Love Is Not In The Budget

I lost a client on Monday. He hung himself. He was 29 years old. A really sweet kid, who could have turned it around and had a real good life. Word on the street is that he was having relationship issues, and that’s what drove him over the edge. But undoubtedly, I’ll never know for sure.

Amidst my own heartbreak, when I was sharing my grief with some folks around me, someone asked me what was going on with this particular client. Though he had mental health issues, and substance issues, it seemed clear to me that what he needed was a family and a team in life. He had been in and out of foster care as a kid, then coerced into the military, then directly into homelessness from the military, and homeless ever since. At least that’s the story he told me.

The thing with homeless services in this county, as far as I have experienced them, is they are really focused. They are about getting people into housing.

After a year and a half of doing this, I have found that there are as many different reasons for becoming homeless as there are people who are homeless. But one constant, one universal, is a lack of social supports. Or, at least, a lack of social supports from people who are housed.

For instance, if I were to lose the ability to maintain my own roof over my head, I’m sure I would have a bevy of friends and family that would put me up for a short while until I was able to maintain my own roof over my head again.

People who are homeless either don’t have that support or don’t think they have that support anymore. Yes, some have mental health or substance issues that make it really hard for loved ones to care for them.

But why do people become homeless? Because their community no longer provides the supports they need. Or never did.

I wonder, if people who are homeless experienced being loved and accepted in their community, would they then be able to self resolve their homelessness? I wonder if we’ve been focusing on a symptom, homelessness, instead of the disease: lack of social support?

Every homeless service I have interacted with in this country is highly constrained in what it can do. Mine, for instance, can provide first and last month’s rent. We can subsidize rent in certain circumstances for a short period of time. We can help someone find a place to live. We connect people with other supports in the community, and help people stay organized and taking action. We can do this for most veterans who are homeless but not all. Not all veterans qualify.

We try to provide social support where we can, but that is not what we are set up to do. Love, community, and family are not in our program parameters. So we can’t focus on making sure our veterans have those things.

Love is not in the budget.

When I think about this veteran that is now gone, I think about how I and our team did the best that we could with him. We did the best that we knew to do, within the parameters of our program. And we lost him.

Some people will say that some people are just too far gone to be saved. Maybe. But he wasn’t.

If we were set up to make sure that our veterans had access to a reliable and safe community, I am sure he would still be with us. I’m sure that in ten years that, instead of remembering his death, we’d be celebrating his life with him. I’m sure that if we made sure that our non-veteran community members who are homeless also had access to reliable and safe community, we could accelerate the end to their homelessness as well.

I think it may be time to do that.

Project Homeless Connect and Veteran Homelessness in Santa Cruz

On Tuesday I made an appearance on Community Television of Santa Cruz County, talking about Project Homeless Connect and veteran homelessness. Project Homeless Connect is an event that brings every service that someone experiencing homelessness could need into one building on one day, so they can get a lot of their needs taken care of at once and get into housing more quickly. You can check out the website, and volunteer on the day of the event, here: phc-santacruz.org

Here is the link to the Community Television episode on YouTube.

You can also donate to my work, and come and volunteer with me and my team, by visiting santacruzhsc.org

Talking About Homeless Veterans In Santa Cruz County

I gave an update on the Homeless Veterans situation to the Veterans Take Charge radio show this last Sunday. If you listen before June 2nd, it’ll be the episode right at the top of the page. Otherwise, it’s the one dated May 26th, 2019. Here’s the link: http://www.zbsradio.com/show_detail/id/81

Reuniting the US sounds like a Herculean task

How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States.

A comedian friend of mine posted on facebook, that he wore a shirt that had some American flag themed decoration on it for his comedy set. That after his set, a lady came up to him and told him that he should not wear that shirt because he was obviously a liberal and liberals aren’t patriotic.

This is where we are at today.

We’ve been leading up to this for a long time. Way back in 2003, if my memory serves, I was working on a bond campaign for a local library. I was talking with a potential volunteer for the campaign, and he asked me if I was a Republican. I said no (I’m not registered with any party), and he said good – that he would never work with a Republican. But it was different then, than it is today. It wasn’t quite so… visceral.

I remember reading about a time when the political parties in this country could get along. Or at least, not view each other as the enemy. It seems to me that all that came crashing down when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house in the 1990’s. But the days of seeing allies across the aisle, if they ever existed, seem to be gone.

This is very upsetting for me. Because at some point, this state is a conscious choice for everyone involved. We choose to badmouth our political adversaries. We choose to lie about them. We choose to heap endless tons of criticism upon them. We choose to distort what we see to serve our political ends. We choose to tear down our fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We choose to shut out wide swaths of our own people from the political and policy making process. We chose this, and we choose it again every day. We are 327 million people (last I checked) choosing to do this to ourselves.

