Side of the River vs Upstream…

Every number has a face...

“I am a part of all whom I have met.” -Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet-

I have the best job in the World. I get to wake up everyday to what makes the New York Times puzzle and the Rubik’s Cube together seem like primary grade school addition/subtraction questions. With not enough time or money or resources, I get a chance, DAILY, to work with amazing people as -together- we lift vulnerable people out of the raging waters of homelessness, to a safe and secure place they can call “home.”

Currently, one family shelter has 27 children (aged 3 weeks to 16 years old) and 20 adults (14 women and 6 men)— ALL of them having no idea where they will be living in thirty days when their HUD mandated time limits expire. No funding for transitional homes. No jobs available (nationally, nearly a half million jobs are being LOST each and every month), and leadership (???) in our nation’s capital absent in every room.

I know all of these people’s first names and their life stories. They are my heroes. They exhibit courage in the face of adversity on a weekly, daily, HOURLY basis, and put to shame those who are so self-indulgent (but financially more stable) than these humble clients. I will humbly and proudly stay on the side of the river helping to pull needing people out of the raging rapids of Life that they find themselves in.

At some point…where is it?…the “spiritual anemia” that cripples those who think, “I’ve got mine- let others suffer…” is pitiful and sad, at best. Whether it’s our “leaders” (???) at the national, state, or local level, and the businesses or individuals who are usually delusional enough with themselves to think they might be “important” or “smart” …it is more critical than ever to go “upstream” to repair the Bridge of Humanity that allows a continuing larger number of children, women, and men to fall into the swirling and drowning waters of no roof over the heads.

This Film will be finished; it will change lives- it WILL make a statement that we CAN, should, and WILL do a better job in America to assure that ALL people have basic air, water, food, AND…….(capitalism be DAMNED)….shelter. Balancing “pulling from the side of the river” and “leaving to go upstream” is a challenge. Faith is what nourishes me (oh, and the two-day old bakery pastries we get donated to the shelter sometimes….) :-)

Materialistic hedonism and compassionate humanity need not be mutually exclusive. Someone soon- I probably haven’t met this “angel” yet- will recognize that for a fraction of the cost of their wine cellar, their monthly alcohol bill, their running from destination-to-destination seeking to find “something” other than themselves, their sabotaging of their own and others’ lives, they can find peace and tranquility and honor and salvation—by helping to Change the World for the better.

“Just Because.” I believe that will happen soon. I do.

I have the BEST job in the World, working with the most inspiring and hardest working co-staff I’ve ever seen. Their dedication puts me to shame.

The 27 children and 20 adults currently there? They’re awesome. They need help. They’re my heroes. Things will work out—if nothing else, all I can give them is Hope. In the meantime, I got to take a break to read stories to children after lunch; and even trusted enough to let a four-year-old snap his first picture on my camera.

He has no where to go but “up” with his choice of subjects….

photography by joey...

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Judgment for All…

Only blonde women should vote. (1920 Suffrage Movement)
Only “coloreds” with lightest skin should be integrated (1964 Civil Rights)
Only children born with slight handicaps should use ADA (1990 Disabilities Act)
Only “straight looking” people should have freedom of choice (2010 whatever-law)

These restrictions would have almost been as ridiculous as the prejudicial barriers they represented. How do you parse equality and what is right?

Right is right- or should be in this country. I’m positive this is what our Founding Fathers (and MOST probably the Founding Mothers who did their laundry) had in mind.

Yet, when we talk about “homelessness” we suddenly want to parse the issue of whether EVERYONE should be entitled to: basic air, water, food, AND shelter. Constitutional laws be damned! Cute kids? Sure! Grown men? Not so much.

Earl- Homeless for 1st time this year.

So I show “trailers” to friends, families, prospective producers, people of common means and others of extraordinary financial wealth. The conversation inevitably turns to “judgment” of who should be able to sleep safely and securely at night. Just children? Elderly? Handicap? How did they get handicapped? Veterans who had ten bombs blow up near them?…or Veterans who operated clones dropping bombs from 100 miles away? Nice people? Crabby people who may have mental health issues?

Grown black men like Earl (above) or the 11 year old Jasmine (top)? Both are currently homeless for their first times in this past year, living in nearby cities on west coast.

Some of the most seemingly smart, savvy, kind, far left, far right, intelligent, salt-of-the-earth, humble, bodacious, successful, calm, excitable, loving, closed-in, quiet or verbose people I know…still only know what they know.

