Tag Archives: Christine Schanes

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

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

Homelessness Myth #24: They All Frequent Bars

photo: mac.rj

We’re all aware that the United States economy is going through some hard times. A number of businesses are experiencing financial down turns. Some housed people believe that all homeless people spend a great deal of time hanging out in bars and, by their very presence in those bars, negatively impact those businesses.

But do all homeless people really hang out in bars? To answer this question, I asked a number of people who have experienced homelessness whether they frequent bars and, if so, what have their experiences in bars been. I am grateful to them for their answers that follow.

Anonymous, a 49 year old man who lives in his van: “I don’t go into bars. In fact, I don’t even like to go into stores so why would I go into a bar?

“Years ago I did go into two bars, but I was asked to leave both bars because I was homeless. I had never been in those bars before. I was asked to leave and I hadn’t done anything. I wasn’t drunk.”

Ami, a 18 year old woman who is homeless:

“I don’t drink [alcohol]. I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. I don’t drink because I might be pregnant.”

Dani, a 25 year old man who has been housed for 2 years:

“I was homeless right after I got out of the military when I left my wife. I was homeless for 1 ½ years.

“When I was homeless, I went to bars – all the time. I pretty much lived at the Noodle House.

“I tried to take my friend who is homeless, autistic and of age into a bar. Because he was homeless, the owner sent a waiter to tell us that my friend had to leave. So we all left. We went to another bar.

“Now that I’m housed, I go to bars. It was my birthday yesterday and I think I hit all of them.”

Ray-Ray, a 28 year old man who is homeless:

“I was asked to leave a bar because I am homeless. The rich have everything. [They think,] ‘the hell with us kids!’

“I’m old enough to do anything, but I can’t because I’m homeless. I have a lot of limitations, but I don’t give up on anyone.”

Joker, a 18 year old man who is homeless:

“Hell yes, I go to bars. I go all day whenever I want to.

“I’ve never been asked to leave. Once or twice I’ve seen another homeless person denied service in a bar.

“I’ve been denied service because I was too drunk when I got to that bar.

“Business is great when a homeless person goes into a bar. There are a lot of kinds of drunks. I’m a funny drunk. I’m one of those drunks that everybody likes.”

Scott, a 32 year old man who is homeless:

“I don’t go to bars. I haven’t been in a bar since Easter Sunday. Before that I would go to bars.

“In San Diego I was asked to leave a bar because I didn’t have any money.

“Several times I’ve seen homeless people asked to leave a bar because they were homeless.”

Ronald, a 46 year old man who is “in-between homes:”

“I go to bars, but I don’t drink. I go for the music and nightlife. I’ve been clean of alcohol for 15 years because I didn’t want my 4 sons to be around that.

“I’ve never been kicked out of a bar for being homeless.

“It’s how you dress. And if you don’t buy something, they kick you out.

“[By the way,} do they really occupy 2,500 square feet and they don’t have a restroom? But, then you still have to buy something. See this bottle of water? I bought it for $2 just so I could use the bathroom.

“I have seen people kicked out of bars because they’re homeless. That’s why bars have cover charges – to keep the homeless out.

“If you have a backpack, you’re frowned upon [by the management of bars].”

Justin, a 25 year old homeless man:

“I don’t know about homeless people and bars. I don’t go to bars. I don’t drink.”

Terrance, a 36 year old, self-employed man, homeless 3 years ago, currently housed:

“I don’t go to bars. I don’t like bars because it’s a set up. I can’t remember the last time I was in a bar – maybe 15 years ago.

“I don’t even like to drink at ball games because of the kids. It’s a mixed signal. Adults drink and the kids are right there seeing it.”

Thomas, a 22 year old, “very homeless” man:

“I go to bars now and then. It’s a good social place.”

Boston James, a 52 year old homeless man:

“I can’t afford to drink in bars. I’ve been homeless since 2000. I’ve been 86’d from every bar I’ve tried to get into – not because I’ve done something stupid, but because when I became homeless, they no longer wanted my patronage.”

