Posts Tagged With: homelessness


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Continuing the saga of my homeless brother Norman, here he is with his little dog and his bike. He lost the dog the last time he was arrested.  He had taken over a condemned house. With a house address, he was able to get a bank account and begin collecting his social security which amounted to about $1,200 a month. He dug a new sewer line, fixed leaks on the roof, put in new flooring, a toilet and new plumbing. Over time,  he put in a washer and dryer and television set. He made friends with the neighbors.  He lived in this place for three years and invited a couple other homeless guys to live there too.  Then, he decided to plant a garden with veggies and marijuana. A neighbor reported on him and the police came to “his house”, knocked on the door, arrested him for growing marijuana. (The other two guys vacated the minute the cops came to the door.)The cops would not let him secure the house nor make arrangements for his dog.  Directly to jail.

In court, Norman could make a deal with the D.A. but he refuses. “If you do, they own you. They can just pick you up at any time and slap you back in jail for looking cross-eyed at someone.  Probation for me is useless. I can’t get anywhere on time. I don’t have a watch or a calendar. I often don’t know the time of day or what day it is.”

While in jail, another brother picked up his mail and deposited his checks and paid for his storage building.  Without family help, he would have had to reapply for Social Security all over again, and wait for it to clear, from 6 weeks to  3 months.  When Norman returned to “his house”, the place had been stripped of everything he owned. His dog, gone.

He made his way back to a homeless camping area under the freeway in San Leandro. Someone told him  about a mobile home park in Hayward with vacancies.  It was a run-down place. He walked up to apply. The woman took one look at him and turned the sign around and said she had no vacancies. He was scruffy and dirty again, by this time.

Norman is personable. People like him.  He makes it a point to befriend the storekeepers he must depend on so they know he doesn’t steal. He manages to fend off depression through his Bible and his faith.

Desperation is the most common ailment of the homeless. It sucks away any sense of well-being, hope or strength. It is naive to think that homeless people, single men especially, who can’t afford housing and basic necessities, should somehow be kind and sweet. Homeless people can be scary, full of tattoos, drunk and offensive, druggies, often panhandling aggressively. They don’t want to be dirty and stinky and loathed by all who see them. So called normal people with homes and traditional lives suffer from depression, drink too much, beat their wives, and kick the dog.  They can live their messy lives behind a locked door. But the homeless are treated like trash and we expect them not to be depressed, hungry, angry, criminal and ill?

It kind of reminds me of the old debtors prisons. You go prison for stealing a loaf of bread because you are hungry. You can’t get out until someone pays your way out, but you have no money to make that happen. Are we that medieval?  The way some cities treat the homeless, the answer is yes.

Everything has changed again for Norman. He is in a burnt out house that he is slowly fixing for the owner using his carpentry skills. He is not paid. With housing, he is stable, relatively sober and upbeat. The owner buys materials and arrives with his tools, one or two days a month. The owner takes the tools with him so no one can steal them while he is gone. (Not exactly the best neighborhood.)

At this new place, he has something to love-a stray cat;  He has a place safe from young street punks who steal his bike and shove him around, just because they can. Here guys on the street have offered him friendship and marijuana. He doesn’t trust them and so far has refused any involvement with them. It is easier to do when you have a locked door.

The owner, (to remain unnamed), is a guy Norman built a house for about 10 years ago when he was homeless but still working for food and booze.  It was before he had his stroke and before he could collect his social security. This man allows Norman to use his address for his mail when he is living on the street.

Norman has a throw away phone for which he buys minutes so he can communicate with me. He has a know it all attitude about some subjects and can be irritating at times.  I listen as patiently as I can.

Currently, his Social Security has been  reduced to $780 a month.  Social Security is on auto deposit now, and they promptly deducted Obama Care from his check.  He has no way to get to a hospital, or establish a relationship with a doctor. He recently had a toothache and was in considerable pain. But, he couldn’t get to a dentist either. His income and ability to find a place to live is further from reach then ever, when this house is finished.

His bills are few without rent. He has to pay his storage fee. When on the street he has electricity in his unit and he can cook in a crock pot and sit in a chair and write his letters. He has a place to keep his papers safe and dry.  But, no shower, nor place to sleep.  Still, it is a refuge of sorts that the manager of the storage building allows because he likes Norman.

Meanwhile, in this house, he can shower and keep himself clean.  He is stable and has a sense of purpose. He writes letters to public figures like Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, Governor Christie. He writes long letters to major newspapers and sends me copies of them.  He is a bit mentally impaired in that he thinks he is part of the political scene and is influencing others for a better America with his letters.

I feel he needs to know that he has some self-worth; that his opinion is worth something to someone. That someone cares about whether he lives or dies.  Isn’t that what we all need?  A sense of self-worth with some dignity?

