Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Clark (left) is my youngest brother at age 60. My son moved just up the road from him 3 years ago and instead of an uncle/nephew relationship, they became fast friends. Both Clark and Ken are members of the Klinkerbrick Winery in Lodi. Klinkerbrick puts on a party every year for its members and friends of members.
This year's theme was creole food with a Dixieland Band. The trombonist in the middle sings just like Satchmo. The deep voice comes as a surprise.
The wives, Laurie and Theresa have become good friends. Both women like to cook, enjoy trading recipes and just socializing. Bad news has a way of tainting the day, as Laurie told them a coyote entered the backyard of their new home in Reno, Nevada, and killed Bix and Coco their two mini-dachshunds, leaving a bloody patio, windows, rocks, walls-evidencing the violence of their deaths. It is hard to come to terms with such an end to your fur children. Healing takes a long time.
I've learned that there is therapy in discussing it, and talking it through. Stewart Matzek, in the background, toasted the dogs along with all of us. He represents good news to balance the bad. Next week he goes through orientation, a three day process, before he flies to Japan with several other applicants to teach English as a second language. He will be placed in a high-school in Komatsu, Japan, a coastal city of about 100,000 people. To say we are excited about that turn of events is an understatement. He already has a small apartment and bought the furniture and appliances from its former owner.
The band was a hoot. Some people danced on the grass or played a balancing game with sticks.
Doncha just love a banjo and a tuba? And the Old Ghost wine was a smooth, delightful concoction. Everyone's fave.
Surrounded by juicy, bursting-with-flavor-grapes, and green, green grass. Tin Roof Catering supplied the food. A delectable pork stew among the choices, with ice cream stirred in wine for dessert.
All too soon, it was time to part.
Laurie and Stewart, back to Nevada in her new Mini-Cooper, with all-wheel drive since snow is a factor in the winter.
And Ken, back to his residence, though temporary, in Santa Clara. He'll be taking over his new job in Reno two months from now. Meanwhile, they live apart for a while longer. Both are counting the days.
As my mom got up in years, looking at the downside, she would say, Life is good. And, it is.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Among the homeless, Norman is luckier than most. Here we are, his siblings who made him welcome for a week after Christmas for several years. Left to right, Norman, my sister who died at age 80, Will and Clark, who both live near me. After Dawn died, Norman has declined visits over the holidays. Growing up, she was more like a mother to him. He'd say, "Why not me?" He said the same when Brother Mark, died at age 45 and Brother Dan died at age 59. "Why not me?"
Worse than feeling worthless, Norman got involved with a Baptist church where he and the pastor developed a friendship. The whole congregation befriended Norman. He was accepted; he had friends. He attended services regularly.
The church had movie nights in their hall with free popcorn. He was happy. Norman suggested Fiddler On The Roof? No one had seen it. Feeling some reluctance from the members, he drummed up support for it. Then offered to pay for the movie from his own funds. He knew they'd love this movie. A scant number of non-parishioners attended. He couldn't understand it? I said maybe because Fiddler On The roof is about Jewish families. "So what? Jesus was a Jew. That can't be it."
He survived that fiasco and sometime later when he was talking with the Pastor, he mentioned a passage in his bible that he thought could be interpreted that God might be a woman. The Pastor was visibly upset and told him that was heresy. He wanted the Pastor to read it and talk about it. He would not. From then on, the congregation ostracized Norman. No one would look at him, or speak to him. Deeply hurt, he left with bitter tears in his voice. I didn't hear from him for months. I say, Oh yea good Christians, how shallow thou art.
It saddens me, that Norman didn't get treatment for alcohol addiction when he first stepped into the arrest and re-arrest cycle. Right now, Norman is doing well. But, looking at the numbers of homeless, most are not.
Cleveland, Ohio, learned several years ago, that providing housing was cheaper (though not by much), than emergency room medical treatment and the revolving doors of the courts and jail. Low cost housing makes a huge difference in the community and its sense of humanity.
Doing nothing complicates the consequences of angry, helpless, hopeless people, left to fend for themselves in a jungle atmosphere. The strong pick on the weak. Addiction increases. Hunger is constant as is dirt and filth. When you see homeless encampments, they are always loaded with dirty bedding. There is no garbage service, so garbage is everywhere. Vermin follow. People have to answer natures call, whether there is a toilet or not.
Communities want them out of their site. In my neighboring Tuolumne County, one Supervisor suggested that the churches should quit feeding them because they hang around town and businesses don't want them on the sidewalks. Passing ordinances doesn't make them invisible, less hungry or less likely to steal food.
Low cost housing works. People need stability. Children need healthy meals and decent clothing with regular attendance in school. Some parents, single or dual, will find work enough to move on. It is a chance for a better life.