Logan, a 50 year old homeless man:

“When I was rich, I used to go to the bars with a $1,000 in one pocket and $800 in the other. I would buy drinks for the house. I was very happy and everyone else was a ‘hanger-on.’

“Now [that I am homeless], I don’t go to bars anymore.”

Grace, a 53 year old woman who lives in her van:

“I don’t go to bars. I stay as far away from bars as I can.

“I have seen homeless people being kicked out of coffee shops and restaurants. There’s a local coffee shop that opened with the premise that they were going to be a cultural center for Ocean Beach. So they have ‘open mike nights’ and full-moon drum circles.

“In the beginning homeless people could come in because they’re real musicians and could use the open mike,.

“But then the coffee shop had complaints and thought that it might loose business of how the homeless people looked.

“So, the store said that the homeless people had to be paying customers.

“Later, even if they were paying customers, homeless people weren’t allowed to stay. They were told that they couldn’t be there anymore – they weren’t welcome.

“[For example, I know] one young homeless man who is developmentally disabled, homeless, very nice, appears to be very young, and doesn’t drink alcohol. Yet, they banned him because he talks to other people and distracts the staff.

“The coffee shop now has a retired police officer to sit in front and keep out the ‘trolls,’ as he refers to homeless people.

“Most homeless people don’t drink in bars. [If they buy alcohol,] they get it from the corner liquor store and then get ticketed for public intoxication.”

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you,

Christine

Homelessness and Hand-To-Hand Combat

Violence. We all know that some housed people fight with each other in physical, hand-to-hand combat. But why do some homeless people, living bereft of everything, fight?

To find out why some homeless people fight, I interviewed a 48-year-old man who lives in the streets. I thank him for his candor.

Q: From time to time you fight with people. Why do you fight?

Anonymous MFB: Mostly I fight because people disrespect me.

Q: What do you mean by disrespect?

Anonymous MFB: It’s when someone slanders me, slanders my name, says things that aren’t true in a public forum where everyone else can hear them.

Q: Can you describe your last fight?

Anonymous MFB: My last fight was caused when someone was standing outside a business and disrupting the community. Certain business people asked me to remove him.

I tried to remove him nicely. I knew that if he went with me that things would go better for him than if he continued to stay and annoy the business people.

But he wouldn’t listen to my multiple requests for him to leave, so I had to fight him. I had to take him out – that’s the only way I know how – that’s how I fight.

Q: During the fight, what happened?

Anonymous MFB: The fight? I hit him. He didn’t hit me one time. I hit him a couple of times until bystanders broke us up.”

Q: When you were young, what were you taught about fighting?

Anonymous MFB: I was brought up being told that if I let one person disrespect me, then everyone will. It’s all about your elders – you respect your elders. And you don’t disrespect anyone.”

Q: Are there other examples of when you feel disrespected?

Anonymous MFB: It’s like letting someone steal something from you. If you let one person do it, everyone will do it.”

Q: What happens if someone steals from you?

Anonymous MFB: You take care of it. Otherwise you’re ‘easy game,’ an easy target. Everyone will take advantage of you, if you let them.

Q: You were housed and now you are homeless. Does that make a difference in how you react when you feel are you being disrespected?

Anonymous MFB: When you’re in ‘the middle of the road,’ people steal things all the time. Homeless people get their stuff stolen all the time. It sucks.

Q: Who steals homeless people’s belongings?

Anonymous MFB: Anyone who wants to. Both housed and unhoused people steal from homeless people. Ha! Homeless people are easy targets.

Q: Have people stolen from you?

Anonymous MFB: Housed people stole my wheelchair – twice. They’ll steal anything because of their addictions. Everyone has vices. Stealing is just another way of surviving. It is what it is.

It’s just like the cops stealing homeless people’s cars – their homes – by impounding them.

But not everyone steals. I was taught not to steal. I don’t steal from anyone.

Q: Do you have a general philosophy about life?