How does anyone turn that around?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have an idea, though. What I can do, is bring people together locally. Maybe that will make a difference. Maybe there are other people, in other parts of the country, who are doing the same.

Maybe getting people off of the internet, out from in front of their screens, and talking to each other – maybe that will make a difference. I feels, to me, that social media and media in general today is just designed to inflame. That we are all inflamed, and that’s why we don’t hear each other. That’s why people who think differently than us look like the enemy.

Normally, when I write about something that is bothering me, I write until I feel better. In this instance, I don’t know that I will be able to feel better about this. How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States. A country where every man (and woman) is equal. The land of the free and the home of the brave. Maybe all that great stuff I was told about our country as a kid was hokum.

But that hokum is worth fighting for.

I don’t have easy answers here. Maybe all there is to do is to continue to move forward. To continue to try things, and to see what works. To continue to stand for what I believe our country should stand for.

Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

Liam Neeson is doing what we want

Chances are, you do something today that is not going to be socially acceptable in 40 years.

You are going to want to be able to apologize, show remorse, and move on. Lets give him space to do the same. He is not unrepentant, he isn’t saying “you know what? I’m still mad about this. I’m going to get my baton and go out into the streets of Ireland right now…” No. If he was, then go ahead, have at him.

He’s not a fragile man who thinks that you should never apologize. Liam is showing us how to grow. There are some people, who carry the same feelings he carried back when he went looking through Ireland for a black man to kill, who are only going to be open to changing their views when they see that someone else has already changed their views. Who, in the face of social pressure to change, are only going to harden their hearts and buckle down – but who will listen to someone who felt the way they do.

This is how we grow. If we don’t allow space for people to sincerely apologize and atone for their misdeeds, we don’t allow people to move on from the thinking that lead to those misdeeds in the first place. Something about our human brains; owing up to our mistakes allows us to let them go, hiding them doesn’t.

This is made somewhat simpler by the fact that he didn’t actually do anything. He didn’t assault or attempt to kill anyone, even though he meant to for a few moments of his life. This conversation gets more complicated when someone took an action that harmed someone else, but it’s still a conversation to have.

Also, what he wanted to do wasn’t okay then either. But it was significantly more socially acceptable then than it is today.

I, as well as most of you who read this, live in America. I admire a few of the people who founded our country in the late 1700’s, and consider most of them to be good people. Yet many of those men I admire were slave owners and probably misogynists.

Cultures and attitudes change, and in our time they are changing within our lifetimes. If we don’t allow people to raise their hand and say that they were wrong in how they thought, they are sorry and they have grown from thinking that way – then not only do we condemn them for the mistakes and foolishness of the past, but we condemn ourselves. For inevitably, one day we will find ourselves in their shoes.

Llewy is still gone. Here’s what I’ve learned

They said grief comes in waves…

 

First and foremost, I should not have followed the vet’s advice and distracted him with peanut butter while she was giving him his shots. He got so focused on the peanut butter that he and I weren’t able to share his final moments together. There’s no way that the vet could have known that… I should have known that, but I was so wrapped up in my grief that I didn’t realize it. I may regret that decision for the rest of my life. Though I was able to say goodbye, in his final minutes he was focused on his food – and not on he and I being together. I hope one day I am able to let the pain go of watching the life leave him while he was eating when I so desperately wanted to connect with him one more time – but so far I have been unsuccessful in that endeavor.

In my grief and my pain, I did find myself wanting to re-write my memory of his last minutes to fit how I wanted them to go. In the midst of feeling so much pain, I tried so hard to make myself remember his last moments differently. That he did respond when I called his name, that he reacted when he saw me the last time. But he didn’t. I haven’t yet been able to put a finger on why it matters so much to me that he responded to me one last time – but it does.

Today, Ember told me how much she missed him. She told me that she missed how he was always watching over us, protecting us. She’s only 5, and he died 6 weeks ago. I feel like it’s a crap-shoot what she’ll remember of him. But hearing that today reminded me what a presence he was. He made us all feel cared for and watched over. He made us all feel loved, even if he irritated us with how he loved us sometimes.

I’ve never lost someone close to me before. Grief is awful. And, losing Llewy has given me perspective. I feel like I’m more sure to appreciate every moment I have with the people and animals I care about. I also don’t know that I’m ever going to let a dog in the way I let Llewy in. The thought of loving another dog only to go through this again…. right now that seems like too much.

It made a great difference to hear from everyone I heard from in the wake of his passing. Knowing how everyone cared was a boon at a time when everything seemed dark. Thank you, those of you who did that.

