Tag Archives: Ocean Beach

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 Myth #13: “Please Don’t Feed Our Bums”

 Within the past month, The Black, a head shop in Ocean Beach, California, began selling a 3 and 1/2 inch square sticker that reads, “Welcome to Ocean Beach.  Please Don’t Feed Our Bums!”  

Ken Anderson, buyer for The Black, thought that these stickers were “bad satire,” but would be a big seller for The Black because “people are tired of the aggressive panhandling of the homeless kids.”  He said that while he and the OB Community felt fine about the older homeless people who have lived in OB for many years, there has recently been “an influx of young homeless kids who don’t want to work and who have cells phones and ATM cards from their mothers.” 

I interviewed housed and unhoused members of the OB Community to get their reaction to the “Please Don’t Feed Our Bums!” sticker.  Representative samplings of their comments follow.

Home Owner, long-time resident of OB:  “They [the homeless youth] are very aggressive, very dirty and they go to the bathroom around my house so I have to clean up human waste. 

[By buying, distributing and displaying many of the stickers] I’ve decided to take a stance and support the Community that wants to get rid of this behavior that is coming to our beautiful Community.  If we don’t, we’ll just continue to be a haven for all of this.”

A “bartendress,” housed:  “It’s the street kids.  They have money, they use drugs and they’re capable of working.  They’re not even homeless! 

They all have cell phones and credit cards from their mothers. 

They’re ‘trustapharions’ – trust fund kids. 

Some people can’t help themselves, but these young kids can help themselves.”

Charles, adult, housed:  “I’m housed.  I sweep in front of this store everyday and I get a can of dog food as pay.  There are homeless people who are good people.  But the homeless kids have everything – ATM cards from their mothers and even dogs, but they don’t pick up the pooh-pooh.”

Jen, 80 years old, housed:  “The sticker doesn’t say ‘homeless’ is says ‘bums.’ Bums [The homeless youth] ask for cigarettes and change.  I’m sick of it.  They should go home to their families.”

Pop*Rocks, 15 years old, housed:  “People don’t have to be judgmental… Everyone needs to smile more.”

OB Wildlife, adult, unhoused:  “First, they’re trying to market the whole area [of Ocean Beach] as a place from the 1960’s with “love-ins” and “then someone comes up with the sticker – a stupid idea. 

I question the integrity of the sticker.  They [The Black] make money off the sticker so they’re helping themselves.”

Second, it’s better for businesses that homeless people pick-up small change because 100% of that money goes back to the OB Community.  Go ahead, run a test [on where money given to homeless people is spent].  All the money goes back to them – the local shop owners.

Hannah, 18 years old, unhoused, lives in a truck:  “I just want your [housed people’s] respect.  We just want to live our lives and be respected.  It’s a downturn economy.  There are more people on the streets than I’ve seen before and a lot of them are young people.”

Shaggy, 20 years old, unhoused: “I think the sticker is outrageous and not fair because they’re taking out what some people are doing, not everyone. 

We’re human beings, too.  We’re just as likely to help them [the tourists] as they are to help us.

I do have a cell phone because I have two jobs:  laying cement and working at the tire store so I need the phone [to be in contact with his employers].

I grew up in foster care and I’ve been a street kid from 11 years old.  A lot of kids out here [who are homeless] are struggling.”

Jessi, 18 years old, unhoused:  “I had a cell phone and it was stolen by a housed person.  Just because we’re homeless doesn’t mean we’re bad people.”

Kandy, 19 years old, unhoused:  “I think the sticker is funny… I don’t think of anyone as a bum… We’re not bums.  We’re no different than anyone else!”

Teddi, 20 years old, unhoused:  “The sticker – they judged a bunch of people [homeless youth] based on a couple of people doing something wrong.  People don’t look at the big picture, they just see a little part.”

Kayla, 16 years old, unhoused:  “I have no cell phone or ATM card from my mother.  After all the time we’ve been here, now they put a sticker out and try to get rid of us… The sticker is false advertising to get rid of us!”

Derrick, 32 years old, unhoused:  “I think of myself as a protector. I watch out for the homeless kids out here.  I was raised to think of others before myself.  OB is like Haight-Ashbury in the day.”

Tim, 46 years old, unhoused:  “I was a house framer before I became homeless some months ago.  There’s no work out there.”

Dennis, 21 years old, unhoused:  “The sticker is a way to put people down.  It puts me down.  It’s a diss…"

Halie, 24 years old, unhoused:  “I don’t like the sticker.  It is a pretty generic description of a bum.  It looks like a hobo.  We’re homeless, but we’ll work for food. It’s sometimes hard to eat…a cup of soup…trash food.

[Housed] People don’t find the joke in it [the sticker].  They just agree with it."

Doug, 21 years old, unhoused:  “We’re not animals, so there shouldn’t be anything about feeding humans.  The sticker is about the bums going to bit you if you don’t feed us.” 

In addition, Peter Callstrom, Executive Director of  the San Diego Regional Task Force On the Homeless, offered the following comment: "The sticker is completely offensive and counter-productive. People who are homeless are not bums. Name-calling helps no one and only leads to divisiveness, fear, and disdain. 

The RTFH has created an alternative sticker that sends a message of compassion, not condemnation. To get an RTFH sticker, please go to www.rtfhsd.org.  

For The Black to profit from there hate-message is unconscionable and hypocritical.  If The Black really wants to make a difference, they should give all proceeds from their sticker to the churches, agencies, and volunteers who are working tirelessly on solutions and actually helping people to return to lives of dignity."

Visit www.rtfhsd.org for further information on the RTFH sticker.

I look forward to your comments.  Thank you,


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