Too Much at Once

A quarter of my town burned down. One of my participants at work passed away. I worry about people at work, and work in general has been really hard for me recently. Coronavirus is still going on and drastically affecting my family’s quality of life. Politics in this country are as alarming as ever…

There has been too much going on for me recently, too much to write about. I’ve sat down quite a few times to write, and it never felt right.

Right now, I don’t know how to write about my experiences at work without violating my participant’s privacy. Nor how to do it while capturing the wide vacillations of views I take on any given circumstance. Working with people who are homeless is great for forcing you into moral quandaries that you aren’t ready for. I don’t think there is anything I would have done differently, but I nonetheless feel wounded from the experience.

Burning Man didn’t happen, either.

Damn.

Anyway, for those of you who regularly read this blog, I wanted to let you all know where I’m at. I’m good, but there’s been a lot. Too much. Love to you all

Coronavirus: Day 54

the hatches are battened

So much has gone on in the last ~40 days. I’ll make a list:

-My brother in law passed away unexpectedly. He was 36 years old, married, with a four year old son. It’s still not clear why he died. He did test negative for COVID-19. Nonetheless, his death has been shocking, tragic, and painful for all of us. You can read what his widow wrote here (on Linkedin) and my wife wrote here (on facebook). The gofundme for his family is here.

-The homeless shelter I manage has been able to increase capacity while maintaining social distancing. We have increased staff. It’s now also looking like we will be able to increase the rate at which we are helping people to get housed. One of the reasons that we’ve been able to increase capacity is because of these. The organization I work for is Housing Matters, and I manage the program that those pallet shelters are in. I’m really proud of how we have responded to this crisis.

-Santa Cruz County has, as far as I can tell, done really well in it’s response to this pandemic. We’ve shut down beach access to folks from out of town. The county has opened more shelter and managed camping, including just across the street from our shelter. Our peak of cases was relatively low, and we already seem to be on the tail end. As long as we don’t open up again too soon…

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Here’s the source for that image.

-Speaking of opening up again too soon, it’s really frustrating seeing people in the right-wing media bubble saying that we need to open everything up again to keep the economy from getting bad. There is no way that I’ve seen to open up again without infecting thousands of people with this disease, and thousands of people dying. An effective president wouldn’t have closed down the CDC office specifically responsible for containing outbreaks in their country of origin. An effective president would have moved quickly and decisively when this virus appeared in our country. An effective part of the shutdown would have included a total pause on all rent, loans and mortgages. It would have made sure people had access to food and medical care, as needed. All of these steps would have mitigated the impacts on our greater economy significantly. It seems to me that Trump supporters don’t know how an effective president would behave, and so they champion his unending string of failures, claiming they are successes. Of course, if you are reading this, I know you are going to have one of two reactions. Either you are outside of the right-wing media bubble and you’ll essentially say “no, duh.” Or you’re inside the right-wing media bubble and you’ll essentially say “I’m so sad to hear that you’ve been manipulated by the mainstream media.” Such is the state of our world today.

-Shopping for supplies is completely different now. The aisles in the grocery stores are one-way only, and everyone is supposed to stay at least two shopping cart lengths apart. A staff person is wiping down every shopping cart after they are used. Early on, a lot of store shelves were nearly bare. Now most stuff is at the store. But toilet paper is sold by the roll (it used to be sold 8-12 to a pack), and for a while at least there was a limit on how many rolls you could buy at once. Clorox wipes, which used to be a staple of our house, are now essentially impossible to find. I’m now doing all of the shopping for the family, because there is a limit to how many people in a party can go in a store at once. Below are my shopping lists, you can see as time goes on more things were available in stores.

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-Geez, I nearly forgot! We had a wedding in our front yard during the stay-at-home. Short story shorter, this couple had to be married by a certain date but their courthouse wedding was cancelled due to coronavirus. So, they got married in our front yard. It was them, our family, and the photographer. We all maintained social distancing, and all of their family and friends watched online with zoom. I officiated. I’ve anonymized what I wrote for the occasion, but I’d like to share the text of the wedding with you all here:

Life has a way of taking us down unexpected twists and turns. And often, it’s those unexpected paths that take us exactly where we need to be.

Today, on an unexpected day, in an unexpected front yard, with an unexpected ceremony, We are here today to celebrate two people, who met by chance, not by design. Who found each other while swimming upon the wild seas of fate, and took a leap together. And, I presume, have kept taking leaps of faith together – and found themselves, after each leap, where they’ve always wanted to be.

