After months of work, we’ve finished making the Santa Cruz Free Guide into a searchable website for people who are experiencing homelessness – or simply anyone who could benefit from being connected to services. Check it out at santacruzfreeguide.org!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.