The October 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Aristocracy and the Disaster

In Katrina's Wake, Oakland Batters Homeless

A Perfect Storm of Racism

Katrina: Ongoing Human Disaster

FCNL Speaks Out on Katrina

Kerry's Kids: Health Care for Poor Children

Fresh Start Gives Kindness Awards

The Dying Gift of Sharon Ostman

A 500-Year-Old War on the Poor

37 Million Live in Poverty in US

Julia Vinograd: Poet Laureate of Berkeley Streets

Innovative Plans for Homeless Housing

Disabled Woman on a Long Road Back Home

Photographer's Eye for the Dignity of People

Poor Leonard On Prejudice

The Flower Lady

October Poetry of the Streets


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.

A Homeless Woman's Last Gift

Sharon Ostman was brutally murdered in San Luis Obispo. Before her tragic death, the homeless woman taught an unforgettable lesson in kindness and giving.

by Stacey Warde

Author's note: Recently I was blessed by a homeless woman who gave me a gold coin when I told her things weren't going so well for me. Not long after her gift to me, she was murdered, found dead in San Luis Obispo Creek. On September 9, 2005, it was reported that Sharon Ostman, 59, was battered and sexually assaulted before being murdered on the night of July 10. I wrote this essay before she was killed and later sent it to the local daily as a tribute. The letters in response all told how truly generous Sharon Ostman was, how humane and kind.

With no money in my pocket, less than $200 in the bank, and feeling a little bleak, I recently pleaded hardship to a homeless woman asking for a dollar in front of the post office. "I'm sorry, but you're probably better off than I am right now," I said. I climbed into the passenger's side of the car, parked next to the curb.

"Oh," she said with concern, "would you like a dollar?"

I didn't really know what to say, but felt so good about her offer, I laughed. "No, thank you," I said, warmed by her generosity. "I'm sure I'll be okay."

I smiled at the woman as she sat on the bench next to her various cardboard signs expressing need, hoping that I really would be okay. With little prospect of steady employment, and only a few sporadic cash jobs to squeak by, I didn't know if I was going to be okay or not.
Sharon Ostman's genuine concern made me feel I might. She got up from her place on the bench, and came up to the window on the passenger's side of the car.

"Here," she said, handing me a beautiful shiny gold dollar coin, featuring the Shoshone mother with child, Sacagawea. "She's one of my ancestors," Sharon continued. "Give it to a child, if you like."

"Thank you," I said, grateful and delighted. I examined the gold coin as she went back to her place on the bench.

Sacagawea's youthful face, head turned and baby strapped to her back, peered over her shoulder, expressing calmness and confidence. Her image suggested forward movement. Had it not been for Sacagawea, it's said, the historic Lewis and Clark expedition to the Northwest (1804-1806) would have failed. She was smart, resourceful and diplomatic.

None of that really mattered to me at the moment. I was more enthralled with the coin's gold brilliance, and the homeless woman who gave it to me. I also basked in the kindness she had just shown me.

My companion, with whom I had washed windows that morning to earn some much-needed cash, seemed aghast. He didn't recognize Sacagawea. "Is that a Susan B.?" he gasped. "Is that a silver dollar?" he added with emphasis on the "dollar."

"No, Bob, it's a gold coin. Susan B.'s not gold."

"You can't take money from a homeless person!" he exclaimed. "Here," he said, taking a dollar bill out of his wallet, "give her this dollar."

"What do you mean I can't take her dollar? Are you kidding? That was pure generosity," I responded.

She saw the exchange in the car and returned to the passenger's side and stooped down as I passed the thin paper dollar bill into her hand. "Thank you," she said.

And we were off. Since then, I've been much less stingy with my spare change, even when I don't have much to spare. What does it hurt? Actually, I feel so much better extending my hand to pad a homeless person's pocket than I do refusing to offer anything.

Until I met Sacagawea's descendant in front of the post office, I had grown sour with my own bleak circumstances, living hand to mouth, and with bums who wanted to take what little I had. I've heard stories of homeless people standing by the side of busy freeway exits, raking in dollar bills and larger from rush-hour commuters.

"Those guys make more money than I do," a friend once said. "They pull in as much as $50,000 a year."

"Right on!" I responded. "It's not the way I want to make a living, but if they can do it, more power to them."

Lately, I've been thinking: What's the difference between the homeless woman at the post office and me? Not much, really, except her kindness and generosity. I want to be more like her. I feel better when I'm willing to give than when I'm hoarding what little I have.

And in this day, when the predominant "business" models taught in the university are little more than methodologies of greed, it's revolutionary to give. In that sense, Sharon Ostman revolutionized my thinking and my connection to people in the street. I have nothing to fear, and no need to respond with anger, when I'm willing to give.

And I don't need to buy into the greed and blind hunger rampant in our culture. All of the great spiritual treatises and traditions we cherish point to a different path anyhow. A few seem to truly follow that path, like Sharon at the post office.

I've learned that no matter how little we have, we always have the option to bestow a gift, a blessing. In my mind, that's the best and highest good we can pursue in this life.
Thank you, Sharon, for blessing me.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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