Coronavirus: Day 16

Even if we don’t have it, it’s taking it’s toll

My county, Santa Cruz, issued it’s stay at home order on March 16th (if I’m counting correctly). So I’m counting sixteen days from that day to today. Santa  Cruz county also got over the 50 confirmed cases threshold today. I’m just gonna share the stuff that is on my mind:

-My wife has been working from home, essentially home-schooling our six year old daughter, AND wrangling our near two year old daughter, a puppy, a dog & a cat. Schools & daycares are shut down. My wife works in the schools system in Santa Clara county, their schools are shut down.

-I have continued to manage the homeless shelter that I manage. Which means I’m still going into work 40 hours a week, and interacting with shelter staff and participants.

-There is nowhere near enough time or energy for us to tackle everything we have to do every day.

-A friend brought us groceries and dinner one night a few days ago, and it was honestly manna from the heavens. Every time I’ve seen toilet paper for sale, when the shelves haven’t been empty, it’s been one roll of toilet paper at a time. We’re nearly down to our last roll, if I can’t find a package soon I guess I’ll be buying some rolls…

-It’s been really hard to see and hear about folks who are working from home, or simply at home not working, with no kids and nothing to do. Our world went from 3 full-time jobs (our jobs, and raising the kids while we aren’t at our jobs) to five full-time jobs (add in teaching our kindergartener and “daycare” for a toddler). My wife is taking the brunt of the change, and I’m doing what I can – but it is honestly just too much.

-I spent the last two weeks at the shelter being pulled in multiple directions at once, filling 2-4 roles. I think we have staffing levels at the right spot going forward, but I haven’t recovered yet.

-Before coronavirus, we had bunkbeds in the shelter. In order to create enough “social distancing” (which really should be called “physical distancing”) we’ve moved a portion of folks in the shelter to tents that we have set up in the parking lot. We have gotten much more thorough in our cleaning. Accomplishing this while dealing with the chaos and being short staffed has been rocky, to say the least.

-I’ve been watching the news very closely for mention of people who are homeless getting coronavirus. The only one I’ve heard of was a gentleman in San Jose, CA – who passed away from it. People are very concerned about coronavirus getting into the homeless community. Everyone has been told to practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of this disease. But our culture has been socially distancing from people who are homeless for decades. Social distance is not new for people who are living outdoors. It’s sad to say, but people who are homeless might have a higher risk of getting coronavirus from service providers and landlords than from anyone else. That being said, as soon as there is an encampment somewhere that produces about three coronavirus cases, it’s a totally different picture.

-I saw that there was a record number of unemployment applications sent in recently. Which is not surprising, given that so much is being shut down. But our food supply hasn’t been reduced. Our (already inadequate) housing supply hasn’t been reduced. What if it isn’t actually necessary for our society for those millions of folks to be working? What if we don’t need so many of us working to actually get everyone’s needs met? People who talk about Medicare for All (or single payer healthcare in general) talk about decoupling healthcare from employment. What if we decoupled housing from employment (or income) as well? This is a thought that came to me this week.

-Our whole family is processing through a cold. A definite feature of the coronavirus is the enhanced scrutiny that every sickness receives. We don’t have any reason to think we have it. Even so, I read the reports from Iceland – where it appears they are testing everyone – and it appears half of the people who get positive results have no symptoms whatsoever. It’s terrifying to think that our near two year old could get this, she had a series of medical issues recently and needs to be healthy for another couple of months before she’s out of the woods. Nonetheless, there is no way we would get tested in this country. There are  nowhere near enough tests for non-rich people who don’t have any of the primary symptoms.

-Our little mountain town has a nightly howl at 8pm, in honor of the healthcare workers on the front lines of this epidemic. It’s truly heartening to hear and participate it.

-Even though Santa Cruz county just got over 50 confirmed cases, we are currently weathering the storm relatively well. Santa Clara county, directly to the north of us (also know as Silicon Valley, for you international readers – and where I grew up), is up over 950 confirmed cases. The other county to the north of us, San Mateo, is up over 380 cases. I hope our county can keep it’s cases from exponentially increasing, but I’m not sure I would take that bet.

-At the Free Guide, we’ve had to switch to a “live” google doc that can reflect changes we’ve made to available resources for the homeless in Santa Cruz county the second we make them. We’ve had to do this because the list of resources is changing so fast.

-Merlin, the puppy, has been a boon to all of us at home and at work.

-Our oldest daughter cried today when she found out that her school will be closed for the rest of the school year. She misses her friends, and her teacher, so much.

Even though this has been hard, it’s not too hard. We’ll get through this. But all of this is tiring.

Goodbye, Cowboy

I lost another one today…

I lost another one today. This man was in his 60’s, a veteran from the Vietnam era. He was from the south. He went by Cowboy. And oh man, was he a cowboy. He also pushed a wheelchair to get around because he couldn’t walk steadily on his own. When I first met him, he had two black eyes because he had fallen on his face and busted himself up. His beard was a mess. He often stunk. But he always had something witty to say.

He also was a sex offender. I don’t remember what he did to become a sex offender, but I remember looking it up once and it was, well… he deserved to be a sex offender.

But he also did his time. He was never a repeat offender. That didn’t matter, though. Regardless of his clear disabilities and advanced age, he did not qualify for any of the long term programs in this county because of his sex offender status. There was no way for him to earn money, yet he wasn’t allowed entrance into the programs that are there to support people who can’t earn money.

When he was in a good spot, Cowboy was a pure southern charmer. His wit and sense of humor, while sitting on a cardboard box on the sidewalk, always made me laugh. I once got him into a shelter in San Jose for four days. Being under a roof was great for him. When I picked him up after he had to leave (through no fault of his own, but a bureaucratic reason), not only did he look incredible – he had managed to get himself a girlfriend. It was surreal, yet joyous, seeing this man who I literally picked up off the street look 10 years younger and have a tearful goodbye with a lady he would almost assuredly never see again.

Cowboy’s spirit, in the face of bleak circumstances, was formidable. He could find something to joke about in his darkest moments. Yet, honestly, I had come to avoid him on my trips downtown. Not because I didn’t want to see him, but because I wanted so badly to help him and was powerless to do anything. I couldn’t confront the obvious, aching need on his face and my powerlessness to do anything about it.

Cowboy probably died alone. Thankfully he died while the sun was out, so he probably wasn’t cold. I hope, and this is all I can hope, that with his dark sense of humor he was able to find something funny about his last moments.

I bet he did.

Goodbye, Cowboy. You truly brightened my days, and whenever I think of you I will smile.

My Amazing Wife is getting press about taking our kids to Burning Man

Yes, we bring our kids to Burning Man

First, she was interviewed for Road Trippers Magazine.

Next, she made an appearance on our local radio station Wild 94.9‘s morning show. Her spot starts at the 62:24 mark.

Some great photos of us at Burning Man are on her Instagram as well.

❤️

Our Little Nacho has left us

Today we put Nacho to rest for good. His decline was sudden. Just last week we thought we would have him for months longer. He saw the vet today, and today turned out to be the day. He was 14. He was a sweet little dog, and he helped bring Brenna and I together.

IMG_4178Here he is, with Jewel and Dulce. He loved sunning. This was our pack, for a few months.

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Minutes after he died and was taken away, Ash found his collar and began looking for him. Here she is, looking out the window for our cute little Nacho. She loved to pet him, and to poke him. He is part of the reason she loves dogs so much.

Goodbye Nacho. You had a good life, and we loved you with all we had. We’ll miss you.

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.

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.

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.