All posts by Christine Schanes J.D., Ph.D.

About Christine Schanes J.D., Ph.D.

Christine Schanes, J.D., Ph.D., is a consultant, public educator and attorney in the area of homelessness. Christine is director of two departments within Nos Amis/Our Friends, Inc.: (1) the Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) through which Christine gives talks, seminars and workshops on the issues of homelessness. Also, Christine is the staff attorney for the CJSC Homeless Law ID Program which helps homeless people get their ID: certified copies of birth certificates, CA photo ID and social security cards. For more information please visit www.CJSChomelesslaw.org and (2) Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (CHPHP). For more information, please visit www.chphp.com.

Helping Homeless People Die Indoors

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 12.33.21 AMThere is one certainty in life – we are all going to die. How and where we die are the only issues.

Will we die quickly or have a lingering death? We don’t know. However, most of us housed people are pretty sure we will die indoors in some health facility or in our own home. In fact, some of us buy insurance so that we are assured of the particular standard of care and facility we prefer in our last days.

However, what about unsheltered homeless people? They live outside and very likely will die outside.

How do I know this? Because over the past several years I have been involved in the end of life care for three homeless friends. I’ve written about Bobby Ojala who passed in late August 2012 and Susan Hunt who died twelve days later in early September. But, Karen Lee Creeden was the first homeless person I helped die indoors.

I first met Karen Lee on July 11, 2010, in Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA. An elderly woman with medium length graying hair pulled back into a rubber band, Karen Lee was sitting on the grass in Saratoga Park. Even from a distance, I could see her distended abdomen.

As I approached her, I wondered how to begin the conversation and decided just to introduce myself, ask her name and inquire how she was doing.

“I’m Karen Lee Creeden,” she said, “and I need size 8 shoes. I just got out of the hospital and I have no shoes.”

“Is that all you need?”

“It would be nice to get some medium-sized warm clothing – it’s cold at night. All I have are the t-shirt and light pants I’m wearing.”

I offered to look for these items, but made no guarantees I could find the needed items in the correct sizes.

Upon leaving Ocean Beach, I called family members and friends who I thought would be sympathetic and would have access to the correct sizes of clothing and shoes. Sure enough, they kindly donated the requested items.

When I delivered these gifts to Karen Lee, she was thrilled. She posed for pictures and had fun modeling her new clothes and tennis shoes. Over and over Karen Lee told me to thank her donors for the much-needed items.

KLC2Res150But what to do about her apparent medical condition? I contacted a psychotherapist friend who suggested I ask Karen Lee if she had a social worker and, if so, whether she would give me permission to speak to the worker on her behalf.

Karen Lee did have a social worker and readily gave me her phone number and permission to discuss her case.

The social worker told me what I suspected; Karen Lee was seriously ill and dying. She said she had paid cabs several times to take Karen Lee to hospital after hospital for end of life care, but the hospitals continued to release her.

I offered to go with a friend and take Karen Lee to a hospital and do what I could to get her end of life care.

The results of my efforts are outlined in the following thank you letter I sent to all of the parties who were involved in Karen Lee’s care until her death 24 days later. My letter is a tribute to all of the people and institutions involved in assuring that Karen Lee, an unsheltered homeless person, died free of pain and indoors. It is also evidence of the steps Karen Lee had to go through to die with dignity indoors.

My thanks again to all of those people who provided end of life care to Karen Lee and to all givers of end of life care everywhere.

“August 15, 2010
Dear Concerned Care Givers and Service Providers,

On July 14th, after consulting with her social worker, my friend and I took Karen Lee Creeden to the local hospital where she received excellent emergency care from the doctor and his wonderful staff. Thank you.

After being admitted to the hospital, Karen Lee was expertly cared for by her attending physician, a hospital social worker, nurses, chaplain and staff. Thank you.

I called the president of Alpha Project and he reassured me that ‘no one dies outside’ because of the Alpha Project Hospice Program. His chief operating officer made herself immediately available. Although we did not make use of these kind offers of help, I thank you for your much-appreciated assurances at that time.

After her stay in the hospital, Karen Lee spent several days in the San Diego Rescue Mission Recuperative Care Unit under the concerned supervision of the residential manager. Thank you.

During her brief stay in the Mission, Karen Lee met with a program representative of San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care who gently assisted Karen Lee in enrolling in this program. Thank you.

At San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care, doctors, social worker, patient advocates, nurses, chaplain, staff and volunteers compassionately helped Karen Lee. Thank you.

KLC6Res150I was going to write individual notes of thanks to each of you, but upon reflection, I thought perhaps one note to all of you might be more appropriate because each of you was an indispensable part of the process of helping Karen Lee transition from this life to the next. And I thank you all for being so supportive of me during this time.

