70 and Determined

by George Wynn

It’s strange
to be an old man and
begging for spare change
and the coins don’t give
you any new joy.

At seventy
you’re restless
and depressed
you fear the road
but anything rather
than face another day
in the city by the bay.

You pack your bag
start out on foot
around dawn
you cross the Oregon border
embrace the trees
you can breathe again.

You’ll find a job —
albeit menial
’cause you don’t
plan on going back.
You feel your confidence
in your chest.
After all you once
worked everywhere:
from picking
potatoes in Maine
to repairing boats
in Port-of-Spain.

 

Unknown Soldier of the Streets

by Claire J. Baker

I spot your still, prone shape,
small but immense.
From this great height
you seem to have died.
Then your wings flutter.
Now you are a live man
or a shaggy angel. Up here

at my church on a hill, men
have cut down sun-blocking
Monterey pines, for roof solar.
Stumps bleed fresh sap —
trees wanting still to live.
But now too late.

My thoughts go blank & sad
missing that shaggy green
in the empty sky.
Mister Way-Down-There,
when will you stop falling,
when, please will you fly?

 

Tell Me There’s A Heaven

by Chris Rea

The little girl she said to me
What are these things that I can see
Each night when I come home
from school
And mama calls me in for tea
Oh every night a baby dies
And every night a mama cries
What makes those men do what they do
To make that person black and blue
Grandpa says they’re happy now
They sit with God in paradise
With angels’ wings and still somehow
It makes me feel like ice
Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do
Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so
So do I tell her that it’s true
That there’s a place for me and you
Where hungry children smile and say
We wouldn’t have no other way
That every painful crack of bones
Is a step along the way
Every wrong done is a game plan
To that great and joyful day
And I’m looking at the father
and the son
And I’m looking at the mother
and the daughter
And I’m watching them in tears of pain
And I’m watching them suffer
Don’t tell that little girl
Tell me….

 

The Little Box

by Claire J. Baker

The street person clears
her hair-brush
of coarse dirty-gray strands,

remembers her small box
with ringlet of baby hair,
golden, fine as corn silk.

She tucks away hair brush,
moves on into the morning
task of survival.

 

ONCE…

by Claire J. Baker

Once at crossroads
of growing up,
her mind
and confidence
got lost in fog.
Now, lifetimes later
once she tells herself
she is a survivor
she becomes a seed,
a flower,
the sky.

 

Competition

by Ruth Shapin

Athletes at the Olympics
Compete for the gold.
Workers compete for jobs
To stay out of the cold.

Competition is the life blood
Of our market economy
Though large corporations
May hold a monopoly.

Bankers take houses
From the poor every day.
People die of illness
Because they cannot pay.

Nations compete for resources,
For oil and much more.
This deadly competition
Eventually leads to war.

Can we build a different system
In our land of the free?
One of cooperation,
Peace and harmony?

Can we all learn to share
The wealth that we hold?
Can we care for the poor
Instead of the gold?

Can we have full employment
In our economy,
So folks can contribute
And live with dignity?

Can we give an education
To all of our young
So they can learn skills
And feel they belong?

We can have food and shelter
And medicare too,
Basic rights for all,
For me and for you.

“Wet Night On Sutter Street.” In this haunting painting by Christine Hanlon, a homeless person sleeps on a cardboard box outside an expensive clothing store in San Francisco on a rainy night.

 

Hobo

by Philip Hunter

Always on the move,
Never let alone.
The traveler again
Rebags his pack.

Days lack warmth,
Nights are bitter cold,
And everything he owns
Is on his back.

The drifter wanders on.
Whether home will come
Isn’t able to be
Said at all.

The only thing he knows,
Is where it is he goes
May just be the last place
That he falls.

Street Philosophers

by George Wynn

He barely sits down at a table
of old men like himself at
St. Anthony’s kitchen
when they lick their lips wide
and show him how super
the clam chowder tastes to them

These men are all famous
street philosophers with
long nicotine-stained fingers
They’ve been on the street forever
Hardened men pass by and extend
their hands
proud to be considered their friend

This month being his first
out there on the wild side
since he faced up to eviction
he’s scared shitless

Disgraced to be in their presence
for nothing bothers them
not even the freeze tonight
terrifying him

They know they will survive
and if not — so be it!

 

Rescued By Eternity

(reflection on night streets)

by Claire J. Baker

Amazing light the darkness lends
from a star-burst sky.
So luminous it never ends
this light amazing darkness lends
lifting from low to high.
Amazing, light of darkness lends
for all a star-burst sky.

