perfectly happy!

let's gift wrap their ugly
into color coordinated
pretty to see
for you and me!

Captive Nation
by Kathryn, age 10

All around I see
The differences in you and me
Our color, our skin
What does that matter?
We can still be friends.
It does matter to some.
They wanted segregation to the end.

Martin Luther King Jr. was just a man
What he did changed us.
He did the best he could.

But if he never walked his path,
Never made good choices
Many of us would not have our voices.
No Martin Luther King Jr.
No friends of color
No fair for women
No rights for those with disabilities

We would have many hurts that are
hard to touch.
Freedom would be hard to clutch.
The world would be different.
You would too.
Just look in the mirror.
I wouldn't be here
My mother is Asian
The problem would involve
our whole nation.

As one we are weak
But together we are strong.
We can march and protest and pray
When freedom comes for all
We shall hold hands
Stretch across the world
And see his dream

by Mary Meriam

Please be my friend -- always
And hold my hand -- once in a while
I ask you humbly -- within reason.

Please be loyal to me -- within reason
Friends suffer -- once in a while
But stand by me -- always.

Please give my heart -- within reason
A place to rest -- always
A chance to fly -- once in a while.

Closer to Thee
by Mary Meriam

The plain blue sky
God's eye is open
The one we crave to help us
Seems close by.

The single silvery brook
God's book is open
The one we hope to hear
Sounds nearby.

The warm fertile land
God's hand is open
The one we long to touch
Stands by.

Death Rays from Uncle Sam
by Michael Creedon

Star-spangled everything --
Uncle Sam is on the loose.
He's crapping on the homeless,
he's spitting on panhandlers,
he's kicking aside the crippled and
all the other physically handicapped too.
Uncle Sam has big full handfuls of
looney pills for the mentally disabled too
but they cost a thousand dollars a pill
for the ones that need them most
and the ones that only need them a little bit
have already given up the ghost.

Now Uncle Sam is a scary man
cuz he's not a man at all.
He's a fire-breathing Toltec monster
dressed up in red white and blue.
He's a trickster and a seducer
and he likes to have lots of wars
so he can watch the men and women
rape and kill and pillage each other
in almost unimaginable ways.
So we vote him in every four years
just to keep the party on
and if you just can't stand it
and you can't see through it,
you put a gun in your mouth and go bang.

In the World, Not of It
by Joan Clair

"If a rich person sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against his brother, how can he claim that he loves God?" -- 1 John 3:17

I learned about the holocaust at the age of four
and before I went to hell because of it
I went next door to smell the lilies of the valley
in a neighbor's yard, to see the purple violets--
creatures who are in the world, but not of it.

At a later age, I learned about the homeless
and the ones who fit in with a glove so tight
they use it to crush the homeless with their laws.
And before I went to hell because of this,
I went to the marina to be near egrets and gulls--
creatures who are in the world, but not of it.

A Single Bullet
by Michael Creedon

A pretty little mother is nursing her new baby
while the roof caves in slowly; but she's safer
in here than she'd be out there,
where the sky is caving in. Now
here it comes, she starts to run,
her infant held to her heart. But
a very well-trained sniper with a single bullet
watches them stumble and fall, then
runs thru the houses where bodies are toasting
and roars off in a U.S. Army jeep.

Lone Tree
by James Storey

There you stand
A silhouette in the night
gracefully gazing out
in the aerial immensity
Filtering out modern society
Keeping me company.

Branches reaching out as
arms of comfort in times
of uncertainty.

Lone tree, an old soul from the past
A reminder to be steadfast.

Lone tree in the concrete valley.
Do you miss the green valley and
your home among ancient groves?

Lone tree you patiently await
the rains which bring life to your
pores and make you strong.
The sunshine you welcome at
the beginning of Dawn.

Lone tree you bring Life to me
as I stand alone looking
for my ancient grove.

Red bark, brown branches, green
pine needles, beauty that only the
eyes, nose and touch can behold.

When I have fallen and
gone under the soil -- you
will still be standing strong,
A lone tree longing for home.

The Homeless Woman I Am
by Mary Meriam

She grows older and more homeless.
She stretches lengthwise in crevices.
She finds lovely colors sifting over sidewalks
and stuffs them in her bag.
She appreciates your waste.
I invite her to my cool retreat,
but she will always refuse.

