Monday, November 20, 2006

forty eight

Every year I attend a funeral for the homeless who've died on the streets in our county. Every year the names are compiled of those who've died and it allows their friends, family if any, and the community to witness their passing and offer them some small grace.

This year I knew several of the forty eight folks who died, one whom I've paid tribute to already, and others who I knew less well, but mourn them just the same. Like the woman whose body was found on the conveyor belt of our local refuse plant, where she'd landed after her body had been carelessly tossed into a dumpster and unwittingly delivered, or the woman who died in the streets and left her husband alone, to weep today at what will be the only official tribute to her life. The morgue is full of unclaimed bodies, for even those who'd like to cannot afford to bury them, and so they sit.

It's always bittersweet because while I appreciate the acknowledgement of those we've lost, I can't help but wonder what this winter will hold in store for others. The nights are getting colder, the first rain is already upon us, and the medical system cannot keep the ones without insurance unless their condition absolutely mandates it, so the sick and dying are left to wander.

And then I wonder what it's going to really take to force our local and national governments to sit up and take notice. The horror of Katrina and it's aftermath certainly didn't - I was involved in resettlement for about 200 refugees that were displaced and sent across the country on greyhound buses so I got to see the bureaucracy that folks had to suffer through, and how it took a very long time and a lot of bullshit to get folks rehoused. And that was just a small piece of the total that were rendered (and still are) homeless.

I wonder how many more names I will hear read while we continue to fail those who need it the most because it is unsavory economically to do something about it.

Rest in peace.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jen, I think we just have to continue to give, help, and facilitate where we can. If we can give a life line to someone who is grasping at the edge of society then we are giving hope. I have been thinking about this a lot especially where it comes to one person who flits in and out of my life. You've encouraged me to post about it!

Anonymous said...

Jen, just this. This post, the last (J-Dog) post, and all the other posts leading up to them--I simply love your blog.

Anonymous said...

Jen, with all the different minds, all the different approaches and all the different wisdom around, it would seem this is a problen that could be solved. Well, it could be solved. The correct word is "would". It has to be a national priority. My solutions tend to be political, while people like you are in the trenches doing the work of daily helping. It's my firm belief that we can not consider ourselves as civilized until something is done about it. Each time people go to the voting booth, they establish priorities. It is time to start demanding a solution. When CEOs of major corporations can buy jaguars and send their kids to Harvard, we know the money is out there. It's just a question of allocation.

Thank you for doing this work, for being there, being steadfast and never giving up ~ for always caring, no matter what the cost is to you personally in terms of energy and emotion. I bow to you. (virtual wai)

Peace,


~Chani

Anonymous said...

Over the years, I have watched the Vancouver streets fill up with more and more people in need of help.

And nothing gets done. Our latest goomba mayor now wants us all to dip into our pockes to fix it instead of the city doing anything.

Being that that has pretty much been the ONLY help the homeless have gotten around here... I can see nothing will change until the bring in cops to clear the streets for the Olympics.

Budgets for all the centres, for rehab, mental health, etc have been slashed. They keep cutting social housing...this is housing for the really poor AND those who can barely afford to feed their families.

The foodbanks can barely keep up.

Something has to change.

I worked for a Business Improvement Association and the pan handling was a huge issue....but we still felt that the regulars 'deserved' to be there and we did everything to help them and protect them and this was fine with the local merchants.

But we had to hire security because it was and is getting really bad and unsafe for people to walk the streets.

But my boss worked her butt off trying to find homes and help for our resident street people. She was constantly harrassing city hall and bringing them down for walkabouts and so on.

We felt so defeated when we lost a few of them.

One was hit by a car.

acumamakiki said...

I love reading your words Jen, because you always make me think. There is so much wrong with our country socially, it sickens me. And the system is so caught up on top of its self that it appears impossible to change.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Rest in peace indeed.

Jen, I know you didn't write this so people will applaud you for who you are and what you do, but I can't help but applaud you, and sit here quietly in awe. You are amazing, and you inspire me (and others who read you, I'm sure) to reach out and do something, anything, to make a difference. As you do.

Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Penny said...

Twenty-five years ago, our family owned a second hand bookstore on the strip. One of the homeless men used to pick bottles from our back alley garbages and sometimes come in, stinking and dirty, to buy a book.

I remember that one morning when a street friend of his came into the store to tell us that he'd died.

My father had a moment of quiet for him and then offered his condolences which led to a discussion of how this man had lived and how he'd come to live that way and how sad it was that he'd had to die.

The friend smiled and said, "Don't feel sorry for him," and then, informed us, "Bill man was made of money. He just prefered not to spend any of it. He's got something like a million dollars going to his brothers now."

But, it did make us feel bad. Because his homelessness wasn't about the money, though for many it is, it wasn't some myth about misguided iconoclastic visions and personal choice.