Anonymous MFB: You have to prepare for the worse, expect the best and accept what’s in between.

I look forward to you comments. Thank you,
Christine

photo by: Joel Bedford

A Test of True Compassion

Many of us believe that we are compassionate people. But are we really? Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary formally defines “compassion,” as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

In our daily lives, some people think of compassion as “love in action.” Many religions encourage us to strive to be compassionate people and admonish us to “love our neighbor.”

Summarizing these definitions, it would appear that compassion could be defined as “love in action for our neighbor in distress with a desire to alleviate it.” So, whether we are compassionate people depends upon our own attitudes and desires to help.

Personally, I believe that we are all, with the possible exception of a very few, born with compassion. Thus, for most of us, the quality of compassion is already within ourselves from birth – we need only to find and awaken our compassion. Further, as we live our lives, we can choose to nurture and expand this quality, as we are encouraged by many religions, if not all, to do.

But, what about the “neighbors” for whom we have compassion? Do our neighbors have any role in our developing or exercising our compassion? It would appear, at least from the above discussion, that our neighbors do not. However, what our neighbors do, how they appear and what we expect from them, may influence how easy it is for us to exercise and develop our compassion.

The easiest example of this is the whole topic of babies. It has been said that babies are born adorable and loveable, at least to their parents, so that their parents will take care of them regardless of how much work is involved. And most of us know and expect that there is a tremendous amount of work involved in caring for a baby.

Then we have the examples of children and adults with special needs who cannot take care of themselves and must rely on the compassionate treatment from others. Their caretakers know and expect that their jobs will be challenging and yet, ultimately rewarding.

There are also those people among us who have suffered a personal or family loss. These losses can be traumatic events affecting people’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Included within the losses that people can suffer is the loss of everything people once possessed. For most people becoming homeless can be a traumatic event.

For whatever the cause, homeless people have suffered the loss of what most of us consider our human basic needs – they have lost their personal shelter, their expectation of having food on a regular basis and most of their clothing.

Whether homeless people are sheltered or unsheltered, they have, for whatever length of time, lost their personal experiences of having their own homes. When people lose their experiences of having their own homes, they may also lose their hope for having their own homes again.

Even their feelings of self-worth may be negatively affected by the trauma they experience as a result of their homelessness. For example, a homeless friend of mine recently said, “No matter what you say or how you treat me, I know that I’m at the bottom of the food chain.”

As with any of our responses to traumatic events, the hopefulness experienced by homeless people by virtue of becoming homeless may be expressed physically, mentally and/or emotionally. The results of the traumatic event of becoming homeless may also be expressed by some homeless people through the misuse of substances, including cigarettes.

In addition, because we as a society have provided few public bathrooms, showers and even fewer public laundries, many homeless people may not have access to facilities where they can perform acts of basic hygiene. The results are obvious – homeless people often appear disheveled.

Finally, we housed people often expect homeless people to “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps” and become housed again. Please see my article, Homelessness Myth #15: “Just Pull Yourself Up By Your Own Bootstraps,” in this regard.

Because many homeless people are and remain unhoused, our expectations of them to become housed, among other things, are not met.

It is basic human nature, that when people do not meet our expectations of them, we may become disappointed and/or resentful. Without greater understanding of ourselves and others, we are unlikely to extend compassion to those whom we feel have failed to live up to our own expectations, who have disappointed us or to whom we feel resentful. Hence, we housed people with unreasonable expectations for homeless people may feel disappointed or resentful of them because they have failed to live up to our unreasonable expectations.

It is because of what homeless people do, how they appear and what we expect from them, that we may find it challenging to have compassion for them.

However, “our neighbors” includes everyone. Therefore, I believe that the test of true compassion is whether we can care for all of our neighbors, including our homeless neighbors whom we may find the most challenging to help.

