The September 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Police Raids on Fresno Homeless

Memorial to Mary Who Died

New Orleans After Katrina

Troubles for the Berkeley Housing Authority

Link Between Foster Care and Homelessness

An Epidemic of Rising Poverty

Angel Behind Prison Bars

Blaming Street People for Cody's Demise

MASC Storage Lockers Offer New Help

Interview with Osha Neumann, Artist/Attorney

Resisting Unjust CEO Pay Rates

Liberation from Hell of Addiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Social Change

Sept. Poetry of the Streets

Review of Jan Steckel's Poems


July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

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.

Building Stepping Stones

Helping homeless people move from shopping carts to storage lockers to housing

by Janny Castillo

Thomas Spector, the first homeless person to get a locker, unloads his pack at the new lockers. From left, MASC Coordinator Robert Long, Thomas Spector and Kriss Worthington of the Berkeley City Council. Lydia Gans photo

A small crowd of 40 well-wishers came to the BOSS Multi-Agency Service Center (MASC) to celebrate the grand opening of the Lockers to Housing Program on June 30, 2006. A small, newly built enclosure houses 63 new lockers, giving homeless individuals a safe place to store their personal belongings.

There's a catch, but it's a good one: All lockers are connected to case management services that will help recipients move into permanent housing.

The star of the day was Thomas Spector who was assigned the very first locker. "I feel lucky," he told the gathering. "I won't have to worry abut being robbed anymore."

Thomas has been on the streets for more than a year and is now staying at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project's Emergency Shelter for Men. After tearing a tendon in his shoulder, he found himself out of work. He left Texas to live with his sister in the Bay Area. Unhealthy living conditions forced him out onto the streets.

After getting the key to locker number 1, Thomas shared his feelings. "This is a real privilege to be able to do this, and a lot of people are going to be very grateful for this program."

Homeless activist Michael Diehl discussed the reasons why storage lockers are needed in Berkeley. "Shopping carts are being taken by the Public Works Department," Diehl said. "People have suffered a lot of pain over losing their possessions. Three years ago, a group of UC Berkeley students began talking about the need for lockers in the city, and after a lot of red tape and many hard changes, here we are. People are upset that it took so long but they are glad they are finally done."

MASC employee Debbie Robinson described how the locker program ended up in the MASC courtyard. "The Shattuck storage locker program needed replacing," she said. "It was difficult and chaotic to manage." Other sites were considered, but Robert Long, MASC supervisor, won the bid by adding something different: the inclusion of case management as part of the locker program. "Everyone who is issued a locker agrees to meet with a case manager once a month and make progress -- small or large steps toward housing."

For a long time, MASC has focused on getting people housed. Over the past year, MASC workers have successfully placed 70 participants into permanent housing. Robert Long said, "This program will help people get an income, get into recovery and eventually get into housing."

BOSS Executive Director boona cheema shared her thoughts on the impact the lockers will have in the community. "Berkeley residents are impatient with homeless people carrying around their belongings," she said. "This will be a safe place for their belongings as they go about the city taking care of business. This program is a stepping-stone and a first step towards housing."

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington explained how pleased the city was with the program. "Before, we were paying a lot of money to a private corporation that did not care about locker accessibility for the client," he said. "Now we have a direct link to a service provider and a connection to helping people succeed."

Patricia Flenaugh, a.k.a. Mother of the Homeless Stuffies, really appreciates the lockers. She talked about the time her cart was parked under a stairwell and how UC Berkeley removed the cart and destroyed it. Her bedding, her clean clothes, and her shoes and socks were all stored in the cart, along with her prized possessions -- her "stuffies," her collection of stuffed animals. "I am homeless," she said. "It's not a crime. I am human, too."

"I have not heard of a locker program like this anywhere in the country," Long said. "It's good that people can put their stuff in them, but our goal is to work hard so that they do not need the lockers."

Patricia no longer needs a locker. After a long, hard journey, she has secured permanent housing. Her eyes light up with joy when she talks about a visit from her son and her granddaughter. "My son told me he was proud of me," she beamed.

What happened to her homeless babies? She now has 600 placed all around her home. "I love them unconditionally," she said, "and they now have a home too. They look at me as if to say, 'Mom you made it!'" Congratulations, Pat, and say hello to Tigger.

Patricia Flenaugh is a graduate in this year's 12th Annual BOSS Graduation Ceremony that will be held on September 29, 2006, at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Please support BOSS by contributing or attending the event. Call Sonja at (510) 649-1930.

Della's Long Walk Home

Based on a true story
by Janny Castillo

Three blocks from Telegraph Avenue, the pain in her knees became excruciating. As if living on the streets was not hard enough, arthritis had set in her bones, the constant cold had seeped into her marrow, and now chronic pain has become an integral part of her life.

She is 56 years old but feels 70. Sometimes the pain was so severe that she could not walk, and she had to rely on friends to bring her food. Lots of times she just went hungry -- those were the really bad days.

Today was a good day. She had been able to walk, still in pain; but it was the dull, throbbing kind that allowed some mobility. She was able to walk the nine blocks to the drop-in center for coffee and a shower, and then the seven blocks to her doctor's appointment, and then six more blocks to the pharmacy.

On the way back to her shopping cart, the deli manager waved her over and gave her two leftover sandwiches. She smelled the pastrami as she tucked them carefully in her coat.

Della knew she had overdone it by the way her body felt. The medication made her groggy but did not reduce the pain. She knew the only relief would be to stop walking and lie down.
Della walked slightly bent, head down. Every painful step brought her closer to her cart. She had left it hidden behind a stairway in a garage just off Telegraph and Durant in Berkeley.

Her cart was her home; it held her clothes, her shoes and socks, her important papers, her books and her beloved homeless babies. If she could, she would have it with her all the time, but pushing the cart all day would worsen her condition significantly.

As she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, her mind focused on getting to a warm place to curl up and lie down. Last week, she had sacrificed and bought new blankets from Ross, one green and one blue. They were hidden under her clothes in her cart. The thought of getting under her blankets kept her going. The thought of seeing her homeless babies made her smile.

Two more blocks to go, two long blocks. She almost missed the little arm poking out from a box full of clothes lying on the sidewalk. People leave stuff on the streets all the time. They leave furniture, TVs, sofas, clothes, and books; but whenever Della sees one of her babies, it saddens her deeply.

She reaches into the box and pulls out the little brown teddy bear. The vest he wore had seen better days; but he was in good condition: no tears in his fur, both eyes intact. Della thought he was beautiful and would have adopted him no matter what he looked like.

She calls them her stuffies, short for stuffed animals. There were 68 in all. She keeps them in a large bag in her cart. When she can spare it, she takes them to the wash house and gives everyone a bath. That's hard to do on $382 a month.

Della has named them all and loves them dearly. They keep her sane while living on the streets. Having her babies to take care of keeps her hope alive; and keeping hope alive is crucial when the world is so cold and empty. She brushes the dust off the newly named Mr. Smiley and tucks him next to her sandwiches.

She can see the garage now, just a little bit further. She wants so much to put this day to rest. She painfully walks toward the stairway; but right away she notices that something is wrong. She should have seen her cart by now. Her heart begins to race with fear.

"Oh, no! Not again!" she yells.

The stairway is empty, her cart is gone. The only thing left is Tigger; one of her stuffies. He must have fallen out of the bag as they moved her cart away. For the third time in less than six months, her cart has been hauled away. Her life is gone. She pulls Tigger into her arms and falls down crying, angry and hurt.

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