Soul Exposure
by Mary Meriam

Open the sad part of your mouth
The way your lips blush ruby jewels

You need a new roof on your shack in the woods
With rain and winter arriving soon

On the leafless branches strewn in the yard

Starting over in a quieter section of town

Another leaf adrift without a real home
An unfinished prayer dying on your lips

by Mary Meriam

A bird can build a simple nest,
A tree can grow its roots and leaves,
But in our world, we have no rest
From liars, bullies, bigots, thieves.

they were just humans
by Judy Jones

they were just
humans like us
needing food shelter
and love

the homeless
dying on our streets

cause of deaths:
broken heart

all they wanted
was what i do
food shelter clothing
and love

may we all see
their invisible
and weep

after all
they were just
humans like us
needing food shelter
and love

I'm Homeless
by Mary Meriam

So high on a mountain
I build a tent
near a tiny spring
live with daddy-long-legs
crawling on the floor
and my eyes, and a frog
in the pot of leaf tea.
No one's around for miles.
No one's around for miles,
and wind brings rain
through the forest.
I am down to one potato.

Single Room Occupancy
by Ralph Dranow

I didn't sleep much last night
So I feel kind of hungover.
I'm always worried that
Someone's going to try to
Break into my room at night.
Drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes,
They've taken over the place.
Needles are all over the bathroom.
The guys are always asking me
If I want anything.
What would I want from them?
I know that God's supposed to be in
Everyone, but sometimes it's a stretch.
The other night, around 3,
Someone was throwing pebbles
Against the window next door.
They wanted to come in, I guess.
Some of these rooms are packed like
Sardines, usually with immigrants.
One guy washes dishes in the morning,
Then comes home to sleep.
His friend works the afternoon shift
And the third one the night shift.
And you know what they get paid.
Just enough to survive.
I've been in this place for 25 years
And it's gotten worse.
But where can I go?
Someplace else would be just as bad.
That's what it's like
For the little people like me.

by Michael Creedon

A slate-gray sky, not too cold --
feels like rain today. The chickens
in their coops line the Avenue
and I haven't left my porch yet.
Bus comes in 20 minutes.
All clothes are warm, my books
are too; everything's waterproofed.
Soon I'll be at the AA meeting
then on to Berkeley from there.

About 16 months ago, blood on the
bed, I was itching and scratching
all over. I'd had my last drink,
though I didn't know it then, and
cockroaches had overrun the place.

How do these changes happen?
I could tell you the story
but the story isn't it.
How do you describe a miracle?

Morning Prayer
by Michael Creedon

May Thy will be the will that's done.
Shoot 'em down with a machine gun.
Put my quarters in their hands.
Put Thy quarters in my hands
So I'll have something to give.
Volcanos explode, tsunamis arrive,
backbroken farmers in their fields
they toil and strive.
Cats are dead along the road.
Mentally ill can't get their medication.
I feel the light inside of me;
it's not my place to ask and it doesn't last.
Strung-out people in every way --
Let these be the ones for whom I pray.
I don't know and I don't ask why.
May Thy will be the will that's done.
Take care of the suffering ones
on the bloodshot grimy streets and the
mansions by the golf course. Amen.

by Mary Meriam

When you left me, my heart got
locked up in my ribcage.
For many moons I
pondered, weak and weary,
where to go and how to live.
How could I live without you,
my first lifeline and succor?

You were mother
who never loved me.
Even when you left me,
sore and dreary, sad and teary,
you left me for nothing better.
It seems you had to leave me.
I don't know for what reason.

Now I wander the world alone
with endless longing for
your touch, your voice,
no matter how crazy,
no matter how cold.

Me and Blue -- We're Making It Through
by Michael Creedon

I'm in awe of the blue-tail cat
'cause it's the only one I've ever seen like that.
I feed him beer nuts and cheese;
it's cold and I don't want him to freeze.
The Street Spirit people took a picture of us
when Blue-Tail was hissing in a kind of fuss.
Some people on the street look up to me now,
but not half as much as I look up to Diane --
She can play a guitar and her voice is pure.
Purity on the street is something I adore.

They won't let Blue in St. Vincent de Paul --
I wouldn't touch the food there anyhow.
But they let him in St. Mary's 'cause I'm 63
and in cat years Blue-Tail's creeping up on me.

I've sold everything I own except
the clothes I wear, all three layers,
and a buckhorn knife. No way I'd sell Blue;
you can't sell what you don't own, and
you can't own a living thing.

