A homeless woman endures a rainstorm on a wet, cold sidewalk in San Francisco. Robert L. Terrell photo

A homeless woman endures a rainstorm on a wet, cold sidewalk in San Francisco. Robert L. Terrell photo

Universal Health Care

Life is simple — everybody needs food, shelter and, at some point, medicine.

by Buford Buntin

If Trent Lott wants to pay all that money for his health care, let him, though health care for members of Congress is paid for already by our tax dollars. The millions of Americans who don’t serve in Congress, those of us who work hard and don’t get paid, or who are disabled and really don’t get paid, except maybe some bare minimum pittance, don’t quite understand why we can’t have health coverage.

We’re human too, at least as human as the well-off Mr. Lott and his cronies. I say let him go down and see the hungry standing in line at San Francisco soup kitchens, some with their children, others elderly and hobbled.

But I doubt he’d get the point. He would probably say something like, “Oh, the kids and the old people deserve it. But what about the able-bodied, the young, the strong here? Isn’t it shameful?”

The only thing that’s shameful to me is that the situation exists at all, when Trent and his Mississippi mansion, and his townhouse in Georgetown or Virginia or wherever, lives in the lap of it while Mississippi has countless people in poverty he’s ignoring, probably even deploring.

Nancy Pelosi visited Glide Methodist Church in San Francisco with its array of social services, including its marvelous soup kitchen that feeds thousands of people every month for free.

The deposed speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is an example of public service we need more of: more Democrats, more Peace-and-Freedom Party Congress members, fewer pontificating aristocrats ignoring the needs of the indigent, trying to cut off their services so they’ll either increase their homeless number, move on or die.

Life is simple — everybody needs food, shelter and, at some point, medicine.
Wake up, Republicans.


 

A Life Made Richer by Close Relationships with the Poor

by Judy Andreas

The day was a gift. It was December in New York, the time of year when snow and cold typically chase thoughts of spring into nostalgia. However, on this day, the weather was reminiscing. It was 55 degrees and I was strolling leisurely up Sixth Avenue, looking in shop windows and smiling at the passers-by.

It was then that I saw her. She was sitting on the sidewalk behind a sign. A little cup was placed next to her. The cup contained a few paltry coins. The sign said, “Please help me. I am homeless.” Her head was down as if she were hiding her face. However, she could not hide her hopelessness.

I put a few dollars in her cup and sat down beside her. We began talking. I asked her if drugs was one of the reasons that she was on the street.

She replied, “No, my mother and stepfather are the reasons I am on the street.”

Her eyes were clear and I knew she was telling the truth. My mind filled in the blanks of the story. I sat on the street with her and we talked.

She said, “I am 22 years old.” The words cut deep into my soul.

My son is 22 years old and his world overflows with love. I wanted to give her a meal, a bed, a home, a family — some hope. Instead, I discussed her options with Social Services. She seemed grateful for the money and the words. I felt a tremendous sadness and inadequacy.

Homelessness is common in New York City. I do not know the statistics and I almost do not care. Statistics are cold and unfeeling. Statistics do not describe the lost, lonely and confused. Statistics do not describe the look on this young woman’s face. One homeless person is one homeless person too many.

As a child, I lived in a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn. Several of the rooms had bay windows, and crystal chandeliers adorned the lower level. It was a beautiful house and yet, for me, it was never a home. I looked at my friends in small apartments and envied the real or imagined “coziness.” Was it merely a projection of my longing?

When I graduated from college, my first act was to pack and leave my family and move in with a couple of friends in the East Village. On the visual level, the apartment left much to be desired. On the emotional level, it was a palace. The word “home” had found a definition.

My mother came to visit me. “How could you move from such beautiful surroundings to this squalor?” She would have said worse, but my mother did not curse. My mother could not have understood what I was experiencing. My words would have been useless, and what’s worse, hurtful.

That apartment on East 7th Street was my first home. Eventually, when I married and had children, I tried to create an environment in which my children would feel loved and validated. There were many financially lean years of single parenting but they were rich with love. “You can’t love them enough.”

I have worked in Social Services and have intimately interacted with the disenfranchised. I have developed close and caring relationships with people who society regards as nuisances and freeloaders. I have learned the reasons for their pain and heartache and, what might be labeled, “poor choices.”

My life has been enriched by these relationships, and when the day came to close each case, a piece of each person lingered behind and I was made greater and richer for having known them. They gave me as much as I gave to them, maybe more, though they would have had a difficult time owning that reality.

And there she was sitting on Sixth Avenue, in a cold and uninvolved city, a rejected 22-year-old whose horrors I could barely imagine. That moment became a religious experience — an experience of a sentence I have parroted emptily in my past. “We are all One.”