In one of his letters to the editor, he wrote:  “A fox has his den, a bird has her nest, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.”

So, what is the answer? More tomorrow.


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On Thursday,  I took my homeless brother to see our sister who is receiving treatment for brain cancer.  For the last three years, he got  himself onto Amtrak and my  brother Bill  picked him up at the station and he stayed  with me for a week or so,  right after Christmas.

This time, he decides  he would take a bus to Roseville, I’d meet him there, take him to visit her and he’d return the same day. I couldn’t talk him out of it. Realize he is mentally ill, alcoholic, non-violent, he’s had a stroke and can only walk about two or three blocks, then he has to sit down.  He had a huge tumor on his head removed, that is now growing back. He is very intelligent and not quite impaired enough to be committed to an institution.  Technically, he is no longer homeless. He now has a home he maintains for a property owner for permission to live there, for how long it will last is  anybody’s  guess.  He has been homeless for 17 years, but for 14 of those years, he worked for several different guys off and on. They were willing to put up with the drinking, for cheap labor, under minimum wage, but enough for him to buy food and drink. His skills were valuable enough for them to bail him out when he’d get arrested for drunkenness. Between times, he lived in the bushes, or under freeway overpasses, in a canyon by a river and so on.

Here is what happens to a guy like this.  He buys a round-trip ticket. He gets confused and arrives at the station a day early on the 9th.  He calls me on his cheapie cell phone, just a press of the button.  I tell him, go back home which is somewhere in Oakland,   and I’ll pay for a second ticket for you to arrive on the 10th. He declines and says, I’ll stay here. He has no extra clothing, toothbrush, or anything more than the clothing he is wearing. He buys his “drink” and sits on a bus bench and gets a ticket from a Roseville cop for drinking in public. I don’t know why they didn’t haul him in.  He borrowed a sleeping bag from a nearby hostel in Roseville near the bus station and slept out behind a fast food restaurant with his six pack of beer or pint of vodka,  and made it through the night.

I arrived on the 10th to pick him up, as planned. He is still pretty clean. He bought  breath mints in place of a toothbrush. He had returned the sleeping bag.

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After a very pleasant visit, I drop him off at the bus station at 2:30. His bus doesn’t leave until 5:00. When he gets on the bus, the driver tells him:  “This ticket is for yesterday, you’ll have to buy a new one, but the  Roseville station is closed. We have a 40 minute layover in Sacramento, you can buy a ticket there.”

He sizzles about the  injustice of this,  (in his mind) probably sipping on a pint, and when he gets to Sacramento he tells them, I don’t have the money. He argues he paid round trip he is entitled to a round trip. Finally, after a shouting match, he walks somewhere nearby, he buys more drink. Just before the bus is set to leave,  he changes his mind and goes back to the station master and prepares to pay for the ticket but he warns them they will hear from his attorney, etc. etc. He is now drunk and foul mouthed is my guess. He has never been violent, according to his long rap sheet.  The station master refuses to sell him  the ticket and they kick him out of the station. He calls me to keep me posted and claims it is because he sinned and lied to the stationmaster about not having the money. He is a “Jesus Freak” and  practically knows the bible by heart.

Of course, I know they kicked him out  because he is drunk and obnoxious. He can’t go very far. He has to urinate and sleep somewhere. He will certainly be hungry.  I realize his cell phone will soon lose battery power. He has no place to charge it. He has no extra clothing with him. It is a cold night. He doesn’t ask for me to come and get him, he just wants to tell me what happened. I  wouldn’t go anyway, because you can’t reason with a mentally impaired drunk. I’m hoping by morning,  he hasn’t been  attacked by young punks, or stabbed and left to die in the bushes, and that he has enough money left to get a ticket home.

He didn’t get home. His cell phone is by this time dead.  He doesn’t know my number by memory, or anyone else’s in the family, only from the cell. His funds are pretty limited. He doesn’t know how to program an answering machine for his land line. He hates cops because he has been arrested so many times.  The system cannot take into account that he is impaired. In Oakland,  he has been knocked over by street punks, and his bicycle stolen. The kid was arrested, Norman went to court, got his bike back and restitution. He wrote the boy a letter of forgiveness. He has been victimized by gangs who steal what meagre funds he has. All very typical.

He worked all of his life as a very competent carpenter. He should be entitled to his carpenter’s pension, but they require you to work a certain number of quarters during the year you are entitled to retire, which he did not, so his funds,  that he contributed to all of his working years, are out of reach to him.

When he first got his social security, he presented himself to a trailer park where a for rent sign board stood at the entrance. He doesn’t shave or get haircuts. He is scruffy looking. He wasn’t very clean at that point.  He asks about the rental and the woman immediately, in his presence, takes down the sign board and says, “Sorry, we are full.”