Karen Lee was 55 years old when she died. As you may know, for the last ten years of her challenging life, Karen Lee was homeless. However because of your care, Karen Lee lived the last 24 days of her life free of pain and indoors.

While at San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care, Karen Lee wrote the following words on the patient white board in her room: “Do you love me as much as I love you?”

Witnessing your many kindnesses and genuine compassion, I can answer her question, Yes, you each loved her as much as she loved you.

May God bless you for your compassionate service for people in need.

Very truly yours,

Christine Schanes, JD, PhD”

Homelessness: “Not in my Backyard”

urlNIMBY is the abbreviation of the phrase, “Not In My Backyard.” It is a term used to describe the negative emotional reaction that some of us experience when we fear that other people, who belong in a group other than the group to which we align ourselves, may live near or among us.

NIMBYism is the term used as a noun as in the sentence, “Group homes for people with severe mental challenges are not welcome in this neighborhood because of the NIMBYism of its residents.”

The focus of NIMBYism can be any race, economic class or any basis upon which similarly situated people can be distinguished from other groups.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that the first known use of this term was in 1980. However, the negative emotional response to people unlike ourselves living in our neighborhoods developed long before its use in everyday parlance.

Question: How did NIMBYism develop?

Answer: How does any fear develop? Sometimes we fear the unknown. Sometimes we fear that which we cannot control. Sometimes we fear that which we don’t understand.

I believe the changes in mental health law in the State of California had something to do with the widespread development of NIMBYism.

Prior to the 1970s, mentally-ill and developmentally disabled people in the State of California could be detained without their consent for an indefinite period of time in the State mental hospitals. By 1966, “eighty-four percent of all persons in State mental hospitals [were] under involuntary commitment.”

At that time, it has been said, “criminals had more due process than mental health patients.”

In 1967, the California Mental Health Act, co-authored by Assemblyman Frank Lanterman (R) and Senators Nicholas C. Petris (D) and Alan Short (D), was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. The Act, known by the name of its co-authors as the “Lanterman-Petris-Short Act” or “LPS Act,” became fully effective on July 1, 1972.

The intent of the LPS Act was:

“To end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of mentally disordered persons, developmentally disabled persons and persons impaired by chronic alcoholism, and to eliminate legal disabilities;
 To provide prompt evaluation and treatment of persons with serious mental disorders or impaired by chronic alcoholism;
 To guarantee and protect public interest;
 To safeguard individual rights through judicial review;
 To provide individualized treatment, supervision, and placement services by a conservatorship program for gravely disabled persons;
 To encourage the full use of all existing agencies, professional personnel and public funds to accomplish these objectives and to prevent duplication of services and unnecessary expenditures;
 To protect mentally disordered persons and developmentally disabled persons from criminal acts.”

While one of the goals of LPS was “to prevent inappropriate commitment,” mentally-ill and developmentally disabled patients were released from the State mental hospital often without access to alternative housed treatment programs. It was believed mentally-ill and developmentally disabled patients should be treated in the least restrictive environment possible.  In fact, “A New Vision for Mental Health Treatment Laws, A Report by The LPS Reform Task Force,” found that the purpose of the LPS Act was actually “to depopulate state hospitals.” .

Question: When mentally-ill and developmentally disable people were released from the State mental hospitals, why were alternative treatment centers/group homes not available for these former patients?

Answer: There were a number of reasons, including economic factors, that alternative treatment centers/group homes were not available. But the fundamental reason was NIMBYism. We did not have the will to treat and house these former patients because some of us feared having mentally-ill people live in our neighborhoods. Hence, few treatment centers/group homes were available with the result that a number of these former patients became homeless.

Question: Why is understanding NIMBYism important today?

Answer: NIMBYism is often the reason for many of the challenges service providers face when proposing new residential programs for homeless people. A local community may oppose residential programs based only on the fear of having homeless people, the program participants, within their neighborhood.

Question: How do we get over NIMBYism?

Answer: Education, understanding and compassion.

When we become educated, we understand that we do not need to fear people simply because they have no homes and/or they have mental impairments. Once we understand people and the reasons for their current situation better, we become sympathetic to their plight. Our compassion motivates us to help them.

In the words of A New Vision for Mental Health Treatment Laws, A Report by The LPS Reform Task Force, “We have a choice: we can shut our eyes to the sight of tragedy or we can make up our minds to give people with mental illness a community structure of compassionate care.

