Monday, May 12, 2008

Where we are at home

You just never know what the day will bring. Today the old veteran who uses my address to get his too small benefits and keep touch with official folks came in, wildeyed and frantic. "Have you heard? Do you know what they are doing?"

No, I said, tell me. And we stepped outside, near the beautiful roses so valiantly continuing to bloom along the parking lot.

"They grabbed my son. They are going to all the camps, all of them."

"They" were the cops, some other folks. Nine vehicles in all. Animal control. Forest service. Up into the camps, where they were telling people to get out, to get out or else.

I sat down to try to gather my thoughts. The son--a fine kid who works down the street, who has a nice girl friend--well, I'd see her later this day--he'd been arrested for trespassing. Leastways that's what they told the father.

And the day went on. Sean darted in, near tears. He's about the same age as the veteran's child, close to the age of my eldest son. Sean is a reader and a survivor. He works two jobs, volunteers long hours at local nonprofits, keeps to himself. Doesn't like being hemmed in.

"They rousted us at dawn" said Sean. "They took our photos, they said we'd better leave town, they said..." They said a lot of things. Officer Fulton said, according to Sean, "nah, you guys don't work--tell me something else. The shit is sure getting deep here". Sean was indignant "How dare he say we don't work? Just because we sleep out?"
Of those 4 young men 3 have steady work. They were rousted from under an overpass.

So I started taking notes, and I started making phone calls, but as I was calling I saw the white cop cars cruising down the street, and went out to see where they were going. They pulled over, and out came two officers to talk with Robin, who has lived here all her life, who works for many of the local shops. Yeah, Robin lives on the edge and sometimes rages at the sky, but when she is doing well she is doing really well. Robin, on a good day, will bring half of her sandwich over for me to eat, because "you don't take enough care of yourself, sometimes".
Robin remembers Gabe's birthday. Robin looks after the stray dogs.
Robin was being faced down by two burly officers who were telling her "if we see you tomorrow we'll arrest you".
And I stepped in. "Please, why are you doing this?"
"People are tired of the homeless" said the officer. "They want something done".
What people, I asked? Who?
And he said "back off, this is not your business"
And I said "But of course it is"
"Why would that be?"
"Because I am a member of this community, and Robin is a friend of mine". And I stepped next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"I don't need to argue with you" said the officer, whose mother I knew well. I was tempted to tell him his mother, dead many years, would not approve all this, but I held my tongue. We let the guys drive away in their shiny white car, with their promises of arrests and their self conscious anger.

I talked with Robin a while and went back to making phone calls. My partner called the local radio station and set Sean up with an interview. We called some meetings later this week. I talked with officials and more officials; I am fairly well known in my community and my views are also well known, for good or for ill.

The head of mental health services and I exchanged concerned messages; the head of my clinic and I exchanged concerned messages. I went out to talk with the veteran's daughter in law, who was trying to find out how long her partner would be held.

So--you might ask what of our shelter? It closed after six weeks. They were good weeks, in the heart of the hard weather, but...well, fragile reeds, tired volunteers. We did find permanent homes for several of the people, 6 found jobs, one found a way home to his mom. It was good. It wasn't enough. And now...the sweeps have come.

My clinic head reported, in confidence, that there were county wide attempts to stem the flow of transients through the region. Well, good luck with that, said I, it isn't going to happen. The bottom is falling out of the economy, and we have, always, an obligation to hospitality and to treat people with decent respect and compassion. With him I'm preaching to the choir--he wanted to be a priest once, as once I wanted to be a nun (ah, I was so stunned to be told that not being Catholic I couldn't. I cherished those black and white dresses)--and we can sling faith based arguments with the best of them. My partner, in the midst of all the phoning, ranting and witnessing, laughed "my god, it's like having Catherine of Siena facing down the political leaders of Florence".

I could use the power of saints, I could. Meanwhile--well, I'm going to stand up for the ones who need me. And I'm going to tell them, over and over, "Hey, I like you. You are good, you are important, you deserve to be treated well".

We're all home, you know. We're all family. As long as I have a bit of strength I'm going to keep insisting, pleading, standing.

And...I swear to you, hearts will be changed. We will have a community based on compassion. Love is where we really live, after all.

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Blogger Lori Witzel said...

"Love is really where we live, after all."

Back to that old Empedoclean struggle between Love and Strife...I still put my money on Love.

As ever, lovely to get these glimpses into your world, even if there's heartache.

4:01 AM, May 15, 2008  
Blogger Margaret said...

Sean from the Mateel? Remember when we all took people home because we had nothing to lose? How many would be homeless if we had been then as we are now?

6:57 AM, May 18, 2008  

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