As I walked away, I turned once to look back. Her head was down once more and people were passing her as if she were invisible. I felt an emptiness inside. I had left a part of me sitting on Sixth Avenue on that beautiful, spring-like December day.

 

 

They Too Have Dreams

They are flesh and blood, just like you. They have hearts and souls and, at one time, they too had dreams. What happened to those dreams?

by Judy Andreas

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— William Butler Yeats

 

People regard them as eyesores. Homeless people litter your landscape. They seek refuge in doorways and on park benches. You turn away from them in disgust. You step over them with thoughts of condemnation. You see them as less than human. You see them as a visual nuisance. “They created their situations,” you tell yourself.

How easily you rationalize your inhumanity.

No, my friends, they are people. They are flesh and blood, just like you. They have hearts and souls and, perhaps, at one time, they too had dreams. What happened to those dreams?

Why are these human beings on the street? Why are they destitute? Why are they cold and hungry? Perhaps it’s not for you to know and certainly not for you to judge. But don’t turn away. It’s a very short distance from your warm living room to the street.

When my children were small, I would spend one Saturday a month volunteering at a soup kitchen in New York City. Sometimes I would bring my children with me.

The first time I worked at Saint Ignatius Church, I had no idea what to expect. I, and the other volunteers, scurried around preparing a meal that consisted of hot soup, a sandwich, a hard-boiled egg, coffee and dessert.

Since the winter had not yet settled over New York, we set up tables outside. And then the people arrived. It was a line that never ended. It was a line of ragged clothing and hungry mouths.

“The line never stops,” I said to a co-worker. She nodded. I wondered if I could ever become desensitized to the specter before me. No, never.

Many of the homeless people I’ve met have been physically ill and mentally disabled. Some of them have drowned their despair in liquor or drugs. Some of them have shared their dreams. Some of them do not speak.

Judge not lest ye be judged.

There are limited services for the homeless populace. In the eyes of the public, they are merely “useless feeders.” They have been cast out on the street by a cold and indifferent society. They have been cast out on the street by people who rail against humanity. They have been cast aside by people who are quick to point a finger halfway around the world — people who write screaming screeds, while on their street, humanity bleeds.

And now, my youngest son is 23 and he has a female friend who volunteers at a homeless shelter. Last week, my son Jesse accompanied Heather on her mission of mercy. They cooked dinner for the group and slept at the shelter. In the morning they cooked breakfast. After breakfast, the people are tossed back out on the street.

“Homeless people are just like us,” he told me, after this encounter. But that wasn’t all he had to say. He had a tragic story to tell. Jesse told me about the man with the colostomy. A policeman had approached the man, assuming that the bulge under his clothes was a bottle of liquor. He demanded that the man hand it over. The man was confused and stood immobilized.

The policeman grew angry at what he interpreted to be lack of compliance. He repeated his order. The man looked at him with childlike innocence. The policeman could no longer contain his rage. He punched the man in what he assumed was the contraband. The man died. There were no charges brought against the policeman.

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?

And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?

I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’,

I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest,

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,

Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,

Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,

The executioner’s face is always well-hidden

Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,

Where black is the color and none is the number,

And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,

Reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,

Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’,

But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’,

And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,

It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

— Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

 

 

Resurrection of the Poor People’s Campaign

Rev. Barber told the activists gathered in the nation’s capital that by demonstrating in solidarity with poor people, they had become a link in the long history of people who fought for justice.

Hate Crime Laws Needed to Protect the Homeless

As homelessness becomes more visible, people living on the streets are targeted for bullying, assaults, harassment and even murders.

Life Is A Precious Gift: Mother Teresa’s House in Washington

We will never know how many huge pots of soup Jacob lifted with the sisters into trucks, to take to the homeless in the park. We will never know how many diseased bodies he fed, held and bathed, and the number of tears he dried in the early morning hours.

Mother Teresa’s Gift of Love in San Francisco

She took home with her the men who had only a few days left to live and were suffering the most, and tenderly cared for them around the clock. I am certain some of the people I was meeting were angels, whose job was to make certain no soul died alone and unloved.

My Back Pages: A Song for Miss Kay

She softly sings the soul anthem “Stand By Me.” It is a song for Miss Kay, a song for all of us. Her life, with its music and joy, followed by a downward slide into homelessness and death, tells us something deeper than words about the human condition.

My Back Pages: Kerry’s Kids, An Undying Dream

Oakland pediatrician Dr. Karen Kruger said, “Kerry’s death was so sudden and seemingly purposeless and shocking that I think there was a need for people that loved her to carry on her memory in a way that she would look down on from her cloud and be happy about.”