“Current California law emphasizes deinstitutionalization of people from long term, state-run, psychiatric hospital facilities. Today, as the original LPS proponents intended, state institutions are nearly a thing of the past.

Question: Why is the discussion of NIMBYism relevant now?

Answer: Because of NIMBYism, some of us now fight the building of shelters, affordable housing and treatment centers/group homes for homeless people. It is only with adequate, appropriate housing, including residential treatment programs, can homelessness end.

Question: What is the result of NIMBYism?

Answer: Homelessness is the result of NIMBYism. Without adequate, appropriate housing for people, including residential treatment programs, people will continue to be homeless.

Question: How do we rid ourselves of NIMBYism?

Answer: We can replace NIMBYism with compassion – compassion awakened through education and understanding.

Once we have replaced our fear of homeless people with compassion for their condition, NIMBYism will end.

Frank Lanterman, one of the co-authors of the LPS Act has said, “I wanted the LPS Act to help the mentally ill. I never meant for it to prevent those who need care from getting it. The law has to be changed.”

The law will change and homeless people will be housed and treated, as needed, as our attitudes become more compassionate. By increasing our compassion, I believe we can put an end to NIMBYism.

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you,
Christine

How Volunteering with the Homeless Changed My Life

theycountwillyouphoto-1

I didn’t expect my life to change as a result of my research for articles about homelessness. But that’s exactly what happened. In the course of my research, I contacted several lead agencies of Continuums of Care (CoCs) in California to learn about their responsibilities.

As you may know, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires each Continuum of Care (CoC), a group of service providers with a lead agency, to conduct a biennial Count during the last ten days of January, of homeless people living within its geographical area. Some CoCs, including the one in San Diego, California, conduct their Counts annually even though they are not required by HUD to do so.

When I called and interviewed representatives of Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the lead agency for the Los Angeles CoC, I learned that the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count would take place, January 29 – 31, 2013. I also found out that LAHSA conducts a demographic survey of unsheltered homeless people.

This demographic survey is designed to elicit specific information about homeless peoples’ needs so that helpful services can be identified and provided.

I found a question in one of LAHSA’s prior demographic surveys very interesting: Where were you housed when you became homeless?

What a wonderful question! It contains no bias. So simple, so clear, so straight forward.

As has been shown by answers to this question, the majority of people stayed in Los Angeles where they were housed when they became homeless.

This question alone made me curious about the kind of people that would compose and include this question within their survey. How fair they must be. In my interviews with LAHSA representatives, I found them to be knowledgeable, bright and compassionate people.

And then one day, I went to their website, www.lahsa.org and found a job opportunity, volunteer coordinator for the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Count. I was so curious about how much I could learn from these amazing people about the Count that I applied for the job.

About a week or so after submitting my online application, I was quite surprised to receive a call from LAHSA inviting me to Los Angeles for a job interview. I was even more surprised to be interviewed by four people, two of whom I had previously spoken with in connection with my research on homelessness!

When I was offered the job, I quickly accepted. I was delighted with the prospect of learning more about the Count from people sincerely dedicated to ending homelessness.

Having been on the job for several months, I am convinced that I made the right move to LAHSA. Now when I see homeless people, I know we at LAHSA are committed to doing our best to help them. And I feel good about that.

As I walk toward my office every morning, one of the homeless people I see is an older gentleman who I shall call, “Sam,” who lives in a box on the sidewalk. As time has gone by, I’ve become more and more intrigued by this gentle soul.

Each day when I see him I say, “Good morning, Sam. How are you doing?”

“Fine. How are you doing?” he responds with a smile.

A quick but heartfelt exchange between two friends who barely know one another.

When approached about getting into housing, Sam responds that he prefers to be homeless and not receive services. Really? I believe that his responses are evidence of irrational thinking.

So, for right now, all I can do for my friend is to smile, be kind and do my job.

Through my job as one of three volunteer coordinators, I’m helping to recruit some of the 5,000 volunteers we need to conduct the Count. The results of the Count will help determine who and where homeless people are as well as help in making funding decisions so that homeless people get the housing and services they need.

Of course, I hope volunteers will sign up for the Count at www.TheyCountWillYou.org.

The Count will help homeless people living in Los Angeles, including Sam. When he receives the services he needs to help him improve his mental health, I believe that Sam will be more open to accepting an offer of assistance with housing.

What do I get from my job? That’s an easy question to answer.

From my job, I get to work with great people, contribute to ending homelessness and expand my compassion for homeless people, like Sam.

I look forward to your comments.

Christine Schanes

Calling Volunteers for LA Homeless Count

It’s time to volunteer, get trained and help count homeless people!

