The May 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Tenants Face Eviction

UC Attacks the Berkeley Freebox

Berkeley Freebox Poetry Contest

Reform Profit-Making Nursing Homes

A Berkeley Fair for Street Youth

Ultimate Gift of a Homeless Veteran

Tax Cuts for Rich Harm U.S.

Many Children Left Behind

S.F. Bayview: History Lesson in Urban Removal

Let Their Chains Fall Off

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Poets and Poetry

May Poetry of the Streets


April 2006

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.

The Ultimate Gift

A Homeless Veteran Gives His Home Away to a Family Displaced by Hurricane Katrina

by Janny Castillo

Tim O'Malley, a homeless veteran, lives in his beloved woods for months at a time.

Tim O'Malley is a homeless military veteran with only a few possessions to his name, but he has been endowed with a wealth of caring and generosity. He has given an amazing amount to other people in need and to the land itself, and his generous spirit has extended from Umpqua Hot Springs in the forested hills near Crater Lake, Oregon, to hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

During a period in the late 1990s, Tim O'Malley made the Oregon woods his home. His dedication to the land was remarked upon by Mr. McCormack, a visitor to the Umpqua Hot Springs while Tim was living in the surrounding forest.

McCormack recalled, "I first encountered Tim while soaking in the hot springs in 1998. He was busy cleaning up cigarette butts and garbage that had been left near the springs. I'll never forget the image of Tim balancing on the side of a rock, going after a broken bottle. My thought was that here was an individual who was dedicated to the land that he loved.

"Part of my enjoyment of the Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon now includes the opportunity to observe a true friend of the Umpqua in action. Tim encompasses a real spirit of service to both the land and travelers in need of respite and healing."

Tim O'Malley's dedication extends beyond the land to the people, especially those who are suffering the most -- the homeless, the disabled and very poor. He comes down from his beloved woods during the winter months and is always disappointed and appalled at the conditions that exist in the homeless community.

This year was no different; but the devastation was on a much larger scale. Tim had heard of Katrina, a hurricane that had hit the south hard and deadly. He is not a man who shakes his head and complains, or just wishes that things were better. He goes inward and makes decisions from the heart; and though he has far fewer possessions than the average man, he gives far more than many men combined.

Shortly after learning about Katrina, Tim made a decision that would change his life and give hope to a family left homeless by the hurricane.

Several years earlier, Tim's health had begun to deteriorate and it became increasingly difficult for him to sleep outside. He suffers from a degenerative joint disease and a cervical degenerative disk that is excruciatingly painful. He had bought a motor home because he could not afford to pay rent. The motor home allowed Tim the independence he was used to and provided some comfort from the constant pain and the outside elements.

After Tim heard the stories about the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) not being able to give trailers to those in need, he soon made the decision to give his home away.

"It ripped my heart when I thought of the Katrina survivors," he said. "I would have gone down to New Orleans if only to give water and coffee, but I heard FEMA was in a bottleneck. I knew I could bring my motor home down there and give it to a person who could use it to help out the community."

On January 8, 2006, Tim began a two-month drive to New Orleans. "I couldn't drive over a hundred miles without being in serious pain, so I would drive until I couldn't take it any more," he said. "I would pull over, take my medication, and wait until I felt better and begin again."
Unexpectedly, Tim broke down in Bakersfield and it was two weeks before he got back on the road.

At the time, according to a report on MSNBC, FEMA had reported that "nearly 18,000 trailers for the hurricane zone are waiting in Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. So far, fewer than 1,700 trailers are occupied in New Orleans. Trailers are arriving every day, but they just sit there because no one wants them in their backyard."

On February 21, 2006, Oprah aired a special report: "The Katrina Stories No One Is Telling." Not far from "Tent City" in Mississippi -- where more than 100 people lived in a makeshift camp with port-o-potties and outside showers -- are trailer parks full of unused FEMA mobile homes. Sandra, a local resident, said, "They've been here since shortly after the storm. Tent City would fit into those trailers." Sandra said she couldn't understand why the trailers weren't rolling out of there to help the hurricane evacuees.

When Tim O'Malley arrived in New Orleans, he was determined to move through red tape and bypass FEMA altogether. He heard countless stories of hardships from the residents. "FEMA would drive off with trailers when they saw that people were living in camp huts, borrowed trailers or camping trailers," he said. FEMA considered these temporary housing solutions as permanent housing.

Finding the right recipient for his mobile home was another obstacle. Tim contacted First Alert, the New Orleans fire chief and others. "I wanted it to go to a veteran and a person who had a record of helping the community," he said.

Tim set up a makeshift office in a coffee shop, and was running out of money fast. He made several attempts to contact the fire chief. Two weeks later, Tim found who he was looking for.
"He was right in front of me all the time," Tim said. "He would come into the coffee shop and talk to high school and college kids, encouraging them." Tim went on to describe Kelly as a simple, practical man who works full time building crystal chandeliers.

"It was amazing," Tim said. "He was homeless, a veteran, with a wife and seven kids. Even the fire chief decided he was a really good choice."

At the end, it was hard for Tim to give his home away. "I thought it would be easy," he explained. "I had done things out of the ordinary before. The closer it got to giving it away, the more it just ripped me apart. All the things (in the motor home) had personal meaning. I asked my friends, out of respect and in spirit, if they minded if I passed the gifts on; I knew they would not mind."

Kelly was very grateful for the motor home. He promised to save money for a year and get his own place and then, on Mardi Gras, pass the motor home on to someone else in need.

Tim had an even harder time getting back to the Bay Area. The help that he thought he had did not materialize; his only choice was to borrow the cost of a plane ride home against his next disability check. Out of the $800 he receives, Tim borrowed $500, leaving him very little to live on. He returned to Berkeley destitute and homeless, but content that he did the right thing. "I have the ability to bounce back a lot better than the folks in New Orleans can," he said.

Reflecting on his New Orleans trip, Tim described some hardships overlooked by the media. "The people who live by the university have to go ten minutes in every direction to find a grocery store. Then they have to wait to get into the store, only to buy whatever might be on the shelves. The problem is that there is no housing for the stockers, no housing for the clerks. The trucks deliver to the store, but there are few clerks to bring the merchandise into the store. There's a real mess up there.

"And FEMA needs to learn to use common sense and not let stupid laws that were meant to guide you, control you instead. Just because somebody has a tent trailer they borrowed from their brother-in-law doesn't mean they don't get a trailer; it doesn't make sense!"

Tim said that Americans need to get off their butts and take charge of the situation. "Not FEMA, not the government, but each individual needs to take responsibility and go see the truth for themselves."

Asked about sacrificing his home, he had just a few words: "I don't want praise for something everybody should be doing. It's not who did it that's important, but that it was done."

Tim O'Malley will undergo major surgery soon. He is hoping he will have a place to recuperate. Eventually he would like to get another motor home, but it bothers him to step on the gas pedal.

"Every time I stepped on the gas," he said, "I felt like I was shooting into a crowd of soldiers in Iraq. This war has a lot to do with power, gas and influence. When we use gas, we are cutting down our own people, our kids, our friends."

He offered food for thought: "If everybody would stop driving for three days, it would show the powers-that-be that gas is a stupid thing to hold over our heads. We don't need what we seem to need."

What we do need is more men like Tim O'Malley.

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