Blue's been growling a lot;
Something's got him mad --
it's probably me: I need a shower, I think,
and some ultraviolet tea.

Tribute to St. Mary's
by Michael Creedon

St. Mary's Center saved my life.
When I was sober I went there
every day, lots of friends, no prejudice.
They gave me a forum, taught me,
listened to me, laughed with me,
fed me food worthy of a grand hotel.
They honored my poems.
They hugged me.
On Wednesday we played drums.

When I started drinking and using,
I stayed away. I holed up in my SRO
hotel room. Then I got too sick to
drink -- no alcohol, no drugs, no
water, no food. Shirley from
St. Mary's kept coming to check
on me, bring me food and juice.
Cockroaches filled the room. The
sheets were full of blood -- I kept
scratching my skin -- the itch
wouldn't go away. A few times I
walked to St. Mary's. All my friends,
I love you all: Shirley, Sister Mary
who gave and listened.
Shirley got me to the hospital, helped
me find an apartment and start
over. I'm 16 months clean and sober.
I have peace. Thank you St. Mary's.

Locked Out
(The Road Once Taken)
by Claire J. Baker

I was homeless for a day --
locked out of my father's house
for a slip-of-tongue insult
based on my rocky past away,
(old, better left untold)

Spent a night of fright
in a two-bit hotel;
got a morning newspaper,
checked ads,
walked miles in rain for
an $18/month room not much
larger than two closets.

Had no money; the old couple
trusted me. I got a job, paid
my rent; drank sometimes --
blighted, hurt on the inside
where it didn't show.

Hey there, poet Robert Frost,
this is a road I once took --
the only one before me. It made
a permanent impression
for life!

Glory Amid Hell
by Claire J. Baker

one Dan Hopkins rescues from
a busy Berkeley street a young
pigeon, car-hit, broken-winged,
unable to fly -- his carefully tended
companion (cousin to the dove)
while he lives in People's Park.
She brings him luck: now they
are housed, both eating well.

"Miss Pidgy" sits on Dan's bike
handlebars, rainbow colors flying
along with Dan, to the simple
amazement and delight of all lucky
enough to spot the bonded pair --
clean-cut glory amid mankind's hell.

Begging for Justice in a Nation of Billionaires
by Mary Perkins

Man begging in a shopping center, ignored by shoppers.
Woman begging on a rainy street, ignored by passersby.
Man begging in front of a gas station, ignored by attendants and customers.
Man shaking hands, making $5.00 an hour, distributing flyers to businesses,
distrusted and seen as "strange" by shop owners.
Child in a shopping cart, with a homeless mother, ignored by other mothers.
People in a food line, looked at as if they are "invisible" to people walking by.
Homeless shelter residents, with so little chance to recover from homelessness.
Men and women living under a flooded bridge with no one caring that they could
drown or die from exposure to freezing weather.
Man begging for money for the beer that allows him to deal with being homeless;
one beer leads to another and the man becomes an addict.
Woman, not begging with her hand, but begging with her eyes, clothed in blankets
and hooded jackets, so that no one can see her face, getting little to no
attention nor concern from anyone who sees her.
Veterans returning from a sandy Hell becoming homeless immediately upon their return.
Begging for attention and care and concern. Getting little to none from fellow citizens.
What does this say about our country and its values?
If we readily and daily ignore and discount the needs of our own country's citizens
and do not provide any reliable safety net for our fellow citizens to rely
upon, it simply says that we do not care about each other.
It says that we do not care.
What does it say about billionaires who waste their money on elaborate homes
that garner admiration but help no one else?
What does it say about politicians who do nothing to help homeless residents?
What does it say about people who live in comfort who choose to ignore the
needs of those in need and homeless?
It says that no one cares.
If no one bothers to care about the millions of Americans in need, the numbers
of those in need will grow.
If Americans create no safety net for the millions of fellow Americans who will, invariably, die on the street in our city, what does this say about our country?
If Americans allow veterans of any war to become homeless, what does this say
about the value of soldiers fighting in any war for our country?
If other nations can manage to take care of citizens in need, why can't America?
Why should any other nation trust America with its assets and concerns, when we
have squandered and ruined our own?
America has so many problems that affect all of us. A nation that allows its citizens to live in the most destitute situations betrays its own misplaced values.
Homelessness in America is not a given -- it is a nation's choice.

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