The 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, directed by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), consists of counting homeless people within the City and County of Los Angeles, excluding Long Beach, Pasadena and Glendale that conduct their own counts.  In order to accomplish the nation’s largest local census count of homeless people in scale and scope, LAHSA needs 5,000 volunteers.  So LAHSA needs you NOW!

Since 1994, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been soliciting funding applications from communities across the United States through the continuum of care process (CoC).  A CoC, a group of service providers with a lead agency within a certain geographical area, serves two purposes:

· To develop a long-term strategic plan and manage a year-round planning effort that addresses the identified needs of homeless  individuals and households; the availability and accessibility of existing housing and services;  and the opportunities for linkages with mainstream housing and services   resources…

· To prepare an application for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act  (McKinney-Vento) competitive grants. Continuum of Care 101, HUD’s Homeless Assistance Programs, June, 2009, p. 3.

The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009 (HEARTH) has codified the CoC planning process “as a required and integral local function necessary to generate the local strategies for ending homelessness.” The HEARTH Act – An Overview, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty at www.nlchp.org/content/pubs/HEARTH_Act_Overview_for_Web1.pdf

HUD mandates that CoCs conduct a biennial point in time (PIT) count of homeless people during the last 10 days of January.  Thus, LAHSA, the lead agency for the Los Angeles CoC, is charged with conducting this count.

The importance of the Count cannot be overstated.  In its 2012 FAQ Sheet, LAHSA sets forth the purpose of the Count and why you should volunteer:

You can make an important impact in the lives of homeless men, women and children by volunteering for the Homeless Count 2013.  Your contribution goes well beyond your donated time.  By knowing who and where homeless people are in Los Angeles County, government agencies and housing and service providers are better able to plan and identify resources to provide vital services to the homeless and ultimately move families and individuals into housing.

By visiting www.TheyCountWillYou.org, you can choose to serve in Los Angeles just once or multiple times in the following capacities:

•  Counters, January 29-31, 8pm-12AM

•  Trainers, January 29-31, 7pm-10pm

•  Deployment Site Coordinators, January 29-31, 6pm-2am

•  Transporting Materials, January 27-February 1, varying times

•  Office Volunteers, Monday-Friday, 9am-8pm, varying hours per day/week

Most needed are counters.  If you are over the age of 18, you can volunteer individually or in teams for the Count by registering at www.TheyCountWillYou.org.

The Count takes place over three nights and one morning as follows:

•  Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 8pm-12midnight, in the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles

•  Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 8pm-12midnight, in West Los Angeles and South Bay

•  Thursday, January 31, 2013, 6am-12noon, in the Antelope Valley

•  Thursday, January 31, 2013, 8pm-12midnight, in the San Fernando Valley/Santa Clarita Valley, Metro Los Angeles and South Los Angeles

As indicated at www.TheyCountWillYou.org, if you sign up as a counter you can choose from a number of deployment centers where you will be fully trained and return after counting.  You will receive a tract map of the specific area in which you will count and a tally sheet upon which to indicate the homeless people that you see.  Light refreshments will be served at the deployment centers.

When you register at www.TheyCountWillYou.org, you will create a user name and password, and indicate whether you are part of an existing team or wish to create your own team.

Once registered, you may later modify or add to your choices by going back to www.TheyCountWillYou.org, entering your user name and password and then making any changes.

LAHSA is currently developing special incentives to encourage volunteers.  For example, LAHSA is offering an organization from which ten or more people volunteer the opportunity to have its logo posted on the Count’s website.  Please visit www.TheyCountWillYou.org for additional incentives as they become available.

In addition to the incentives offered by LAHSA, I believe as a volunteer, you will experience personal satisfaction knowing that by volunteering in the Count you are helping homeless people who will receive services through the programs that rely upon the results of the Count for funding.  I further believe this satisfaction is the result of the exercise of our inner quality of compassion that expands every time we help a person in need.

To find out more about LAHSA, please visit www.LAHSA.org.

If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you can still volunteer for the Count.  Also, there may be a volunteer opportunity available in a Count happening near you.  While HUD mandates that the Count takes place on a biennial basis, some areas, like San Diego, conduct their counts on an annual basis.

I believe in the importance of the Count so much that I moved to Los Angeles to become one of LAHSA’s three volunteer coordinators for the Count.

Please get involved.  Let’s all count and do our part to end homelessness by helping to assure that homeless people get the services they need.

I look forward to your comments.  Thank you.

Christine

Homelessness Myth #25: Here a Homeless, There a Homeless

For some time now, we have been aware of homelessness in our midst. In the 50’s, we called people without homes, “hobos.” The hobos were generally men who we believed chose the free and easy lifestyle of riding railroad cars and doing odd jobs for housed country folk in exchange for sandwiches.