My last call to his house was at 8:30 last night.   I called again at 4 a.m. this morning and he told me he returned home at 9:30 p.m. .  I don’t know how he got there, nor what happened to him. He said it was a long story and he’ll call me later today.  I worry about him when he is disconnected to familiar territory.

I think what a waste of human potential. There was a time when he was a valued citizen of society. He owned a 280 acre farm, and a pizza parlor in South Dakota. His clinical depression and alcoholism spiraled out of control.   It is now too late. He will never be anything but a sober, polite, kindly person during the day preaching the word of Jesus.  And a mentally impaired, foul mouthed drunk after 4 P.M.

Of course, he created his own problems.  At one time family members and friends tried to help him before it got this bad. But, he wore us out too. We refused to enable him and he doesn’t expect it. We had no contact with him for about 12 years. But, for those of you who think he doesn’t deserve help and we should have no social programs to help people like Norman, studies show that helping would be cheaper than not helping. Check out this link, if you are interested. The information was gleaned from several responsible sources if you read to the bottom of the page.

A few paragraphs from their web page.

The cost of homelessness can be quite high. Hospitalization, medical treatment, incarceration, police intervention, and emergency shelter expenses can add up quickly, making homelessness surprisingly expensive for municipalities and taxpayers.

As an example, physician and health care expert Michael Siegel found that the average cost to cure an alcohol-related illness is approximately $10,660. Another study found that the average cost to California hospitals of treating a substance abuser is about $8,360 for those in treatment, and $14,740 for those who are not in treatment.

People who are homeless spend more time in jail or prison, which is tremendously costly to the state and locality. Often, time served is a result of laws specifically targeting the homeless population, including regulations against loitering, sleeping in cars, and begging.

  • According to a University of Texas two-year survey of homeless individuals, each person cost the taxpayers $14,480 per year, primarily for overnight jail.
  • A typical cost of a prison bed in a state or federal prison is $20,000 per year.

Norman doesn’t panhandle, but, I’ve been accosted by panhandlers and find it scary and uncomfortable. I feel threatened as I’m sure people feel threatened by Norman, just looking at him.

Now, it is unlikely Norman  would submit to being sheltered by the state or city. He too much enjoys going to court and tweaking with the system. He has an excellent understanding of the law. He spent a lot of time in the library studying the law whenever he came up against the system. He  usually  refuses a public defender and serves as his own attorney when he is arrested.   He  is not afraid of staying in jail. He will never plead or accept probation. He insists on a trial, which he always loses. But, the cost to the taxpayers for this crap is enormous. He simply serves his expensive time.

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Oh, if we could run the world!  Somehow, when we gather, and realize that we are just working cogs in a pyramid scheme that benefits others to live in luxury, we try and solve the problems of the world. My oldest brother is running for congress for that reason.

This is my oldest sister and my homeless brother. Much of our discussion surrounded homelessness.  All primitive cultures governed themselves . They chose leadership of some kind  meant to benefit the whole tribe, not just a few at the top. A tribe took care of  its members including the weak and sick. When they found a food supply, they shared it equally. They meted out suitable punishment to those who offended.

While many groups try to do something about the “homeless problem”, our laws and our police at every level treat the homeless as though it is against the law to be homeless. Norman worked all of his life as a carpenter; he contributed and paid taxes.  Somewhat late in life, he began drinking. He is an alcoholic and he smokes marijuana. He has never been arrested for any thing but  drunkenness, possession of marijuana,  and trespassing.  He doesn’t steal. He has never been violent. He carries a bible wherever he goes. He is what some of us like to term a “Jesus Freak”. When Norman first became homeless, seventeen years ago, he protested that a person like him, in our society, cannot legally occupy a place on the planet. He cannot sleep anywhere because he has no home. He cannot use public restrooms, they are for customers only. It is quite draconian that because he is so powerless, the police can  treat him any way they choose.

He has two suits against the Sheriffs Office for false arrest. He has been falsely hauled away from two properties where he had had permission to stay.  I’ll relate those stories to you another time.

He has (hopefully) a superficial skin cancer. He also had a stroke four years ago, for which he received no treatment. He suffers a lot of pain and cannot walk or stand on his feet for a lengthy period.  His latest arrest, was  for trespassing on “public” property.  He was sleeping in the bushes on property owned by Cal Trans.  When you go to jail, they suspend your medical, they take away your social security and when they dump you back out on the street, you have to re-apply for your benefits and wait for them all over again which can take months.   You cannot get your social security unless you have a physical address. You cannot pay for a post office box to receive your check.  Since he was kicked off the Ca-Trans property, the cancer tripled in size. The nurse in the jail looked at his head and wanted nothing to do with that problem.  A homeless advocate got him an appointment to have the cancer removed on the 14th of January.  When he tried to get an appointment at Highland Hospital on his own,  his wait time to be examined was six months.

