I have failed in my efforts to help my homeless friend Kelso. Since early December I have been meeting with Kelso and will continue to meet with him, but other than providing friendship and support I have been unable to help him move towards a life off the streets. While Kelso has remained obstinate many great and wonderful things have happened around my efforts, including writing an unpublished book about the experience: it’s hard to publish something you don’t submit for consideration.
Spending time with Kelso I made an acquaintance with Steve who was also homeless and regularly working out at the Beach Park next to Terrapin Crossroads. Steve saw what I was trying to do for Kelso and when an opportunity presented itself for Steve to get into a sober living house I helped him out. Since then Steve’s life has completely turned around. I encouraged him to join the Downtown Streets Team and he is now one of three permanent members of the team helping the Farmer’s Market on Thursday evenings. Steve has work to do, but he remains sober and continues to make advancements in his life. Being part of Steve’s life has been a blessing.
Talking with San Rafael homeless advocate Scott Urquhart and the Downtown Streets Team we were discussing the power of Facebook in connecting people and I decided to launch https://www.facebook.com/MarinHomelessFaces. Through the webpage and a blossoming community I’ve been garnering support for our local homeless people. We’ve done things like get furniture for a previously homeless vet when a place became available for him. We’ve been putting on a bike drive and getting bikes to Downtown Streets Team members to literally take them places in life.
Each week I’ve been meeting with members of the Downtown Streets Team and photographer Ron Greene. Ron’s been taking pictures and I’ve been interviewing team members for the webpage. These people are battling their circumstances of homelessness and precarious housing. They defy the hopeless homeless stereotypes. I’ve met people who have suffered personal tragedies that have led to their situations, like the death of a spouse or surviving and fleeing from domestic abuse. People who have had successful careers and then been downsized. It’s scary to think about because I see myself in so many of these people.
While housed citizens have been jumping in and helping and becoming aware of these individual plights, the efforts have come under an umbrella that I’ve dubbed ‘The Homeless and Precarious Faces Project’. We have been gaining a reputation with the people that need our help the most. They know that there is a community of people who are ready to help, and not everyone indoors has given up on them. This is of paramount importance because so often when down and out people suffer from self-doubt and need others to believe in and offer support for them. We engage, listen, don’t judge and when people are ready we are there to help.
Just yesterday I was talking with one of Kelso’s homeless friends. She told me she wants to get indoors, is ready for a sober living environment but unsure of her next step. I hustled back to my office and got her information on TLC Residential which I think is perfect for her. She seemed excited about the prospect and I directly hooked her up with the guy who places new people in the program. She just might take that step out of the back of her car and into a house and supportive program!
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been failing with Kelso. I really don’t know how long I’ll be able to effectively manage this project which seems very worthwhile. There are a few things that I am hoping for in the immediate future. First off I’d love to grow the number of people who like the Facebook page, which is now at 250. A similar Facebook page, Homeless in Seattle has close to 10,000 likes. With as much as I’ve accomplished in a short time with 250 likes, imagine what we could do with 40 times that number of people involved in doing good things locally!
I’d also like to see more people like myself who are not professional social workers expressing concern for individual homeless people in person. It really doesn’t have to take much time, and it can be just talking to a homeless person that is regularly passed in the street on the way to work. That’s how I ended up becoming involved with my friend Brenda 20 years ago. Doctors didn’t think she would survive more than a few more months in the streets when she finally agreed to try going inside. A once homeless veteran she is still alive in San Francisco and bringing smiles to the people around her.There is hope for the homeless. There is a way inside, and it’s a lot easier when individuals and an entire community are pulling behind you.