In fact, the lives of hobos were romanticized through movies, including “Emperor of the North,” staring Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine.

Today, the fastest growing segment of the homeless population is families, including single mothers with their children. I don’t know anyone who believes that families choose a homeless lifestyle. There is nothing free and easy about their homelessness. And there are no romantic movies being made about their plight.

However, we housed people now often refer to homeless people by the adjective, “homeless” as if by losing their homes, people lose their humanity and become defined and classified by their economic status. We’ve all read, heard and maybe even said, “There’s a homeless.”

There’s a “homeless” what? A homeless dog? A homeless cat? A homeless person?

I believe that this practice of referring to people merely by the use of the adjective, “homeless,” dehumanizes them. I recommend that we put a noun after the adjective, “homeless,” such as, “homeless man,” “homeless woman,” “homeless youth,” “homeless child.”

Our choice of language is important for ourselves and for the people about whom we are speaking because it reminds us that we have a shared humanity and that realization can awaken our compassion.

We don’t refer to housed people by their economic status. For example, have your ever heard or said, “Oh, there’s a housed.”

But, we do say, “Oh, there’s a homeless.”

My question is: Why does it matter to us whether people have a home or don’t when we’re talking about them?

Recently, a security guard friend of mine showed up with a bandage around the fingers of his right hand.

“What happened?” I inquired.

“When I was standing outside the store I patrol, I told a ‘homeless’ that he had to move along. When I grabbed his shirt, he grabbed my thumb and it got bent backward.”

I wished my friend well and I’ve being thinking about our conversation ever since.

Aside from the fact that perhaps my friend should not have grabbed the person’s shirt, I wondered about his use of language.

Why did it matter that the person he was trying to move along was homeless? Why couldn’t he have just described the person as a man?

Upon reflection, I believe that my friend’s language is common usage today. Watch for it and see if you agree. In even the most casual of conversations, some of us say something like, “A homeless’ did this,” “’A homeless’ did that,” or “There’s a ‘homeless’.”

I believe that there are a number of reasons for our choice of language. At some psychological level, perhaps, we may be angry with homeless people whom we believe have failed to live up to what society requires of them to be housed.

We may also resent that homeless people are living off the benefits of society that we housed people have supplied.

And, perhaps the most prevalent reason for our choice of language is that we may be afraid that, pretty much like feelings of old about cancer, if we speak about homelessness we might “catch it” and become homeless ourselves.

Of course, homelessness is not catching, but in this economic climate many of us, dare I say, most of us are one paycheck away from becoming homeless ourselves. Economic instability creates a great deal of fear in us.

I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that we are unconsciously transferring our fear of homelessness from ourselves to the visual presentation of our fear, homeless people.

What do you think?

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you,

Christine

photo by: @alviseni

Thank You For Helping Susan Hunt

On Saturday, August 25th, in San Diego, California, Susan Hunt, a 61 year old woman, was struck by a car driven by a 69 year old man.

In the collision, Susan hit her head and suffered severe brain trauma. She was on life-support at Scripps Hospital until September 4th, when, following her previously stated wishes, extraordinary measures were removed. Within fifteen minutes thereof, Susan died peacefully.

Although she was housed when she passed, Susan had been homeless for over 10 years. Susan’s progress from homelessness was the combined result of her great personal determination and the compassionate efforts of many people and agencies.

Our Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) helped her get her identification documents and many basic services.

Sally Dunn and the entire staff at SD County Mental Health provided invaluable services.

Susan received much needed support at Rachel’s Women’s Center.

David Ross, The Waterman, was a dear friend and supporter of “Mo” (Susan’s nickname).

In December 2010, through the efforts of Bob McElroy and the Alpha Project, Susan became a resident of the Winter Shelter.

At that facility, Susan was assisted by many agencies, including Townspeople, Friend to Friend and many more.

Susan received HPRP funding and was housed for a year. She then received funding for an additional year of housing, now in its fourth month, from the SD Housing Commission.

Susan had many friends, housed and unhoused, and we will all miss this gentle lady.

We thank everyone who was a part of Susan’s life.

Christine

What Kids Think About Homelessness

Would you appreciate the opportunity to be inspired? Do yourself a favor and watch this video, “Dream What Could Be Done,” sung by children of Lanai High and Elementary School (LHES) Fifth Grade Class of 2020 under the direction of Matt Glickstein, educational assistant for the Department of Education, State of Hawaii.

Some of the children share their thoughts on homelessness.