They are trapped in their own humanness. And with that understandable myopia and prejudice, the parsing begins. Which convinces me more than ever that this Film must be made as soon as possible.

Have I ever questioned it’s premise? To start a conversation to truly END HOMELESSNESS in America? Absolutely not. I am trapped in my own humanness, but I step outside of that each and every day with people who show me the Truth (some of who are pictured in this post)

How do YOU parse “equality” if, like me, you were to view “shelter” in the same light as “air?” Who deserves “air?”…is the same to me as Who deserves “shelter?”

We all do. We ALL do. There is plenty of both, thankfully, to go around.

Families and children represent 40% of all homeless

Judgment for All. Otherwise, all we would have is a blonde, mulatto, stuttering Tom Cruise as our only voter in America….

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Like an empty hospital….

…I have no patience.

Bambi 5 months ago...

This film making business is not for people who follow a giant athletic shoe company’s motto. In the world of digital, high definition documentary post production, “Just Do It” seems to be a foreign concept. There’s always something that inevitably delays what theoretically (or at least in my own mind) should be a simple task.

It’s been five months since I met a smiling, clear-eyed, vibrant 29 year old teacher WITH NO LEGS sitting on a blue blanket with two small dogs while her husband panhandled up the street in order to have a place for him and his wife to sleep.

And this…was actually a week before I began the film making process. Everyday, with twenty children and twenty adults residing in the family homeless shelter where I work (they can have up to 60 days, but HUD has given indications they want families out in 20 days!…), I grow more impatient with the process.

Perhaps we try TRUE capitalism and outsource a solution to the homeless problem.
Today, the changes to the policies (HEARTH Act) was compared favorably to “a slow moving ferry- deliberate, on course, takes time…” Unless there’s an administrative change and then Bambi and more children will fall victim to outmoded politics.

A revolt is needed. A sense of urgency. A loud scream that “the Emperor has no clothes.” But since I’m no good with weapons and assembling a mutiny on national social services would cut into my daily 10 minute power nap…I’ll settle for a Film with high hopes to effect change.

Hang in there, Bambi…at least it’s summer on San Francisco sidewalks….

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Hot Dogs versus Wieners….OUTRAGEOUS!

Will Gabe go hungry because of paperwork?...

While Momentary Times- The Documentary is in post-production being edited this Summer, lunch programs are starting up for the Summer that will feed our nation’s hungry children who will no longer have the safety net of meals they have during the school year. Out of the 21 million at-risk children needing help, only 3 million will have it.

I am fortunate to be part of an agency in the Pacific Northwest that not only has Summer food programs, but school year back pack programs, where at-risk children take home food supplies every Friday so they can eat while schools are closed.

This Summer, in addition to being Director of a family homeless shelter, the responsibility of both children’s food programs were assigned to me when the three-year full time staff member coordinating it left for a position in the private sector. I am arrogant enough to trust my own abilities to help where needed.

This week convinced me more than ever for the need for the Film. The insidious, bureaucratic, needless, insipid, moronic paperwork is STOOPID- dozens of attachments, notices, letters, declarations, and legal forms needed to serve paper bag lunches (apple, sandwich, milk, celery, etc.) for a summer school site, along with a breakfast/ lunch served at another elementary school where a creative day program is being administered (for tenth straight year) by university and school district members (our agency takes care of the food portion).

While millions of dollars of time, energy, and pompous chest/breast beating is being done by the leadership of our country on the human folly of one of their own, and national billions are being diverted in smoke and mirror games on what is “news” or “war” or “relevant”, children kindergarten through 12th grade are being threatened with not having an Oscar Meyer frankfurter as possibly their only meal if yet another piece of self-indulgent, unnecessary, and admitted (“I know, I know, these federal forms are silly but we just do them…”) by state gatekeeper office workers, paperwork is NOT completed. It’s UNBELIEVABLE!

There is no push back. To make 200 bag lunches on this upcoming Monday (and thousands more over the next two months) with a Lunch lady and volunteers, so that “our Future” can get something in their empty stomachs, and have the state and federal leaders of us NOT stand up and say “Bull-S***” is criminal.

The Emperor has no clothes. The system diverts a “who cares” Congressman Wiener scandal and the over zealous importance of paper shuffling over the needs of the hungry children in our Community. Today? I drive 3 hours each way to take a two hour class that a state worker (her= ZERO hours management OR food service, me= 30 years of both) will take to tell me how to open a paper bag, insert food items, and count how many there are. My Herculean task will be to show well educated, successful, loving, caring, mostly senior citizen volunteers how to to the same next week.

