Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Peace Camp 2010 ~ ~ my reverie after a nite on cement


This note is simply a plce-holder message. I haven't been home enough to write anything myself worthy of sharing. I have been spending whatever time I could during the past week at PeaceCamp2010.

I have been invloved with what I'm calling the Movement to End Homelessness in our Country, since Scotts Creek struggles in the late 1970s; since before the word "homelessness" was indulged by news reporters and memorialized by Paul Simon in song.

When I started paying attention to this stuff, in my children's hometown, City of Santa Cruz, people were still fretting about overuse of the word "vagrant" and calling gatherings of displaced people UTEs, which stands for Unidentified Transient Elements. It was dehumanizing, said some. So they stopped using it in print. Then began "homeless" and homelessness".

For decades I've been a nag: "Don't use it as a noun," I'd lament. It is a descriptive, an adjective. It demeans people further when used as a subject or noun. Homeless PEOPLE. At least in the first entry in a story, whether to a bureaucrat or to a newsperson, I've pushed this one little concern, evidentally in vain. People who are otherwise clearly committed to humane values continue to say, 'The Homeless'!

I believe this cluelessness (by most folks who do it) is not intended to help dehumanize displaced people, but it does so. It makes it much easier to get that "them or us" hostility going. It has been a tool to push folks into this caste-system-like status.

So I say again, for the gazillionth time it feels like, "HOMELESS" is an adjective. In the past year, many more people have become supportive of making 'homelessness' a Federal status crime, in light of the pattern, nationwide, of random and viscious attacks against visibly homeless sleepers. Most of us feel we can't do much about such a big and urgent social "problem." But we can retrain ourselves to use more appropriate words in our everyday speech, can't we? I believe that if we realize we are contributing to a hateful reaction in many others, we can change one little habait of language.

I have continued to engage in work I feel/felt would lead to undoing homelessness as federal social policy. I have continued to check out the tent cities and encampments and those rare gatherings that would resist growing homelessness.

I once put together a great (well reviewed) Civil Rights & Homeless People panel for a Housing California conference, and I helped "HUFF" to organize and execute a wonderfully uplifting and educational "Tent City Convention" which invited folks from all up and down the west coast, including Canada, to spend a long weekend together and share problems and solutions for organizers. Thanks to Thomas Leavitt and his family, we were able to put together a "safe place" (ie private property. back yard invisible to the streets) for that gathering of about 50 folks.

I have continued, as my health has permitted, to be an active participant in our County's Continuum or Care and Homeless Action Patnership, a collaborative who's tasks include helping get state and federal funding for this growing population distributed optimally in Santa Cruz County. Both proud and grateful for all the others who volunteer, still I wish more of the communities we live in were represented. I also serve on the CofC's evaluation committee yearly, because of my understanding, both of the services and housing meant to help homeless people off the streets or into relative safety, and of the grind daily faced by the "unserved" homeless folks.

As facilitator for Housing NOW! in Santa Cruz, I have continued to provide organizational and technical support, as well as occasional respite support, to my friends and neighbors here. Recently, I had to dust off my hat as an "expert on homelessness" and again become a court witness for some among the persecuted and prosecuted homeless population.

In short, I have learned there are a LOT of ways we can each and all face this growing "problem". I try to do whatever I can that makes sense and that could stem the tide of wasted American lives, even when it's only a little bit.

While I believed, years ago, that I'd be able to "do more" once my children were grown, it isn't really happening yet. I bring all this nonsense and knowlewdge and history and perspective to my involvement when I stand with protesters, demonstrators and individually stranded homeless folk. As a committed pacifist, sometimes, there's no match between demonstrators and what I can share. Sometimes there is.

With the emergence of Peace Camp 2010 (see blog -- same name -- for their contact info and more) I have been enjoying a supportive role in this experiment of "being allowed to be": to be visible, to find each other, to sleep in less fear, and much morSuchI believe isolation is a killer and a crazy-maker, and homeless people keep becoming isolated, and often die totally alone.

The gatherings of homeless people also give compassionate folks in our communities the opportunity to make offerings as well; very important engagement. To me, this is so very important.

I have fallen in 'deep like' with many of the "regulars" at Peace Camp! Checking in, for the past month, sleeping in borrowed van nearby some nites; doing what I can. Sometimes a little tube of 'triple antiboitic ointment', or chewable Vitamin C, or a ride to a clinic can make a person's day. Sometimes just a cup of hot tea.

While I have very little (in typical terms), it is so much more than I had when I was homeless with my kids!

I believe this work is my calling, or maybe the reason I was born. It requires me to be of support and to be friendly with "the unfortunate." I follow the teaching of Mitch Snyder, who pointed out how many of us behave as tho' homeless people in public settings are "invisible." He said simply, be kind.

The Spiritual tradition which I follow also requires me to help people who are less fortunate than I am, and I've been very lucky to learn how "easy" this can be when one is willing to be flexible and awake.

Well, the other nite I quite literally fell asleep on the job.

The first night I slept outside with Peace Camp 2010 folks, with no male "protectorate", I got a ticket for "lodging". Bet it will turn out to be an expensive decision/nite. But I was very deeply concerned just then about one of the men there, who was quite ill, and I felt I needed to keep an eye on his welfare. It was obviously the most important thing just then, for me. I believe there was something of a life-n-death illness to be healed. Seeing such, all the ifs, ands, and butts that make it easy to hesitate from taking a more radical or direct pathway were pouf, nowhere around!

Earlier, I had offered "ride to hopsital?" but he explained how that would likely create just TWO DAY'S of relief from the illness, and then set up a greater health emergency, unless there was money for the hospital's release directions. My own hospital experiences match his assessment. And there is NOT real health care access for most homeless people. Nor is there post-op care for people without gobs of inflated money.

And I couldn't think of any other way to safeguard this man's physical health, so I slept on the cement with about ten folk who had no other options, alongside one housed girlfriend sharing such concerns.

Homelessness kills, and I'm just too tired of knowing some of it's absolute victims.

Linda's Hearth note:
whewn I figure out how to get the photos (many of which are great) out of my sweet little, totally automated digital camera, I will put them here and take away my confessional editorial. Meanwhile, for what it's worth, my perspective.

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