“There’s always something you can do.” – KA

“If homeless people have no homes, we will build a home for them. We will help the kids get an education. We will help the adults to get jobs so they can make money.” – KK

“One person can make a big difference, so give the stuff you don’t need to a homeless shelter.” – CP

“In the future I will stand up and talk to one city, two cities, three cities, or 4 cities. I don’t care how many cities I go to, I only care about changing the world.” – MB

“If we can all work together, we can do much more than you think.” – AA-T

“What I know about some homeless people is that they talk to themselves sometimes, and that is because they don’t have people to talk to.” – KS

“I think everyone should have a home and a family. People in Africa and other parts of the world are hungry and eat from garbage cans, and drink dirty, polluted water. These people deserve fresh water and good food. They deserve it from the second they were homeless and/or hungry. It’s not their fault.” – LC

As Matt generously says, “The idea to compose “Dream What Could Be Done” came from this blog. Matt posted the link to “Singing to the World” on a blog I had written about the Dalai Lama. I responded with enthusiasm and asked Matt if he could create a song and music video about homelessness.

Matt Glickstein is a songwriter and musician born and raised on O’ahu, Hawaii. His goal has always been trying to help people through music, the universal language. After ten years of writing many different kinds of songs, he found what he loves most by creating Songs For a Better World.

The project started as an ordinary poetry assignment by LHES fourth grade teacher Sandy Patterson, who has personally supported our efforts, and turned it into something much, much more. First, through the creative energy inspired by writing about peace, the poems became lyrics. Then, with the help of Glickstein, the song, “Singing to the World,” at http://youtu.be/7xXnlmitQWc was born. The children’s passion inspired ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro to accompany them in a music video.

“Songs For a Better World,” in CD format now and DVD in the near future, are available for sale on Matt’s website, as well as on iTunes.

As a post-script to this article, Matt informs me, “On September 21st, the Maui County Council is going to present the Lanai Class of 2020 with a resolution honoring the work they’ve done, including the ‘Singing to the World’ video, which was played at two events honoring His Holiness the Dalai Lama in April of this year, and ‘Every Day is Earth Day,’ which won two contests, including one national contest.”

Congratulations Lanai High and Elementary School (LHES) Fifth Grade Class of 2020 and Matt! And thank you for your wonderful, inspiring and compassionate songs!

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you,
Christine

My Friend Bobby

Last night, my friend, Bobby, died. A San Diego, CA native, Robert Eugene Ojala, 56 years old, was homeless. Bobby was grateful for the hospital and residential hospice care he received which enabled him to spend his last several weeks indoors and free of pain.

After run-ins with the law, Bobby found Jesus and changed his attitude about life. Although he may not have often attended formal services, Bobby spoke about how important Christian values were to him.

He also had a sense of humor about himself. Tattoos from his earlier beliefs covered his torso, both legs and arms. He knew that the sight of his tattoos sometimes caused people to be afraid of him.

Bobby would explain to me, “That person is afraid of me because of my tattoos.” He knew that there was nothing to be afraid of because he did his best to act according to Christian beliefs.

I would tell Bobby that it was a shame that people were afraid of him because I knew him so differently. In response, he just smiled.

Bobby would tell me about his life in the riverbed. He prided himself on having created a home around his 18-inch foam mattress bed that supported his pain-tortured body. Although he had made friends with many people in positions of authority, one day when he was gone, someone cleared out his “home.” Bobby was devastated: “Where will I go? Why did they do this to me? What can I do now?”

Bobby was very respectful of me. Although he walked with a cane, he always managed to hold doors open for me so I could precede him as we walked into buildings.

My friend was also contrary. When I said, “red,” he would say, “blue.” One day, I asked Bobby why he was so contrary.

“What do you mean?” Bobby asked.
“Well, when I say, ‘red,’ you say, ‘blue.’”
Smiling Bobby said, “You mean ‘chartreuse.’” See what I mean – always contrary.

Bobby was brilliant and very logical. For example, one day I made an appointment to meet Bobby at a convenience store between 1pm and 3pm. I had a noon appointment elsewhere and felt that range of time would give me the flexibility I needed to meet him.

However, an unexpected change in that noon appointment allowed me to arrive at the convenience store promptly at 1pm. And I was sitting there for over two hours when up strolled Bobby.

My patience worn thin, I exclaimed to Bobby, “Where have you been? I’ve been here for two hours and 15 minutes waiting for you.”

Calmly, Bobby replied, “You said to be here between 1pm and 3pm. It’s 3:15pm. I’m fifteen minutes late.”