I love my brother. I believe he made poor choices about his life to get into such a downward spiral. All of us at one time or another have tried to “help” him. He doesn’t want our handouts. He receives social security of about $800 a month.   (I’ll revisit this subject again.)


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I received two inspirational messages, one from a self described #1 fan of mine by the name of Jerry McClellan, and the other from an old friend, retired Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy, Ron Heinsma. And, I continually admire the wit and wisdom of my gypsy friend, Randy Vining.

Methinks people don’t like to be reminded of the homeless among us or those imprisoned. It sets up a bit of guilt we’d just as soon avoid. I should know, I have a homeless brother who is 62 years old. He’s been in and out of jail. He worked as a carpenter all of his life until he had a stroke.

At a doctor’s appointment in Sacramento, Friday, I walked by three homeless guys with their baggage and a shopping cart. They didn’t ask for money, but I avoided eye contact with them just in case they would.  I don’t feel safe, stopping, opening my purse in front of three obviously needy men. But it struck me that among themselves, all caught in similar circumstances, was a small community. They clung together, eating their breakfast of sweet rolls and coffee on the steps of a closed building.

My friend, Randy Vining, engages homeless people on a regular basis in his full time gypsy lifestyle. He states, and I concur, “It is a self-righteous and hateful spitefulness that… denies… minimal comforts to our fellow human beings. Needless suffering is a scandal to all who allow it.”
He makes that claim after speaking to the manager of a Mission in Eugene, Oregon that provides a secure locker, a day room to lounge and watch TV, with free magazines, haircuts, showers, food and a bed. The manager claims it costs a pittance to serve the homeless.

In my view, even if just the locker, showers and haircuts were supplied, it would provide a bit of dignity and hope to those looking to better themselves, or get a job, or a chance to volunteer to help others, or just relief from the downturns of life, whatever the cause.
Our cities and counties have the capacity to organize this community into a contributing group.  Don’t each one of us have an inalienable right to place our weary bones on a section of earth without being chased away, no matter our circumstances?
People given a chance to contribute, can and will.  Please take a couple of minutes to watch the video Ron Heinsma sent me:

Many years back,  someone suggested building rudimentary street shelters and French style street toilets in San Francisco to help out the homeless.The powers that be decided the shelters looked too much like dog houses, “embarrassing”. The French style street toilets, a few anyway, did happen, if you have the change. Not free.

But, consider this bit of the milk of human kindness that operates under the radar, a heartwarming story sent to me by Jerry McClellan:
Certainly if we have the capacity to provide businesses the means to earn billions, we should have the wherewithal to provide dignity to those who can no longer contribute. It is truly a scandal for a country as wealthy as ours to have people, including children, go hungry. And, to disenfranchise so many locked in jail, a wasted potential.

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My partner Jim, and Ned Bedinger, struck a deal. Ned gets Panama Or Bust and we found a new friend. It made for an auspicious day when Jim sold his rig. It was actually more than a rig, it was his home for nine years. And, not without some emotion about letting go, he said: “I’m homeless!” I understand the feeling. I too was temporarily homeless at one time.
Later this morning, I have guests from Hardwood, Michigan arriving.
I’ve blogged about them before, but just for an update, let me explain why this unusual group of visitors are headed my way.
My house burned to the ground in 1946 or 47. My mother was left with the clothes on her back but without shoes on her feet. My dad was cutting pulp for the paper mills and the house was consumed before he was able to reach it. My older brother, sister, and I were in school when it burned. Two younger brothers were home with my mom. No one was injured in the fire.
It was catastrophic to have the school bus driver leave us at the crossroads that day with nothing but a spiral of smoke to go home to.
In rural Hardwood, our closest neighbor, the Robinson family, was adjacent to the bus stop. In the opposite direction, about 1/4 mile away, was the Cousineau farm.
My two chums, Pat Robinson and Bernice Cousineau were at the bus stop with us. We spent that first homeless night with the Cousineau family.
With no house, we moved to a friend’s camp, then a very tiny house with a renovated chicken coop that served as a boys bedroom. Within a few weeks we moved out of Hardwood to Iron Mountain where my dad got a job at the Ford Plant.
Except for one brief encounter, I never saw my childhood friends, Pat and Bernice again.
Today, after a lapse of over 60 years, Pat Robinson Whitfield, and her husband Richard; Bernice Cousineau Patrick and her sister Marie Cousineau Gaber will arrive at Sacramento Airport for there first visit to California. We had had no contact over these intervening years until a phone call out of the blue last year. I was amazed they managed to run me down after so many years.
Every picture our family had was burned in that fire. They’ve promised to bring some photos. Old friends found. You will meet them on this page as we renew a lifetime of changes in the weeks ahead. Homelessness and friendship is something you never forget.
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