Image via Fotopedia

In Celebration of Larry Dean Milligan September 23, 1946 – July 14, 2011

It has been said that  “a man is known by the company he keeps.”  And Larry Dean Milligan kept excellent company –  from his dear friends who are lawyers, business people and advocates, to the homeless men, women and children whom he befriended and championed, to his partner, Johanna Argoud, and their family whom he loved with all his heart.

For over 20 years, Larry worked tirelessly with Johanna and wonderful colleagues in San Diego to help homeless people in many ways, including giving food to satisfy their hunger, fighting for shelter to protect them from the elements and working for public toilets for their personal hygiene and dignity.

Larry made his causes visible by making himself visible.  He tabled his opinions on the San Diego Concourse.  He wrote articles and lobbied policy makers.  But perhaps the most influential thing that Larry did was that he sacrificed his own health through hunger strikes to bring awareness about the plight of homeless people.

He thought that homelessness should not be criminalized. To this end, he fought the imposition of illegal lodging tickets upon homeless people who were sleeping on public sidewalks in the City of San Diego because there was not enough space in the local homeless shelters.

In 2004, largely through Larry’s efforts, the lawsuit, Spencer v. San Diego, was filed to protect homeless people from illegal lodging tickets.

Larry was victorious when this lawsuit was settled in 2006 and homeless people were allowed to sleep outside on public areas in the City of San Diego from 9pm to 5:30 am without being ticketed by the police.

He felt that the November 2010 modification to this settlement was unfortunate because under this modified settlement the police are allowed to ticket a homeless person who is sleeping outside in the City of San Diego if there is an available shelter bed; if the police offer the homeless person the bed; and if the homeless person refuses the bed.

Larry took great pains to avoid confronting people.  He used temperance, kindness and truth to bring about peaceful change.  He was a true humanitarian.

And now a few words from the members of the excellent company that Larry kept.

•  Judge Robert C. Coates, retired Superior Court judge, author of A Street Is Not A Home, remembers Larry for his positive influence on unhoused people and among housed people:  “He was very constructive and respectful.  The homeless community desperately needs people who are articulate and Larry was articulate.”

•  Liza Elliott writes, “Johanna and Larry ran a weekly feeding program for the homeless in Balboa Park.  I worked with them there as well as at the TACO Feeding program at the Lutheran Church.  We did sit-ins at City Hall, served pizza, beans and rice to the homeless and had lots of fun.

“Larry and Johanna were tireless advocates for the homeless, and it was my pleasure and honor to have served with them.

“The World will miss Larry.  And so will I.”

•  Scott Dreher, Esq., Dreher Law Firm, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diego feels “Larry was the last of the true Hippies with all their altruistic, idealistic spirit, and he never lost sight of our society’s potential.

“Indeed, Larry promised to give up his Hunger Strike only if we agreed to file the Spencer case (which resulted in voiding the City of San Diego’s policy of issuing “sleeping tickets” to homeless people in violation of the state and US Constitutions).  His organizing skills were invaluable in convincing the court and city to resolve it in favor of homeless people!  He was a vigorous advisor and a loving voice for the homeless to the end.

“He called me a couple weeks ago, and his voice was filled with enthusiasm, energy and readiness as he put forth more ideas on trying to fix the social imbalance that allows people in our country to lack basics such as food, a place to sleep, and shoes.

“I joked with him and told him we’d carry on as long as he promised not to go on another hunger strike.

“He said ‘OK, I’m taking you at your word!’

“I loved him and miss him.”

•  Timothy D. Cohelan, Esq., Cohelan Khoury & Singer, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diego shares,

“Larry was a great spirit whom I first met in the mid 90’s when we were handling a case against the city of San Diego for failure to designate or site emergency shelters and transitional housing (Hoffmaster vs City of San Diego) – he kept me and others informed of the conditions as he saw them on the street.

“At one point he went on a hunger strike and some believe this contributed to his later health problems.

“Larry acted like a cheerleader on the Spencer case, always calling Scott [Dreher] or me to say how he appreciated our efforts, and how the homeless with whom he always talked, felt like someone cared.  He will be missed.”

