In the News

on the radio, on the interwebs

A more in depth update about life for us during the coronavirus is coming, but in the meantime check out where I’ve been in the press recently:

-Brenna, my wonderful wife, nominated my for the #ispyahero award campaign put on by Primary.com, and they gave me an award! You can check out what she wrote on facebook or instagram.

-Drew Glover had me on KSQD 90.7 to talk about nonviolence and working with people who are homeless. I really appreciated being able to get into the nuts and bolts of how de-escalation works in my conversation with him, and we also covered what we are doing at the shelter and community wide to serve the homeless population during this time. Here is the link if you want to hear it for yourself; at Radio Free America. It aired on April 10th (2020) on the Nonviolent Voices Show at 3pm.

-Jessica York, in her great ongoing coverage of the homelessness crisis in Santa Cruz, mentioned quickly what we are doing at the Free Guide. You can read the article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, I’m including it here mostly because it’s a great snapshot of where we were in this crisis a couple weeks ago. Honestly, our county as a whole seems to have really stepped up since the coronavirus hit, and it’s inspiring to see.

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.

Santa Cruz Free Guide is now searchable

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!

It’s Me

Here this is, for you to read

If there’s ever a day
When you’ve found you’ve
lost your way
and you’re looking for
someone to reach out to

And you don’t know
who’ll be there and
who won’t
who’ll listen and give you
something to hold on to

I’m not so far
just a message away
if you’ve got something
to say
or need someone
to walk with

Who’s gonna be there when
you’re in your worst moment?
Who will watch you as
you cry and you scream?
Who will put out their hand
when you need someone to hold?
Who will rock you back to sanity?

It’s me

It doesn’t bother me
if it’s been a year, or two, or three
a decade, or more
since you spoke to me

You are my friend
I mean that to the end
As long as I draw breath
you are part of me

If you don’t have
a roof over your head
if you’ve got track marks instead
If self harm seems like
the best solution for you

If you’ve lost your last sense
of direction

It’s me

I will be there
when the darkness closes in
when there’s nothing left
but the feet your standing in

I will walk a mile
or a thousand more
to get to your door
or take you to a new one

You’re never alone
in this world
when it’s cold as stone
As long as I draw breath
you’ve got me

Who’s gonna be there
when you’re in your worst moment?
Who will watch you as you
cry and you scream?
Who will put out their hand
when you need someone to hold?
Who will rock you back to sanity?

It’s me

I was listening to “It Ain’t Me” by Kygo and Selena Gomez yesterday – which I think is a beautiful song – and was experiencing a sense of cognitive dissonance deep in my soul. It’s essentially a breakup song, the way it’s performed it comes across as a lady saying that she isn’t going to support a guy anymore in the moments where he can’t take care of himself. Which, is a sentiment I can appreciate. As the song went along, I realized that it is me. That I want to be there in those moments. That, though I may not be in the habit of communicating this to the people I care about, it is exactly my intention to be there for my friends in their hardest times and any time. That when I become friends with a person, I am making a lifetime commitment to them. That, though I’ve struggled with the logistics of that commitment, as I’m sure we all have – it has been my commitment my entire life.

So, even though I haven’t written poetry for years, this poem just sort of spilled out of me. I wrote it roughly to the tune of “It Ain’t Me.” Apparently I’m much more of a lyricist than a tune-writer. I didn’t go and re-write the song word for word though, I just wrote what came to mind. Since the words of this poem are what I am feeling deeply on a daily basis these days, I thought I’d share it with you.

The Santa Cruz Free Guide (a re-Introduction)

Some of you may know that, for months now, I and a handful of other people have been working on building a truly comprehensive resource guide for people without housing who live in Santa Cruz County. Today we launched the new guide, as well as one of our new services: real time schedules of all the services in Santa Cruz County.

It has truly been serendipitous that this project has come together the way it has, and I am grateful for all the folks who have worked on it.

Also, this truly is just Phase 1 of this website and project. There will be more features and improvements coming in future months.

Here is the announcement email that went out today to service providers throughout the county:

Hello Everyone,
Attached please find easy-print, double-sided, county-wide resource guides to free services serving people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz. Please feel free to utilize and print these guides for yourself, your organization, your clients, friends, or neighbors in need.
We are pleased to announce the formation of The Free Guide, a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to maintaining a permanent local hub space for hosting this information. We know resources in our county are limited, but information need not be.
We are dedicated to keeping information free and accurate, up-to-date, local, and easily accessible. Feel free to take a look at  www.santacruzfreeguide.org
Check our  More Resources page for downloadable fliers. We’ve got a leaflet on the new Santa Cruz Winter Shelter program, Watsonville Winter Shelter program, Smart Path access points, the Warming Center’s Storage program and more.
Check the new Calendar Resource page for carefully maintained google calendars listing service times and locations. Feel free to upload these to your smart phone or mobile device.
Is your organization, resource, or service listed correctly in the web and/or print versions of the guides? Is there something we’ve left off that you think should be included? Space is limited in the print guides, but we can copy-fit or we may be able to include additional info on the web pages. Do let us know at santacruzfreeguide@gmail.com
And of course if you wish to be removed from our list to receive updates, simply respond with “Remove me” in the subject line.
Thank you,
The Free Guide Team
Evan Morrison
Alec McLeod
Maile McGrew-Fredé
(I’m not actually attaching the files here, so you can go to the website and see what it’s all about)

Quoted in this article about homelessness in Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay

Providing a taste of what it can be like to be homeless

The full quote is “Think about what it might take for you to become homeless. The money you’d have to lose, the job you’d have to lose, the relationships that would have to break down. There are thousands of people in this county who have gone through that trauma.”

