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

Ken Minor

I've become devoted to a cause, housing for poor people. I'm a brand-new activist. Brand, spanking new! I'm not just for myself, I'm also for others. I'm deep into the Hope and Justice work, and I don't want out of it!

I was in Berkeley, camping out at the famous People's Park. Every night, the alert would go up: "Here come the teenagers." I heard them stompin' down the sidewalk and I thought, "If I stay here, I'm going to get my head kicked in."

I went to Traveler's Aid and asked a woman there, "Look, it's cold out, and I'm pretty much crippled up. I have to use a cane to walk around. Do you have any place where a man my age can go?" She said, "St. Mary's Center, near the Greyhound station and across the street from the Veteran's Administration Clinic."

I was processed into the shelter at St. Mary's. I was tired and dirty, must have looked like hell. And I was out there in la-Ia land, on top of it, highly confused. But I knew if I stayed put, I could stop this homeless baloney. I could break the chain. The chain's been broken. It took some help, and a lot of effort on my part.

I am a very independent man, but St. Mary's Center has been a great influence on me. I've gained new hope, new wisdom -- more wisdom than I ever thought I had. I can afford to give that wisdom away to other people, I got so much! I'm investing more time in me than I ever have. It's a gradual change. I got it all back by being involved, and going to the Recovery 55 meetings.

Devoted to a cause

I've become devoted to a cause, housing for poor people. I go to public meetings about housing in Oakland and Sacramento, and I speak out against budget cuts. I like to speak my mind, to be blunt and make statements without cussing. I'm a brand-new activist. Brand, spanking new! I'm not just for myself, I'm also for others. I'm deep into the Hope and Justice work, and I don't want out of it!

Every day, I come in contact with at least three homeless persons. When I see some poor son of a gun out there struggling, pushing a cart, my first question is, "Sir, or ma'am, how old are you?"

If they look like they're in their fifties, I'll say, "You know where St. Mary's is?" If they say, "No, how do I get there?," I tell them, and if I've got the bus fare I'll say, "Why don't you get on the #15 bus with me? Let's go."

Hey, that's what you're supposed to do. Just because a person's homeless, you're not supposed to call the police on them. You're supposed to help them.

I've got some problems with my health and I don't walk too good anymore. My legs have about had it, but I'm still gonna use 'em. As long as I do one very important thing -- stay sober -- my health problems will be minimized.

A lot of kindness and love

Recovery 55 is a critical part of my staying sober. The whole atmosphere is different than other recovery programs I've been to. There's a lot of kindness and love around St. Mary's. It's in the way people talk and treat each other. The meetings are not conducted in a demanding manner; they're done with kindness. There's friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood. Right here!

Post-traumatic stress disorder

I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and still carry memories from when I was in Vietnam. For treatment, the V.A. gives out medications, but that's not what I need. I have one-on-one counseling sessions with the psychiatrist at St. Mary's Center, and now I know that I have to learn new skills, new ways of living. I have to disassemble the old timbers and start all over again. That's the only way to heal.

The program they run here, all the way around, is far better than any V.A. program. The federal government could take lessons from St. Mary's!

Kathy has been a very good counselor and has helped me to get housing. Every once in a while, to show that I appreciate what she's done, I give her a big bag of candy. I've got nothing but praise for this place.

St. Mary's Center staff asked me to play Santa for last year's holiday party. When I tried on a Santa suit, they told me, "You're a dead ringer for Santa, just play it up." So I gave 'em Santa. I rang sleigh bells and gave out a big "ho-ho-ho" as I entered the party room. I said, "Who's been naughty and who's been nice? Because if you've been too nice, you're not gettin' a darn thing!" I got a big response with a lot of laughs. It was a fun and totally different kind of Christmas for me.

St. Mary's Center is a great place. Great things happen here. I wish I had found St. Mary's over 20 years ago. I'd have straightened up my life then. But it's never too late!

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

E-mail: Spirit

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Editor : Terry Messman

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