•  Steve Binder, Esq., San Diego Deputy Public Defender says,  “Larry had the unique capability to bridge the discussion between the police and people on the streets and to help people realize that citations alone are a simple solution to a complex problem that continues to frustrate police and the people who receive the citations, alike.

“Larry had the ability to look past the shortcomings and problems that the police presented to the people on the streets and to look past the shortcomings and problems that the people on the streets presented to the police so that he could improve everyone’s situation.

“Larry was a builder.  He built community.”

•  Dr. Ellen Beck, M.D. supervisor of The UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project at TACO (The Third Ave Coalition Organization) adds, “Larry was a remarkable person, a truly passionate change agent, who lived what he believed and helped to change laws and policy. He will be missed!”

•  Jim Lovell, Executive Director, Third Avenue Charitable Organization, Inc. (TACO) notes,“Larry was an amazing force brought to bear on San Diego.  His faith seemed to be what drew him to need to call those in power to act to treat all who live in their city with the same dignity that those who were wealthy and who had power were treated.

“When Larry fasted in order to get the city to open the winter shelter early, he was quick to point out that it was a “fast, not a hunger strike”.

“When Larry would come to see me, I quickly learned that I should hold on tight because things would move very fast, and we may go to see a council member or we could be at the mayor’s desk with signatures to record turning in or we may be in the office of the Chief of Police.

“Larry often verbally argued and pushed those in power, though he was always so quick to forgive and call them again and ask to meet.  That was one of the most amazing parts of Larry.

“I will miss him deeply.”

Not only will Larry be remembered for the excellent company he kept, but by the passion and devotion he exhibited as an outstanding leader, as an effective advocate for homeless people and as a genuine human being.

A week before his passing, Larry told Johanna’s daughter, Ninon, about his personal philosophy.  He said, “The most important thing to remember is that we are all equal.”

 

In Celebration of Larry Dean Milligan September 23, 1946 – July 14, 2011

  

It has been said that  "a man is known by the company he keeps.”  And Larry Dean Milligan kept excellent company –  from his dear friends who are lawyers, business people and advocates, to the homeless men, women and children whom he befriended and championed, to his partner, Johanna Argoud, and their family whom he loved with all his heart.

 

For over 20 years, Larry worked tirelessly with Johanna and wonderful colleagues in San Diego to help homeless people in many ways, including giving food to satisfy their hunger, fighting for shelter to protect them from the elements and working for public toilets for their personal hygiene and dignity.

 

Larry made his causes visible by making himself visible.  He tabled his opinions on the San Diego Concourse.  He wrote articles and lobbied policy makers.  But perhaps the most influential thing that Larry did was that he sacrificed his own health through hunger strikes to bring awareness about the plight of homeless people.

 

He thought that homelessness should not be criminalized. To this end, he fought the imposition of illegal lodging tickets upon homeless people who were sleeping on public sidewalks in the City of San Diego because there was not enough space in the local homeless shelters. 

 

In 2004, largely through Larry’s efforts, the lawsuit, Spencer v. San Diego, was filed to protect homeless people from illegal lodging tickets.  

 

Larry was victorious when this lawsuit was settled in 2006 and homeless people were allowed to sleep outside on public areas in the City of San Diego from 9pm to 5:30 am without being ticketed by the police.

 

He felt that the November 2010 modification to this settlement was unfortunate because under this modified settlement the police are allowed to ticket a homeless person who is sleeping outside in the City of San Diego if there is an available shelter bed; if the police offer the homeless person the bed; and if the homeless person refuses the bed.

 

Larry took great pains to avoid confronting people.  He used temperance, kindness and truth to bring about peaceful change.  He was a true humanitarian.

 

And now a few words from the members of the excellent company that Larry kept.

 

  Judge Robert C. Coates, retired Superior Court judge, author of A Street Is Not A Home, remembers Larry for his positive influence on unhoused people and among housed people:  “He was very constructive and respectful.  The homeless community desperately needs people who are articulate and Larry was articulate.”

