Friday, November 13, 2009

The leaves drift

Yes, the rains have set in. Before the first rain, nearly a month ago, with the wind from the south and the falling leaves scattered over my porch, I met a young guy on a bicycle and we talked philosophy and politics and community and literature in the warm bookstore.

The next day, early, he was back. "I don't know if this is the right place to say this..." he started, and I said "go on". The first raids on the homeless encampments had begun, he said. He was sleeping on what is called the Island--a triangle of land between road and freeway, up above the cliff that goes down to the river. And the police came. They were cordial enough. They gave him 15 minutes to get his gear, his bike, his food, and leave.

And they told him the other gear, the tents, the sleeping bags, the clothing--all would be taken to the landfill.

Because it was trash. Because the people who slept there were...well no, they didn't call them trash. Desperate. Homeless. "undesirables".

My new friend had met some of the people camping there, and knew they weren't around, and worried. I told him he had of course come to the right place, and my partner and our beat up pickup went out to the Island and loaded up the survival gear and the real trash.

I spent the next day getting word to the street, washing clothes and blankets, bagging things, trying to preserve these little bits of people's lives.

I also sent out a message to everyone I could think of in my local circle of contacts, explaining the situation and asking for warm clothes, sleeping bags, survival gear.

Because--bottom line--please, no one die this winter. No one die because you were rousted and hounded and suffering on the street and in the woods. Oh please, not on my watch. Let me keep you safe.

A week later the next camp was hit. No notice. Earnest, intelligent, sweet officers of the law, just following orders, a little sad about it, but what to do? This time an ally of mine picked up the raid on her police scanner and hightailed it in and snatched up gear from the truck headed to the dump. The driver said "it's just trash". Deb showed me the "trash"--tents, papers, blankets.

And we were sorting through the gear on the porch, trying to figure out where the people were, and what belonged to whom. As we stood there, a young man came up to me and said "oh, sleeping bags? Oh, all my stuff was taken, could I have one?"

Not those, I said, but I did have one for him. And I invited him inside. And he told me his story.

"So, I tried to jump off the bridge," he said, fairly calmly. "Cause, I wanted to die" he said, with equal calm.

I nodded. Been there, I said, it can get pretty dark at that place.

So the police took him to the mental institution in the north, about an hour by car. And held him the allotted 72 hours. And then he was released.

"So, I walked south" said he. "And after a while I got pretty tired, and it was dark and cold and so I went to sleep beside the road. I covered myself in cardboard boxes to try to stay warmer"

I nodded. He had walked, in the night, about 20 miles.

Have you eaten? I asked. Yes, he said. The nice man who picked him up in the town he'd slept in treated him to breakfast, and brought him here to my shop, because, he said, this was a good place.

He was going to call his mother, who lives in Austin, Texas. He didn't want to call from my phone. We talked a while longer, and in the notebook he carries, under his mother's contact information, I wrote my name, address, and phone number. And told him, as I've told so many of the young wanderers, that I answer the phone and that I accept collect calls. So if ever it would be of me, I said.

He had just turned 17. He had beautiful dark eyes and a sweet smile. We talked a bit longer, but he was ready to be on his way, clutching my list of resources and his new sleeping gear. He said they call him DJ on the street.

Stay on the planet a little bit longer, won't you? I asked. You have things to do here, you are needed. Think about it.

Yes, he left. And I think of him every day, through the new raids--every encampment within a 10 mile radius has been "cleared" now. This doesn't mean that my friends are gone, just that they are having to scramble more as the icy rains fall and frost makes the hillsides glitter.

The local county supervisor dropped by to talk with me yesterday. My Maine coon cat sat on his knee and Champ gazed at him hopefully, though the guy says he's not a dog person. He'd come bringing some warm jackets and little soaps and such. I thanked him. He was enroute to talk with the police; I told him to give them my best regards, but that I had major problems with the illegal raids being conducted. He told me he had only a minute or two, but nicely pinned by my helpful animals he stayed an hour. And he'll be back.

What I told him was...well, no dead kids or dead elders or dead anyone from hypothermia on my watch. And...what I've been telling everyone these days...that I'm ruthless. I'm going to use every bit of light or energy or compassion I can find in anyone. I'm going to seek it out. I'm going to find it in the officers of the law and in the people on the street and in myself. And somehow, somehow, we are going to make a circle of compassion in which no one, no one is going to have to wander the roads and sleep covered in cardboard and look at bridges as means of ending it all.

The beautiful leaves are drifting down with the rain. Beautiful souls are drifting by on the streets. Somewhere, somehow, they must be held and cherished.

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Anonymous marly said...


Interesting to see how you continue to make a shelter out of your life... for words and for people.

11:07 PM, November 14, 2009  
Blogger ocean lady said...

Hello Jarvenpa,
am introducing the wonderful world of blogs to my class in Watsonville once again by showing them the amazing piece of literature and truth you are creating - will read your latest post when i get home but we are impressed already.
ocean lady

3:03 PM, November 16, 2009  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Thanks, marly--I note that you are definitely making amazing advances in your writing career.

oceanlady (nice photo!)...well, I am not sure what your students will think, ultimately--such a strange introduction to the world of blogs. But thank you. I keep meaning, of course, to write you...

5:24 PM, November 16, 2009  

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