 

While the Poor Weep

by George Wynn

Our country’s been ‘corpsed’
while we’ve been asleep
the rich are getting richer
than kings and queens
while the poor weep
and watch as the economy —
a high wire act — teeters
on the brink of disaster
ruled by the corporate master

A shadow of the corpse
is all that’s left of the democratic
way of life and the Statue
of Liberty has been transformed
into the corporate giantess
squeezing the life out of the 99%

 

For One Who Suffers

by Claire J. Baker

I cannot change the
chemicals in your brain,
emotional chasms, but
I can meet your eyes,
share with you the
powerful potion
of kindness.

 

On A Very Cold Night

(Winter, 2012)

by Claire J. Baker

Need to empty my garbage/trash,
need to leave apartment, grab a cart,
roll my proof of living to dumpster
& recycle bins in this senior complex
in Old Town Pinole, where oldsters
hang on to dusty secrets of survival
under middle-class stars.

Need to dispose of my garbage/trash
but it’s cold, dark and I lack
the courage to feel uncomfortable.
Am housed. But sometimes I wonder:

what if I were homeless!

 

Quaker Peace and Freedom from the Nuclear Threat

by Maureen Hartmann

“I shall not call you servants anymore,
I call you friends,” says Jesus.*
Friends of nonviolent struggle,
through vulnerable tax-resistance,
through the heavy drudgery
of educating in 2012 the nation
about the perils of nuclear weapons,
and nuclear power.
Activism should generate
fear and anger, leading to
an effort to stop federal spending
of billions on Wall Street to make
those metallic monsters
that eat up funds
which could feed the famished
and house the homeless.
“The arms race kills without war!”**
Jesus Christ!!

* John 15:15
** Dorothy Solle

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Laura’s Law and the Danger of Forced Detention

“Art in Jail” by Jos Sances. Serigraph, Edition 120, 8 color, 22” x 30”“Art in Jail” by Jos Sances. Serigraph, Edition 120, 8 color, 22” x 30”

How much sweeter “Laura’s Law” sounds than Forced Detention or Treatment! Yet it all sounds an awful lot like the usual government arguments used to justify surveillance, control, invasion of privacy. Who is to say this new law won’t be used to punish and isolate the indigent and the ill?

How a Community Was Scattered to the Wind

Bulldozer.jpg Albany officials sent in bulldozers and haulers to demolish the homes and destroy the belongings of scores of homeless people at the Albany Bulb. Lydia Gans photo

At 4:30 a.m., the police came, 30 of them. Armed with assault rifles, they broke down our front gate, tore down the door to our living space and arrested us for lodging. Our home was destroyed, our puppy was taken to the pound and our possessions were scattered to the wind.

Oakland Gives Green Light to Massive Gentrification

Gentrify.jpg The proposed mixed-use infill development in Opportunity Area 2, along Oakland’s historic 7th Street commercial corridor. Poor people are conspicuously absent in this picture.

The West Oakland Specific Plan will target Opportunity Sites for redevelopment and maximum exploitation by wealthy developers. Low-income people need not apply, and have been abandoned to fend for themselves once this gentrification scheme gains traction. Prologis Inc. and California Capital Investment Group are spearheading this gentrification scheme.

Exposing the Untold History of Psychiatric Atrocities

Photo by R. Valentine Atkinson, reprinted from The History of Shock Treatment, by Leonard Roy Frank

Over its history, Street Spirit has published a series of in-depth reports on many different kinds of psychiatric abuses that have been carried out in the name of healing, yet often end up damaging and disabling people for life. In light of renewed calls for forced psychiatric detention under the guise of “helping the mentally ill,” we are collecting and re-publishing these stories in a new section “Psychiatric Abuses and Human Rights”. 

Laura’s Law Passed by S.F. Board of Supervisors

Shadows on the wall. A dance of liberation from dehumanization in locked psychiatric wards. Art by Tanya Temkin

“I really feel that if we move forward without full and adequate funding of our mental health system, this may be leading to a false hope of safety in our neighborhoods,” said Eric Mar. “And I worry that there’s a danger of further stigmatizing people with mental illness.”

The Artistic Vision of Charles Curtis Blackwell

His eyesight was severely damaged in an accident when he was young, yet Blackwell’s love for jazz and the blues shines through in his colorful paintings of musicians. To overcome the obstacle of his near-blindness, he stands extremely close to the canvas, his eyes only inches away from his brush strokes.