 

  Liza Elliott writes, “Johanna and Larry ran a weekly feeding program for the homeless in Balboa Park.  I worked with them there as well as at the TACO Feeding program at the Lutheran Church.  We did sit-ins at City Hall, served pizza, beans and rice to the homeless and had lots of fun.

 

“Larry and Johanna were tireless advocates for the homeless, and it was my pleasure and honor to have served with them.

 

“The World will miss Larry.  And so will I.”

 

  Scott Dreher, Esq., Dreher Law Firm, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diego feels “Larry was the last of the true Hippies with all their altruistic, idealistic spirit, and he never lost sight of our society’s potential. 

 

“Indeed, Larry promised to give up his Hunger Strike only if we agreed to file the Spencer case (which resulted in voiding the City of San Diego’s policy of issuing “sleeping tickets” to homeless people in violation of the state and US Constitutions).  His organizing skills were invaluable in convincing the court and city to resolve it in favor of homeless people!  He was a vigorous advisor and a loving voice for the homeless to the end.

 

“He called me a couple weeks ago, and his voice was filled with enthusiasm, energy and readiness as he put forth more ideas on trying to fix the social imbalance that allows people in our country to lack basics such as food, a place to sleep, and shoes. 

 

“I joked with him and told him we’d carry on as long as he promised not to go on another hunger strike. 

 

“He said ‘OK, I’m taking you at your word!’

 

“I loved him and miss him.”

 

 Timothy D. Cohelan, Esq., Cohelan Khoury & Singer, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diego shares,

 

“Larry was a great spirit whom I first met in the mid 90’s when we were handling a case against the city of San Diego for failure to designate or site emergency shelters and transitional housing (Hoffmaster vs City of San Diego) – he kept me and others informed of the conditions as he saw them on the street. 

 

“At one point he went on a hunger strike and some believe this contributed to his later health problems.

 

“Larry acted like a cheerleader on the Spencer case, always calling Scott [Dreher] or me to say how he appreciated our efforts, and how the homeless with whom he always talked, felt like someone cared.  He will be missed.”

 

  Steve Binder, Esq., San Diego Deputy Public Defender says,  “Larry had the unique capability to bridge the discussion between the police and people on the streets and to help people realize that citations alone are a simple solution to a complex problem that continues to frustrate police and the people who receive the citations, alike.

 

“Larry had the ability to look past the shortcomings and problems that the police presented to the people on the streets and to look past the shortcomings and problems that the people on the streets presented to the police so that he could improve everyone’s situation.

 

“Larry was a builder.  He built community.”

 

 Dr. Ellen Beck, M.D. supervisor of The UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project at TACO (The Third Ave Coalition Organization) adds, “Larry was a remarkable person, a truly passionate change agent, who lived what he believed and helped to change laws and policy. He will be missed!”

 

  Jim Lovell, Executive Director, Third Avenue Charitable Organization, Inc. (TACO) notes, “Larry was an amazing force brought to bear on San Diego.  His faith seemed to be what drew him to need to call those in power to act to treat all who live in their city with the same dignity that those who were wealthy and who had power were treated.  

 

“When Larry fasted in order to get the city to open the winter shelter early, he was quick to point out that it was a "fast, not a hunger strike".  

 

“When Larry would come to see me, I quickly learned that I should hold on tight because things would move very fast, and we may go to see a council member or we could be at the mayor’s desk with signatures to record turning in or we may be in the office of the Chief of Police.  

 

“Larry often verbally argued and pushed those in power, though he was always so quick to forgive and call them again and ask to meet.  That was one of the most amazing parts of Larry.  

 

“I will miss him deeply.”

 

Not only will Larry be remembered for the excellent company he kept, but by the passion and devotion he exhibited as an outstanding leader, as an effective advocate for homeless people and as a genuine human being.

 

A week before his passing, Larry told Johanna’s daughter, Ninon, about his personal philosophy.  He said, “The most important thing to remember is that we are all equal.”

 

 

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