Here’s the article

Evan’s Consensus Framework

a facilitation framework for running meetings that gain consensus among the participants

Below is a facilitation framework for running meetings that gain consensus among the participants. This is a living document, so it will be updated as need be. It is important that each participant at a meeting like this be committed to doing the work it takes to reach consensus.

-At least one day prior to meeting, request agenda items from participants.

-At least one hour prior to the meeting, send all the agenda items to all of the participants in order of priority.

-At the beginning of the meeting, record who is present.

-One person speaks at a time.

-Ask the group if they agree with the order of the agenda items, or if they would like to move anything forward. Let those who want to move items make their case, as well as those who don’t want to move items make their case. Make sure those who have opinions on the agenda items have fully stated their case. As the facilitator, check in with the group to see if everyone agrees on changing the agenda. If they do not agree, request that they agree with a proposal that halfway meets everyone’s stated intentions. If there is not agreement on some sort of compromise, it is time to stop the action and have a deeper conversation about what the participants are up to in the meeting.

-Begin the meeting, with the first agenda item.

-In this sort of meeting, it is important to have open conversations regarding each item. Allow for each participant to share their views on each item to their fullest extent, while being mindful of the time. Record all promises and actions to be taken. If there is a stalemate, ask bigger questions to move the conversation forward. Is this something that needs to be decided now? If we don’t agree on this, what do we agree on? Do we all agree that this is an issue that needs to be resolved? The role of the facilitator is to move the conversation to consensus, and this ability is more an art than a science. Also, to do so responsibly, the facilitator must also communicate their opinions regarding the topic of the conversation. Move on to the next agenda item when all present are in agreement that it is time to move on.

-Once all agenda items have been addressed, decide on a date, time and location for the next meeting.

-End the meeting

-Send all notes of promises and actions to be taken to everyone who has a stake in the meeting.

When Does Someone Deserve Homelessness?

Is there a crime where homelessness is the appropriate punishment? I haven’t found one yet.

For those of you who may have missed it, I got a new job in November. I now am part of a team that gets homeless veterans into stable housing. It’s a great job, and I truly love to go to work every day. What has also happened, since I took this job, is I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I think about aspects of life. This is one of those aspects.

Before I fully address the headline of this blog, however, I’m going to ask you to consider something. What if we, as a people, have exactly the economy we have designed? If our normal way of thinking, that we are essentially powerless over how our economy goes, is simply a learned way of thinking and not actually true? What if, in the process of handing over the management of our economy to our government, we have forgotten that our government does actually manage the economy? And that, by working together, we have the knowledge and ability to change the economy in any way we see fit?

I’m going to assert that we do have the economy we have designed. I’m also going to assert that the powerlessness we feel over the economy is due to the powerlessness we feel over our political system. And that our political system has effectively declined to take effective action regarding our economy, or declined to obtain the knowledge to manage our economy as we see fit. Or declined to participate fully in the mechanisms that we use to make the economy work for us. That it is not a deficit of ability.

That homelessness is not an unhappy accident within our economy and society, but a feature. That homelessness could be a byproduct of the way we think about money, work, family and housing. It could be the byproduct of the broken way that we have all learned to work together.

So, if we consider that homelessness in one way or another is happening on purpose (even if the “purpose” is simply us declining to take action where we can), then my question is;

What does someone have to do to deserve homelessness? People who commit serious crimes (murder, rape, etc) get to be housed in prison. Not ideal housing, obviously, but they have a roof over their head. Do you deserve to lose housing if you default on a mortgage? I would argue no, you deserve to lose that house but not housing. Don’t pay your rent? Lose your apartment, sure. Housing? No. Medical issues that wipe out your finances? Absolutely should not lose housing. Break up with a significant other? Should not lose access to housing. Lose work and have trouble finding new employment? Should not lose access to housing. Struggle with addiction and/or mental disorders? Still shouldn’t lose access to housing.

At what point should someone lose access to housing? I haven’t found one.

On a practical level, this makes me wonder if there should be some sort of safety net. We have a safety net if you lose your job: unemployment. What about a safety net if you lose a place to live? What would that look like? How would that work?

But putting aside the practical for one more moment, there are deeper issues to address. Lots of homeless people at some point were made to be homeless. Maybe we should stop doing that to people. How we stop doing that, I’m not sure…