Saturday Night Live and comedians would have a field day with potential skit material for the absurdity of it all… this thing we call “process” as we genuflect, bow our heads, and cup our hands in humble submission to the gods of STOOPID!

I’m hoping I can handle that…otherwise many like Gabe above will have no food in this land a’plenty we call America. This Film can’t come soon enough…

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A Turning Point…

…happens today, when The Universe takes a large leap forward with Momentary Times. Thank you for your support and commitment so far, with an idea that began last October and filming that began on February 1st of this year. Good things are happening, including an avalanche of collaborative goodness and assets rolling in this week. Stay tuned…You All ROCK!
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.-

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Be still my heart…

I wish she were still alive. She was blonde and pretty and loved being with her boyfriend and their seven year old son. The previous two years had been rough on all of them and now they were all together and she felt safe and secure and determined to move forward as a family, even though they had no money. They were at a family shelter. Ever vulnerable, she felt protected. She was quiet and kind and soft in voice.

She felt so strongly about wanting to make her family work, that when her boyfriend peacefully violated a policy, she chose to go with him “out of shelter” for the seven days the policy dictated he was gone. They would stay together as a family.

It was last Thanksgiving morning. They were roaming the streets, just the three of them, but they weren’t angry. They were together, as a Family. They were happy.

The Staff had followed protocol. They were policy-correct.

But it was Thanksgiving morning. I wanted to check in on the families on this Holiday. It was a Day off for a salary-guy like me; I needed to check in and stopped at the shelter I managed, before I went to share the holiday with Mom and siblings and friends and LOTS of food and laughs.

Upon discovering that the family had been “exited,” I got angry. Not at the Staff. Not even at the Father who went, albeit peacefully, against the rules. But angry at the pain of a family homeless in 2010 on THANKSGIVING of all days; humbled that the Family itself was genuinely THANKFUL that they were together and rested after two weeks in the shelter.

Their cell number was in their file, so I had Staff call and tell them to return. Immediately. Through the weekend they could stay, until this salary-guy was back on Monday when we would talk. I broke policy. I broke the rules. A kind, compliant, and happy family would enjoy Thanksgiving with twenty kids and twenty adults in a safe and secure family homeless shelter. This Family would not be wandering this Holiday- not on my watch. Policies, procedures, and rules are necessary. I understand that.

“There are exceptions to every rule,” I tell myself often. This was Thanksgiving. I’m glad- then and now- that I broke the rule without hesitation.

Because she is dead now. Killed. Murdered. Dumped down an embankment like trash.

Her son is motherless. A month after Thanksgiving, the Father went to California to start school. He would save money, send for her and their child still in shelter, and they would be together again with a fresh start.

But a job never materialized, money was delayed, and when the sixty days of federally mandated shelter time was up, she and her son were homeless again. A bad man offered to house them. Vulnerable, she said yes. A restraining order quickly followed and a scramble to find bus money was secured for her and the child out of town.

At the bus depot, her belongings were five pounds overweight. She would have to wait until the next night. Her son went to friends and she reluctantly chose to stay warm at the bad man’s house for one more night. One more night.

He stabbed and killed her in a rage last week on that one last night. He dumped her body, was fortunately pulled over for a routine traffic stop, found covered in blood, and was arrested shortly afterwards. They found her body the same day.

She leaves a seven year old son, a Man in California who cared for her, and a host of hard working and kind case managers and area agency members with broken hearts, who did everything they could to help this woman. Still, it was not enough.

Me? I choose to remember the three of them smiling and laughing together at Thanksgiving. Actually, it’s not too much of a choice.

Because I have to work again tomorrow. There will be other chances. No doubt. And that’s the only way I can rationalize getting out of bed…

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Honor the Fallen this way…

On this Memorial Day, we recognize and honor our service men and women who paid the ultimate price. Our friend Jerry, a Marine for 22 years, believes that “no one should be left behind” and walks-the-walk daily by ministering to Americans on our own streets, offering Love and Hope.

Gene is also an American Veteran who served his Country honorably, was deeply and negatively affected by war, and is part of the homeless Veterans that constitute 25% of ALL homeless in America. Not because he wishes to -but he does because he has to- Gene lives 365 days each year outside.