Living on the streets can drive you crazy. Having a pet can help. It is healing to have responsibility for someone or something other than one's self. Cleveland recognized that and allows residents in housing to keep a pet.
Not every community will find enough money for housing. What I learned from the Butte Fire is that gated parks with mobile washers, dryers, toilets, showers and storage lockers can make a big impact on the homeless. The long-term homeless have different needs than fire victims, of course. And they may prefer to sleep in individual tents, or cots on the grass, or out in the open. Most shelters are plagued with smelly bedding and bed bugs, in a closed space where someone else's snoring or farting keeps then awake. The park should have a covered picnic area with electricity for people to cook their food, or barbecue. It should include garbage cans and a wash up area.
Separating and treating drug addicts and drunks and getting the mentally ill treatment is necessary. Money for facilities for the mentally impaired is money well spent. It may be as simple as providing medication for bi-polar people. Isn't it a civil responsibility to assist those who cannot help themselves no matter what caused their dilemma? As citizens, don't we have the right to demand solutions that work even if it is mandatory treatment?
For long-term homeless, the park must have a guard and rules. The gate guard allows those inside who have agreed to be responsible for the privilege of using the park. A safe haven for good behavior. But, who wants to be in a park where a drunken or drugged up person wants in when his behavior hasn't been so good? He creates a fuss and keeps everyone else awake and the dogs bark.
Is he turned away? No. Cooperation with the police provides him a quick trip to the drunk tank to sober up or come down from his high. From there a hearing before a civil magistrate must be endured before he can get a trial or his legal day in court. It requires a change in the law or perhaps, just procedure. A sentence to treatment means he gets his place in the safe haven secured and his belongings and a pet, if he has one, taken care of . Communication between law enforcement and the city or county run park is paramount.
AA meetings and medical treatment for addiction is first, under lock down in a dormitory style building. Sentences are long enough to give the person counseling along with treatment. Staff tries to find him a job on the outside while he is under treatment. The job is probationary. From the job, he returns to lock down until he is considered stable enough to turn his life around. If he fails, he has three chances to make it work.
Every human being is entitled to be treated as well as animals. As my brother indicated in his letter, "the son of man has no place to lay his head." That has to change.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Continuing the saga of my homeless brother Norman, here he is with his little dog and his bike. He lost the dog the last time he was arrested. He had taken over a condemned house. With a house address, he was able to get a bank account and begin collecting his social security which amounted to about $1,200 a month. He dug a new sewer line, fixed leaks on the roof, put in new flooring, a toilet and new plumbing. Over time, he put in a washer and dryer and television set. He made friends with the neighbors. He lived in this place for three years and invited a couple other homeless guys to live there too. Then, he decided to plant a garden with veggies and marijuana. A neighbor reported on him and the police came to “his house”, knocked on the door, arrested him for growing marijuana. (The other two guys vacated the minute the cops came to the door.)The cops would not let him secure the house nor make arrangements for his dog. Directly to jail.
In court, Norman could make a deal with the D.A. but he refuses. “If you do, they own you. They can just pick you up at any time and slap you back in jail for looking cross-eyed at someone. Probation for me is useless. I can’t get anywhere on time. I don’t have a watch or a calendar. I often don’t know the time of day or what day it is.”
While in jail, another brother picked up his mail and deposited his checks and paid for his storage building. Without family help, he would have had to reapply for Social Security all over again, wait for it to clear, from 6 weeks to 3 months. When Norman returned to “his house”, the place had been stripped of everything he owned. His dog gone.
He made his way back to a homeless camping area under the freeway in San Leandro. Someone told him about a mobile home park in Hayward with vacancies. It was a run-down place. He walked up to apply. The woman took one look at him and turned the sign around and said she had no vacancies. He was scruffy and dirty again, by this time.
Norman is personable. People like him. He makes it a point to befriend the storekeepers he must depend on so they know he doesn’t steal. He manages to fend off depression through his Bible and his faith.
Desperation is the most common ailment of the homeless. It sucks away any sense of well-being, hope or strength. It is naive to think that homeless people, single men especially, who can’t afford housing and basic necessities, should somehow be kind and sweet. Homeless people can be scary, full of tattoos, drunk and offensive, druggies, often panhandling aggressively. They don’t want to be dirty and stinky and loathed by all who see them. So called normal people with homes and traditional lives suffer from depression, drink too much, beat their wives, and kick the dog. They can live their messy lives behind a locked door. But the homeless are treated like trash and we expect them not to be depressed, hungry, angry, criminal and ill?
It kind of reminds me of the old debtors prisons. You go prison for stealing a loaf of bread because you are hungry. You can’t get out until someone pays your way out, but you have no money to make that happen. Are we that medieval? The way some cities treat the homeless, the answer is yes.
