The June 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Court Upholds Legal Rights of Homeless People

Hunger Rises, Food Stamps Cut

National Hunger Survey

Union Busting in El Salvador

CEO Pay Rises, Worker Pay Shrinks

CEOs Scheme to Privatize Social Security

Dee's Story: The Stigma of Being Homeless

Bush's Chronic Homeless Plan

Pepperspray and Torture

How Earth Day Was Co-opted

St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Hodges Jones

Jose Querdo

Jeannette Hundley

James Jermany

Ken Minor

Lynn Hoberg

Social Justice in the East Bay

100 Teachings of Gandhi

June Poetry of the Streets

Students Poetry


May 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.

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Oral History by Trena Cleland

Jose Querdo

Last year, we planted an apple tree in the courtyard. It's a grafted tree and I looked at that graft as a broken soul. My prayer when we planted it was, "I want this tree to grow in the same way that I want quality of life to grow for us seniors."

My family was not a traditional family. I learned to survive on the streets. As a little kid, I helped clean bars in Oakland. I met the dope dealers and they became my chief caretakers. When I was 10 years old, I hustled for my little brother and myself, scoring heroin for the dealers. When I grew up, I went to prison. That was just a way of life.

I'm dual diagnosed; I have both a bi-polar illness and history of addiction to drugs. My illness is getting better but I still battle with it -- it's my biggest trouble. At St. Mary's Center, I see the psychiatrist once a month for medication. I can now manage my own symptoms.

Sister Mary is my therapist, or case manager. I see her at least twice a week. Without a doubt, she's a great, great lady. With the help of the medications and Sister Mary's availability to me, I've been able to focus. Talk about a miracle! I have to pinch myself to see if it's all real. I adopted St. Mary's, or maybe St. Mary's adopted me. I'm stuck here, and happy for it.

When I first started recovery, I felt like a newborn baby spit out on the streets. Who needs people more than a baby? They can't do nothing for themselves, absolutely nothing. St. Mary's was there to pick up the pieces for me. St. Mary's gave me a new life. They gave me a design for how people act: kindness. If you keep practicing being good, you're going to be good.

The meetings at St. Mary's that have the most impact on me are the Just Living group with Sister Mary, the Wisdom Center group with Barbara Reiner, and the Recovery 55 group. The Just Living group is like psychotherapy. We talk about good stuff like grief, responsibilities, and priorities. We may ask someone, "We haven't seen you for a week. Are you feeling blue? Tell us about it." If something's on your mind, that's where to go to say it.

In the Wisdom Center group, we start off playing percussion instruments, shakers. At first it just sounds like noise, but then I start feeling a rhythm, like Native American-Peruvian-Bolivian-salsa-Colombian. We get down!

After the music, we meditate to get balanced and centered and bring the energy down to earth. For me, every cell in my body is exploding -- pow, pow, pow! -- and the meditation brings me back to center.

I learned to just be through the Wisdom group. I learned it doesn't make no difference what I am, what I was, or what I am going to be. Just be Jose.

Discovering I really do have a life

One day, I was feeling down and I told Sister Mary, "I don't have no life, man." She drew a circle and put my name in the middle and said, "Okay, what is the first thing you think about?" I said, "St. Mary's." She put an arrow from the center to the edge and wrote: St. Mary's. I had a little job at the Salvation Army, and she said, "You've got your job." Okay, another arrow: my job.

"What else?" she said. "My ladies and my babies - the homeless shelter women and the preschool children." Okay, another arrow. Then she said, "You watch TV." Okay, another arrow. "You go to church." Another arrow. "You go to Bible study." Another arrow. She showed this to me and said, "Don't you think that's a life?"

Wasn't that something? That was great, the way she did that! She said, "You've got plenty going for you. It's just not the same kind of stuff as before." I colored that circle in really nice.

I am now housed at the San Pablo Residential Hotel that's across the street from St. Mary's. The angels at St. Mary's helped me get it. I've got my own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, TV, and computer. I can come and go when I want. Nice.

I'm majoring in Social Work at Merritt College and did an internship at St. Mary's. I visited my clients and made sure they got their Mercy food bag and that their nurses and doctors visited homebound seniors.

Hope and Justice

I'm involved in the Hope and Justice program. It's the first time I've done any activism, outside of politics in the joint. I'm concerned about food and health care for poor people, and my big issues are shelter and housing. I go to demonstrations and talk to state senators and legislators. I want to give them a wake-up call and say, "You look on the homeless as a burden to society. You'd better help the homeless, because you may be homeless yourself."

If I had never gotten into recovery, this never would have happened. Through St. Mary's, I got hooked up with all these little side projects. None of them stand alone. They're interrelated and are my communities.

It's only been uphill for me since I've been at St. Mary's. I believe that any person who takes advantage of this program will go uphill. My goal and ambition is for seniors to have a better quality of life. I would like to establish a transitional house for seniors in recovery. That's the main thing that I really pray for.

Change and metamorphosis

I can't take all the credit for how I am now; St Mary's helped me do it. I've had so much encouragement from everybody here, it's amazing. Everybody here, individually and as a collective group, all the way down to the kitchen staff, has done so much for me. They've been behind me 100 percent, and I mean 100 percent. I know it's not over yet; I've got a long way to go. What's happening to me is not just change, it's metamorphosis.

Community is the secret at St. Mary's Center. People here are like family, brothers and sisters. I'm talking about both clients and staff. The line is there, but it hardly exists. The most magnificent thing to me about St. Mary's is that they don't let you fall through the cracks. Almost every person in the shelter this year got a place to live. The staff goes the extra mile.

St. Mary's is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of their processes and procedures. There is no model like this one. They have a holistic concept. Each one of them has their expertise; and in that respect, you can't fall between the cracks. If you fall with one, another one will pick you up.

The first time I got touched with what I think was spirituality was when I read the Third Step, about turning your life over to God. I started crying. My parole officer arrived to see me at that moment and said, "What's the matter? Are you all right?" I told him, "You know what? I think I'm happy!"

My crying felt like my first touch of spirituality. I felt God sprinkled a little magic dust on me and said, "Try this, see if you like it." I did. It was brand new. I ain't never had nothin' like that feeling before. I had happiness before, but it was drug-induced pleasure of the moment.

Last year, we planted an apple tree out in the courtyard. It's a grafted tree, and I looked at that graft as a broken soul. My prayer when we planted it was, "I want this tree to grow in the same way that I want quality of life to grow for us seniors." And this year, the tree actually has leaves, little buds and flowers. That's really appropriate.

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