Upon reflection, I could see that I created the wait for myself by not giving a specific time for our meeting. So I said to Bobby, “Well, next time I’ll just pick a specific time to meet, like 3pm.”

“That’s fine,” he said, “I’ll be there by 3:15pm.” Our exchange still makes me chuckle.

Apparently, Bobby had promised his late wife that he would put roses on her grave. His wife, Robyn, died in 2006. Six years later, he still wore his wedding band.

Although Bobby was unable to fulfill this promise, several kind people at hospice were able to locate the tiny cemetery in a remote part of Georgia where Robyn is probably buried. We will need to investigate a little further, but I’d like to see if we can honor Bobby by putting roses on Robyn’s grave.

To Bobby, I say, “Rest in peace, dear Friend.”

Homelessness: Love, Sex, Companionship

“Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities.
For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”

– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium

In the above quotation, His Holiness points out the importance of having positive relationships with other people. Among the positive ways we may relate to others is through love, intimacy and companionship.

But, do homeless people have these relationships? I asked homeless people about this topic and I thank them for their responses that follow.

Anonymous, 49 years old:

“We all need all three of these – love, sex and companionship. But, getting one of the above works for the moment.”

Darleen, 44 years old:

“You’ve got your topic wrong. Companionship should be first, then love then sex. That’s the right order.

Recently, somebody parked his van near me and asked me to go with him. I said, ‘No.’ Then he hit me upside the head and he left. I was dazed. I took off. I didn’t report the violence to the police because I have a warrant.”

Josh, 19 years old:

“I’m a gang member. And I lost my best friend to a gang shoot-out eight days ago in South East San Diego. He was 19 years old and he was like my brother. The people who killed him were from another South East San Diego gang.

Yesterday, I was sitting on the beach and talking to two gentlemen who were older, in their 20’s. It turned out that these two gentlemen were from the gang that killed my friend.

When I found this out, I wasn’t sure what to do – should I show them love or hate them. I chose to be neutral to them – that was the choice I made.

I try to look at the positives of life. I just hope that anybody who losses a friend or family member due to non-natural causes can open their eyes and learn from the tragedy that it’s all about your decision whether you choose to hate or love.”

Vido, 30 years old:

“Companionship – you find people in the same state as you are in so you tend to congregate.

I really wouldn’t call the homeless people I hang out with, “friends.” I wouldn’t put my life in their hands and vice versa. But, at the same time, we look out for one another. See this stuff here [pointing to backpacks and blankets on the ground] – no one is going to touch it because there is always someone looking after it.

As far as making friends, people are always coming and going. There’s no time to make friends and keep in touch. It’s not like you’re going to develop a lifelong friendship.”

Adam, 29 years old:

“I think love and companionship are one and the same for me. The qualities you expect when you love someone are the same qualities you want in a companion. And it’s when you would do anything for someone. When your very existence depends upon the reaction of the other person. That’s what I believe.”

Roy, 41 years old:

“My wife, Diana, and I started seeing each other in New York when we were kids. We were together for 22 years. Diana served as an E-6 in the Navy, but she received an honorable discharge because she had breast cancer.

Five months ago, I came to San Diego to bury Diana in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. She was 31 years old. I love her very much and I miss her.

I’m homeless now because I don’t want to go back to our home in New York and smell her clothes.

I haven’t sought counseling because there’s been so much death in my family and I’ve always handled it on my own. [However,] I’ve been feeling kind of reckless since losing my wife and because of my health issues. I have Stage 4 colon cancer and pancreatic and lung lymphomas.”

Codi, 18 years old:

“When you’re on the street, love is hard to find. But I figure that love is not found, it comes in time.

But, if you do find love out here, the bond will be stronger than most because it’s not just about the sex when things are said and done. It’s whether they will be there by your side when no one else will and whether they will sleep next to you in a ditch.”

Grace, 53 years old:

“Since I’ve been living this lifestyle, I’ve been celibate for five years. When I first started living this lifestyle, there was something inside me that wanted companionship – mostly because I was afraid to travel by myself.

But within six months of me living a traveling lifestyle, I went with a backpack to Thailand, India and Nepal. I realized that if I could do that alone, I could do anything alone!

After several months back in the United States, I got very sick and ended up in the hospital in Ashland, Oregon. When I got out of the hospital, people who would not have been attractive to me before were suddenly attractive because I was in a place of weakness and I wanted someone there for me.

That was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that that place of weakness was the place from which I entered every relationship I had ever had. I decided that I did not want to be with anyone until I could heal myself or whatever was in me that was broken. So if I have a relationship again, I want it to come from strength. And I want someone who will bring something to my life. I haven’t met anyone like that yet.