Times, I understand, are always uncertain, however these times feel more uncertain than most. But uncertain times have a way of crystallizing our priorities. Today’s priorities are clear; love, commitment, family, each other.

I am honored, we all our honored, to be able to be here with you to celebrate your love and commitment to each other.

-My wife is still working from home, while overseeing our kindergartner’s schooling, while wrangling a two year old, while managing two dogs and a cat. Often when I get home she is exhausted from having to juggle too much in a day. Often when I get home, I’m exhausted from the highs and lows of managing a shelter and getting people who are homeless into housing. Though we have hit our stride, and made this our new normal, it is a fragile normal. It’s a high-stress normal.

-Nothing illustrated the fragility of our new normal than when the internet went out at our house. My wife, our kindergartner, and our friend who rents our back house all rely on being able to use the internet everyday during the stay-at-home to get work done. My wife and our renter do provide essential services, that thankfully are able to be done remotely. To suddenly be without internet doesn’t just impact them, but it imperils the commitments that they have made to the people in the vulnerable populations that they work with. I had to take the day off of work and spend 8 hours attempting to communicate with Comcast to get the internet working again. It turned out that Comcast wasn’t at fault for our internet going down, but it also wasn’t able to help us figure out what wasn’t working. Because the three of us weren’t able to work that day, three essential workers weren’t able to provide their services because of one bad internet connection. This pandemic amplifies everything else that isn’t working in our lives.

-Every day I work with folks who are carrying a lot of scars from life. Something that has struck me, in hearing stories from friends and family since this pandemic has started, is that the scars that people are getting these days are going to last a lifetime. I have a rule, not to tell anyone’s story on this blog but my own, but what people have gone through so far is going to stick with them forever. And…

-All of this may just be getting started. I’m wrapping this blog post up on May 9th, 2020. I fully expect that there will be another wave of coronavirus cases as many states in the US open up in the next few weeks. I expect the federal response to continue to be wholly inadequate – which means that not only will we be too slow to shut down again, but the second shutdown will also be mismanaged. Which will lead to a recession or a depression. We’re already hearing about meat becoming much more expensive soon, because so many meat processing plants have had to shut down because their workers are getting sick. The headline on the paper as I walked into the store today was that unemployment was at 14.7%. What else will we all lose before the federal government does the right thing?

-I miss hugging. I miss shaking people’s hands. I miss being able to relax. I miss being with my friends. I miss having lunch with people, in restaurants. I miss going to dinner. I miss walking through downtown. I miss seeing family. On a national level, I miss what life was like before 2016. I miss being able to focus enough to feel like I’m writing well.

I tell you what, though. There’s going to be a lot of fun to uncork when all this is over.

 

I’m Thankful For All Of You

Growing up, I had a lot of ideas about what my life would look like as an adult. Thankfully, few of them came true. One thing that I did not imagine, that I was really incapable of imagining, was the depth and richness I would feel every day from my friends and my community.

I did not imagine that I would have friends who shared their victories and their losses, their strengths and their foibles, their tragedies and their triumphs. I did not imagine that I would have friends that I could share all of those things with. I didn’t imagine that I would experience tragedies at all… but tragedy is a part of life, isn’t it?

I did not understand being there for the people I cared about, and allowing them to be there for me. Nor did I understand, as I do now, that I would find those two things to be the best parts of life. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, to be upset, to fail… and then to reach out for help. And to be there for the people I care about to reach out to me. To be there for friends as they figure out and get through the hardest parts of life, and to let people in as I figure out and get through the hardest parts of my life… this I truly treasure.

I treasure doing this with you. I treasure seeing you grow and change, and adapt to the challenges the confront you. I treasure your wins. I treasure sharing in your struggles, and seeing you overcome them. I treasure sharing our lives together – even if most of that sharing, in our modern world, is done online or over the phone.

For all I have faced in life, it has been sharing my struggle that has gotten me through it. It has been doing this thing called life, with all of you, that has made me experience a richness far beyond I have ever imagined. A richness that money can’t buy.

So thank you. I love you. I love you all. I look forward to tomorrow, tomorrow’s tomorrow, and beyond… knowing that we are doing this thing called life together. I’m eager to ride this ride with you.

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.