Both of these Men are Heroes in my humble opinion. There has to be a better way to “walk the walk” with resources for them other than 2-3 times a year parades and AttaBoys. America, we CAN do a better job. Let’s Honor our Fallen this way!

P.S. You can find a 2 minute clip of both Jerry and Gene on our film clips here.

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His name was “Rescue” he told me, as he was being asked if he’d pose for a photograph. “Sure” he said. It was last Friday night in downtown Portland, Oregon and a dozen of us were escorting my niece’s husband-to-soon-be around for a bachelor party. The streets were filled with people, but Rescue walked quietly by as if he were a ghost. We were laughing and having a great time when I spotted him.

His head was bent in the familiar deferential and shamed position that the homeless learn so quickly- how to be non-threatening so as to protect their most vulnerable self in a scary and loud world. When I offered to give him my standard rate of a dollar for a photo of him, he steadied himself, straightened his sign, and concentrated very hard to do his best as an impromptu street model for me.

I took the photo quickly and was simultaneously taken aback at this most humble man before me. “You seem like a good and kind Man, Rescue,” I said. “I am. I am,” Rescue replied while nodding with his head still bent.

“I want to give you another dollar and take your photo, Rescue. But this time I’d like you to smile. Please, okay?” Without a word from him, he broke into a grin, relaxed and showing just a slight flint of a spark of what was once probably a roaring fire of a very good man at one point in time…somebody’s son, brother, father, cousin, neighbor, or friend. If not for a turn or two in Life, he may have been joining us in our diverse group on this bachelor party celebration evening. Who knows?

I thanked Rescue and moved up the street to catch up with the guys. Two nights later, a transient in N.E. Portland had a small fire keeping himself warm under a bridge when his sleeping bag caught fire as he slept. A passerby driving nearby saw the flames, ran up to help put him out, and called 9-1-1. At last report, the man was in critical condition and probably won’t live.

I hope his name is not Rescue…but then again, would it really even matter? America can do better than this. I believe this to be true. The chronic homeless like Rescue represent only about 20% of all the homeless, but they deserve a safe place to lay their head at night, along with basic air, water, food, and shelter.

Check out Rescue’s second photo below. Sometimes all we can offer is “Hope.”

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To look back and say “I once thought about…” doesn’t count.

“In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve their problems. Each one of us has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.” ~ The Dalai Lama

Working this week on securing an established Film Director to help me oversee post-production, and finishing a budget to present to investors who have expressed an interest in helping with the Mission of the Momentary Times Project.

But right now? Finish my coffee, then head to work as Director of a family homeless shelter and now interim Hunger Response Director (1100 back packs for kids in school filled each Friday with food for their weekend and preparing for Summer Slam meal program in two schools). My days (work) and evenings (film) are always eventful!

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Phase Two….

Today I returned to my “regular gig” as Director of family homeless shelters in Vancouver, WA (15 minute drive from my apartment in hometown Portland, OR). It was somewhat of a transition after cross-country 100 days of filming for next year’s planned OSCAR-WINNING Documentary of “Momentary Times.”

I was reminded how in AWE I am of my fellow social service workers as I came back to an atmosphere of Hope, Hard Work, Team Work, and Heart that my agency members put into EACH and EVERY (Truly!…) day. They deal with the “neediest of the needy” in an ongoing effort to improve lives. They have “Server’s Hearts.”

We also had our weekly 9pm House Meeting (the 20 kids are in bed) with the 20 adults who can stay for up to 60 days before their time runs out, according to government regulations. I told them what I tell EVERY group at these meetings. The Truth- that THEY are my “Heroes;” They get up every morning, get their kids ready for school, feed them, get them on bus, go out looking for jobs that don’t exist, deal with bureaucracies, illnesses, barriers, and distress…then come back to shelter to smile while their kids get off the bus, do homework with them, have dinner, read to them, do their house chores…ALL with no security of where they and their kids will sleep in the upcoming weeks. Our clients are amazing.

A 12-hour (first) day back; I’ll pace myself better as the week wears on; meeting Wednesday night with an International Film Director (with his base in Portland, OR) interested in helping with our Film. We’re pressing forward. I’m a VERY stubborn Irishman. The Film will be amazing, will affect lives positively, and will be ready for distribution later this Summer. It’s a process, but “all good.” Stay tuned! G’nite and “Keep Smiling”… :-)

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