Of course, at 53 years old, living in a vehicle and traveling, I’m not sure how great my odds are of finding someone worthy. Now, I have a dog. He’s a great companion.”

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you,
Christine

photo by: mattwi1s0n

Homelessness: Man’s Inhumanity to Man

There is no question that every political issue has at least two sides — the pros and the cons. Issues involving homelessness are no different. However, when weighing the impact of both sides of homelessness issues, often one side appears to have a greater impact upon humanity than the other. In other words, in analyzing the issues of homelessness, the sides are not necessarily even. In fact, sometimes the impact of the political decisions relating to homelessness can be cruel.

For example, there are municipal ordinances in many cities prohibiting sleeping on public land, including beaches and parks. On the positive side, these laws protect public property from overuse – an important goal so that members of these communities can continue to share open spaces. However, homeless people may experience the impact of these laws as depriving them of a legal place to sleep.

The truth is that no city of which I am aware has adequate housing/shelter beds for its homeless population. Without available housing, many homeless people remain unsheltered.

At night unsheltered homeless people need to sleep somewhere, be it on public property or private property. Sleeping on private property is prohibited by the law of trespass, therefore, it is not a legal option for homeless people.

When cities enact ordinances prohibiting the sleeping upon public land, they remove the last opportunity for unsheltered homeless people to sleep legally. The result of these ordinances is that the police are authorized to issue illegal lodging tickets upon people who are sleeping on public property but who have no other place to sleep.

Of course, sleep is essential for the physical and mental health of all human beings. Without sleep, unsheltered homeless people cannot function at optimum level. But by sleeping on public property, they may be subjected to ticketing for illegal lodging and their consequences.

So, weighing the pros and cons of municipal ordinances that prohibit sleeping on public property, we can contrast the goal of protecting public lands from overuse with the potential negatives on unsheltered human beings who will be denied a legal place to sleep. It appears to me that the negatives outweigh the positives on this issue.

A number of cities have passed municipal ordinances that prohibit the charitable giving of food. They often feel that Good Samaritans who freely distribute food are encouraging homeless people to come to these cities and may even be encouraging people to become homeless so they can receive free food.

Without free food, homeless people often go hungry and have insufficient vitamin intake thereby potentially suffering impaired physical and mental well-being. As many doctors know, starvation is one of the most challenging medical conditions for human beings. Hunger hurts.

It is my opinion that the consequences of municipal ordinances prohibiting the charitable giving of food have a more negative impact upon human beings than positive.

Recently, increasing numbers of cities are passing ordinances prohibiting the sitting on public sidewalks. Among the reasons these cities give to support the passage of these ordinances is that when homeless people so sit, they block the sidewalks.

Access to public sidewalks is obviously important, especially when walking may be a more physically and environmentally helpful activity than driving cars.

However, homeless people often have few places to sit. When going about their business, including looking for work, they may need to rest. Public chairs and benches are normally found in parks and beaches that may not be conveniently located. So, they may sit on the public sidewalk.

It seems to me that the impact of prohibiting people from sitting on public sidewalks has more negative consequences by eliminating resting places for human beings than it has positive outcomes.

In addition, there are a number of seemingly small municipal decisions that have major negative consequences upon homeless people, particularly unsheltered homeless people. Take the mid-bench bars that prohibit people from lying flat on bus benches. Often these bars go unnoticed by housed people.

However, in the past, unsheltered homeless people sometimes used these bus benches as safe places to sleep. I recall “The Women of Wilshire” – the approximately 25 unsheltered senior citizen homeless women who lived on Wilshire Boulevard from 7th to the Palisades Park in Santa Monica. At night, overhead street lights lit the bus benches and The Women of Wilshire used them as beds, hoping that sleeping in a well-lit public place would bode well for their personal safety as they slept.

With the imposition of the mid-bench bars, The Women of Wilshire were no longer able to stretch out and sleep on the bus benches.

Certainly it could be said that the mid-bench bars successfully prevented and prevent unsheltered homeless people from occupying bus benches as beds.

However, I wonder if without available adequate housing, whether denying an unsheltered homeless person some sort of place to sleep is just cruel.

Other apparently neutral decisions on the part of municipalities that can negatively impact homeless people are the cities’ landscaping choices. For example, in public parks, grassy areas have sometimes been replaced with bushes so that homeless people cannot recline, even during the day, on the grass.

Of course, there are many municipal ordinances that make great sense in that their positive consequences outweigh the negative. However, in the examples sited above, I believe that these municipal actions create an environment where homeless people are negatively impacted. And reflect man’s inhumanity to man.

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you,
Christine

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