Llewy really is gone. I guess it’s still hard to truly believe, because his presence is still with me. I hope it always is.

Goodbye, My Friend

Today, Llewy was euthanized. It’s already weird being in our house without him. Always, his presence warmed my heart. To suddenly be without him…. well I guess that’s why I’m writing this goodbye to him now. So I don’t have to lose the idea of him yet, even if he is gone.

Llewy balanced me, when I didn’t know that I needed to be balanced. His unconditional love, spirit, and stubbornness, often reminded me of how to be the person that I wanted to be. Every dog is an emotional support dog, and Llewy was mine. Brenna would often say that he was my spirit animal, and that’s true. Having him in our family for these years made me a better person.

My spirit is dampened due to his loss, but what I learned from Llewy will live beyond the sorrow. When I had no one else, Llewy was there. When I needed someone to hold, Llewy was there. When I just needed to be with someone else, Llewy was there. I’ll never know if he knew when I needed him or not, but he was always there. Just his being there, and his irrepressible attitude while he was there, eased so much pain in my life. Llewy made it easier to process all the things I have gone through in the last 10+ years. He made it easier to make the choices in my life that I needed to make.

He made it easier when I got laid off. He made it easier when Brenna and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. He made it easier to raise two daughters. He made it easier to buy a house, and move to a (relatively) new region. Llewy made it easier to quell the demons that have always been in my mind.

IMG_6022

The first weekend we had him, we took him on a walk from our apartment in Campbell to downtown. Traffic literally stopped in the middle of the road when people saw him – I think shortly after we took the picture above. He was the cutest puppy ever. I’m slightly biased. When we got to downtown, where there was a farmer’s market that day, a crowd of about 30 people gathered around to see him.

I’ll never forget the day we got him. He was sad to leave his family, but after he had been with us for a few hours, his personality came through. I think it was at least a year before I was sure that he wanted to be with us.

IMG_6019IMG_6020IMG_6018

He always found comfort in my feet, from the first day we had him to the last day of his life.

Llewy was great with babies. He was always patient, always protective. He put up with so much from Ember when she was a baby, and was always sweet with Ash. With kids, Llew wasn’t so great. Thankfully he didn’t nip at their heels, but he didn’t appreciate them running around or any roughhousing of any kind.

IMG_5803

Here is one of the few photos of Llewy and Ash. She obviously won’t remember him.

Llew once ate half a pound of Starburst. We came home (I thought I had left the Starburst out of reach) and found him, on the floor next to a chewed through bag, so bloated. No matter how many times I took him out to walk and get things moving, he only barfed in the house. Reddish, sticky, watery goo came out of him – with Starburst wrappers. It was truly awful. I don’t think that carpet ever recovered.

There was the time he and Nacho got kennel cough from eating horse poop and dead crabs on a beach in SF. There was the time he got stung by a bee and his nose got all swollen – that happened when he got his vaccines as well. There were the many times he knocked over someone’s drink at a party so he could drink it himself. There was the time he ran through downtown Boulder Creek, and we found him eating garbage out of the dumpster by the old brewery. Or when we pulled him out of herding lessons because he lost interest in herding the sheep, preferring to just eat their poop. Before it became clear that the degenerative myelopathy was going to take him, Brenna and I really thought that he would manage to eat himself to death.

I love that picture above of Ash and Llewy. It really captures the dignity with which he finished his life.

He had no fear. The only thing I remember Llewy ever being afraid of was power outages (of all things). Bigger dogs, people, cars, nothing else I ever saw him back down from. Such a great lesson for life. Here he is, I managed to get a selfie of him when the power went out in our house:

IMG_2339

Llewy was a great pack dog, even if he wasn’t totally happy with additions to the pack. He watched out for all of us, and helped us train our new puppy in the last year of his life.

Llewy helped me to be whole. I had no idea a dog could do that before him. I feel like I could go on forever, but being that he has only been dead an hour and a half or so as I’m writing this, I think I’m going to stop writing for now. I may very well write more about him in the future as I’m processing his departure.

One more thing. Here are the photos from his last trip to the beach, the day before he died. I’ve never been able to take selfies with him, and yesterday was no different. He did get to dig in the sand one last time, something he loved to do. There were also a few dogs there, and I got to see how social he wanted to be as he dragged his back end across the beach to see them.

More photos:

IMG_6013IMG_5157IMG_6015IMG_6027IMG_6026IMG_5156IMG_6016IMG_5163IMG_6011

Goodbye, Llewy. You were my rock. I will miss you dearly, and I will always carry you in my soul. What you did for me and our family is immeasurable. In my heart, you will always be by my side.