For him, it was about schitzophrenia.

And, it was, in part, because he was a childless, old man and the only people that helped childless old men back then were the ones at the Salvation Army, which at times, fed him his soup.

He was a kind smile on a street where many were angry, cruel, mean, felt hopeless and who like him searched dumpsters for food or sold their bodies.

But, his life was hard, and his mind was his enemy and when he was cold in the thirty below winters of our streets, his money couldn't help, but our open door to that store did.

And there he often stood, on the mat, winking his thanks, melting and dripping, a future ghost reminding us not to forget to never shut the door.

You do good things, Jen.

God Be With You.

Mommy off the Record said...

I didn't know there were funerals for homeless people. That is wonderful that you attend. I think that it's really shameful that in a country as rich as ours, we can't provide shelter and social services for our homeless. I don't do much, but I do give to our local food bank every month. I know it doesn't solve the systemic problem, but it makes me feel like I'm helping a little bit even if it's a drop in the bucket.

Anonymous said...

I've lost all faith in our local and national governments to do anything about the plight of the homeless. They spend more time trying to move them out of the public's sight than they do trying to help them.

Which means it falls to private organizations and people like you to make a difference. Thank you for continuing to speak out for them.

Anonymous said...

I don't think our government is able to grasp the many reasons why people are homeless and how to help them. And I agree the only reason shelters are even considered is so that they can be kept out of sight.

Again, kudos to you Jen, for continuing to speak out.

Deezee said...

I think you're ready to speak to Congress, and I'm not kidding. Really. Your words on this matter are the most heartfelt and eloquent I've encountered.

meno said...

This made me think of the recent news article about Kaiser Permanente (sp?) where they put an ill person with no insurance into a taxi-cab in her hospital gown and dumped her in the street. That's really a death sentence. She might be another name on your list, in a different town.

scribbit said...

Now that winter is here I ache for the homeless on the streets all around downtown Anchorage. Alaska has got to be the toughest place to be homeless. Well maybe there are tougher places as Anchorage does have shelters that are run by good and caring people but it's still no picnic. Sometimes when I'm pulling into my heated garage on a particularly cold night I can't help but think about those who aren't so lucky out there . . .

crazymumma said...

Prayers to all. And to all some warmth, some food, and above all, dignity. Thanks Jen.

Anonymous said...

mmm...i run into this a lot as well, the economics of it all in the non profit sector. when will people stop seeing life as a comodity?

Anonymous said...

All I'm going to say is that there needs to be an uprising in this country. If I don't stop there, I could be writing for two days.

And Jen - you're heart is the purest of the pure.

KC said...

Jen, I had to discharge someone today from the hospital who had no where to go. He was medically stable but wanted to stay. This is the least satisfying part of my job. It's against being a doctor, of helping others, of doing no harm.

I wish I could tell you, tell everyone, that this is a rare occurrence.

flutter said...

the government is incapable of changing this. Always has been, always will be. To be blunt, it sucks.

People like you, however, are what make the difference in these people's lives. Bless you.

you da mom! said...

Every time it rains and when the weather really starts to get cold, I think about the people on the streets. I pray that they find shelter and realize, AGAIN, how fortunate I am! I love this time of year, but I also worry about those who are living in wet cardboard boxes. Even when I was homeless, I never spent a night on the street. I stole money and sold drugs to pay for hotel rooms. I can't imagine having to sleep on the cold, hard concrete in freezing temperatures. God Bless those who do...

Haley-O said...

You are so kind-hearted. I'm so moved and saddened by this wonderful post....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all that you do to help ease the pain of those in need and for opening my eyes with your thoughts.

lildb said...

I want to, but I just can't. it's too hard.

I'm sorry, Jen.

min said...

Once again, you've hit a deep severed nerve within me. My children's father is decaying on the streets. He was a fine middle class wage earner, until drugs and alcohol began to matter more to him than we did. His addictions grabbed hold and whisked him away into another life. I cringe at every shaggy homeless figure, hoping he won't turn around, hoping to not hear the words from the backseat, "Hey, there's dad!!" I helped him too often. I helped him until he drained me dry financial, physically and emotionally. There's nothing I can do now, but wait and hope for his sake and safety that he's arrested and cared for. If the arrest warrants finally catch up to him, I will not post his bail and I will not be there beside him, but the one last thing that I've promised I will not deny him, is a proper burial.

Lillithmother said...

I never saw poverty and homelessness until I lived in Toronto. It hit me so hard...that I had lived such a sheltered life, such a gifted life...while others suffer unwillingly.

Yes, there goes us but the grace of God/dess...She put us here for another reason...to help those who can't help themselves.

Peace of heart dear sister,
Lil

Momish said...

You are too kind a person to suffer so much. My heart goes out to you and to every one of the souls behind those names. I pray someday soon you will not have to endure such a sad event.
Peace to you!