Everything has changed again for Norman. He is in a burnt out house that he is slowly fixing for the owner using his carpentry skills. He is not paid. With housing, he is stable, relatively sober and upbeat. The owner buys materials and arrives with his tools, one or two days a month. The owner takes the tools with him so no one can steal them while he is gone. (Not exactly the best neighborhood.)
At this new place, he has something to love-a stray cat; He has a place safe from young street punks who steal his bike and shove him around, just because they can. Here guys on the street have offered him friendship and marijuana. He doesn’t trust them and so far has refused any involvement with them. It is easier to do when you have a locked door.
The owner, (to remain unnamed), is a guy Norman built a house for about 10 years ago when he was homeless but still working for food and booze. It was before he had his stroke and before he could collect his social security. This man allows Norman to use his address for his mail when he is living on the street.
Norman has a throw away phone for which he buys minutes so he can communicate with me. He has a know it all attitude about some subjects and can be irritating at times. I listen as patiently as I can.
Currently, his Social Security has been reduced to $780 month. Social Security is on auto deposit now, and they promptly deducted Obama Care from his check. He has no way to get to a hospital, or establish a relationship with a doctor. He recently had a toothache and was in considerable pain. But, he couldn’t get to a dentist either. His income and ability to find a place to live is further from reach then ever, when this house is finished.
His bills are few without rent. He has to pay his storage fee. When on the street he has electricity there and he can cook in a crock pot and sit in a chair and write his letters. He has a place to keep his papers safe and dry. But, no shower, nor place to sleep. Still, it is a refuge of sorts that the manager of the storage building allows because he likes Norman.
Meanwhile, he can now shower and keep himself clean. He is stable and has a sense of purpose. He writes letters to public figures like Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, Governor Christie. He writes long letters to major newspapers and sends me copies of them. He is a bit mentally impaired in that he thinks he is part of the political scene and is influencing others for a better America with his letters.
I feel he needs to know that he has some self-worth; that his opinion is worth something to someone. That someone cares about whether he lives or dies. Isn’t that what we all need? A sense of self-worth with some dignity?
In one of his letters to the editor, he wrote: “A fox has his den, a bird has her nest, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.”
So, what is the answer? More tomorrow.
Friday, July 1, 2016
This man, Norman Moore, is homeless. He is my brother. He became an alcoholic and the family gave up trying to help him years ago. We reconnected over the last five years and we speak on the phone about twice a week.
Norman worked most of his life, owned a house, paid his taxes and contributed to society. He and his wife divorced and he invested in a farm and from there an office building. He went broke. He began to drink to excess in his late fifties and the downward spiral began. DUIs, license taken away, lost his wheels. Lost his ability to get to work. Can't pay fines. Jail time.
No one can live on zero money without stealing or begging or dumpster diving. You can't sign up for welfare without an address. Social Security will no longer send checks to a post office box. You have to have a bank account. And you can't get a bank account without an address. Likewise, he can't collect his carpenters pension.
When you are homeless, you have nothing to lose. But, you can't live way out in the country where I am, for instance. The homeless need services. A grocery store, a laundromat, a liquor store. More than anything, they need showers. Homeless people congregate in cities where there are parks with restrooms, or any open spaces. He can sometimes get to a church or rescue mission where they serve meals if his current camp is near enough. Some rescue missions require you to listen to their religious message first, which he resents.
Norman is a Jesus freak. He doesn't steal or commit crimes, other than drunkenness, resisting arrest, trespassing, loitering, and his latest, for growing marijuana. And, he has had a stroke and is crippled to the point where he can only walk about two blocks. He can bike a couple miles. He has been shoved off his bike, his bike has been stolen several times. He can't defend himself.
Norman has been removed from an encampment in the bushes, under the freeway, on private properties, public properties or a condemned house, I'm guessing about 60 times over the last twenty years.
Example. He got rousted from some bushes. Found a new spot near a grocery store he'd never been too before. He looks scruffy. He is dirty. Grocers expect the homeless to steal. He went in, bought three cans of beer, the owner watched him like a hawk. He went out in the back near the dumpster. Didn't find anything worth eating. He sat on the pavement and opened the beer. The owner came out and said: " You can't drink that beer here. I'm going to call the police." Norman told him, go ahead and continued to drink his beer. It's mid day.
The police arrived and by this time he has consumed two beers and was on the third can. The cops took one look at Norman sitting peaceably next to the dumpster with his beer and they turned to the owner and said, "You called us out for this? Get a grip." They left. And, so did Norman when he finished his beer.
It is against the law to be homeless. It is literally impossible for a human being to exist without the right to stand on a piece of the world's real estate. We treat stray animals better than we treat the homeless.
Shame on us. (Norman's saga continues tomorrow.)