Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cold Weather Unites Community

by Marc Jolin

This past week was the first serious cold snap of the year and it brought supporters out in large numbers to assist those sleeping on our streets. Thank you so much for responding to our call for donations of blankets, sleeping bags, hats, gloves, socks, and tarps.

You brought us hundreds of items, and out outreach team put in long hours getting those items out to people sleeping outside throughout the city. The outreach workers also transported dozens of people to the emergency shelters that opened during the sever weather, and worked to ensure that people who couldn't care for themselves were brought to safety.

Just one example of the people you helped: on Sunday, the severe cold had passed but the cold rain had started. The Red Cross shelter at the Portland Foursquare Church had closed. JOIN took a car load of your donated sleeping bags, jackets, and tarps and parked outside the Foursquare to catch anyone who didn't know the shelter was closed and didn't have gear to get through the night sleeping outside.

Among the dozen or so people who we saw that night was a man who had just been discharged from the hospital. He arrived on Trimet with just a thin jacket, shirt, pants and tennis shoes. His initial response upon learning of the shelter's closure was despair.

Because of your donations, we were able to give him a warm coat, a tarp, a new sleeping bag, a hat, a sleeping pad, and gloves. We also gave him a bus ticket and directions to a shelter that we hoped might have room for him.

That night we also were able to provide gear to two single women, a couple, and several additional men, none of whom would otherwise have been prepared to sleep outside. And over the course of the week you helped us help hundreds more like them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stir fry with a friend

Four years ago when I started volunteering at JOIN, I met many interesting people at the day center, aka "the house". Some people I saw once or twice and some I saw everyday. Many of the regulars I got to know well, and when I left for college I stayed in touch with many of them. In the past when I only worked in the day center, when someone transitioned into housing I generally did not see them very often afterward, if at all. Now I spend the majority of my time visiting folks and helping out the retention team. It is wonderful getting to see people who I've known for several years transition from outside to inside in housing. Instead of seeing them at the day center, I get to sit on their couch and chat with them in their own place.

I have the opportunity and pleasure to visit one of the people who I have known for awhile but had lost contact with. One of the retention workers mentioned that this guy could benefit from some more visiting. I didn't recognize his last name so I thought it was someone I hadn't met yet, but when he came into JOIN and Steve introduced us, I recognized him immediately and was so glad to see him again after having not seen him for a long time. Shortly thereafter I started visiting him at his home weekly. I often spend about an hour and half to two hours hanging around and chatting with him, sometimes going on walks in his neighborhood or grabbing coffee nearby. I love visiting him, he is such a kind hearted good soul, it never feels like work when I visit him.
He is currently struggling with depression and the past few weeks were really hard on him, so I wanted to do something special with him to cheer him up a bit. After finding out he likes stir frys, we set a date to cook stir fry for dinner together. So yesterday my boyfriend (whom he had mentioned he wanted to meet) and I headed over to his place with our share of the ingredients. Within five minutes he and my boyfriend were chatting it up and getting along wonderfully. As I was slicing the peppers while watching them talk, I jut had to smile to myself. It was so wonderful to see him sitting in his own home rather than outside and at the JOIN day center. It makes me so happy to know I have been able to create such a strong relationship with this guy and to know that he trusts me as much as he does. Because of JOIN's encouragement and support I have been able to build this close relationship with him.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Volunteer of the Month: Debbie Stewart

Beth was homeless for over 4 years when she decided to get clean and find housing. Through her methadone program, Beth and her partner were able to find a subsidized apartment. Beth and Ed had a long-term relationship with one of JOIN's Outreach Workers, and when they were ready to move inside, JOIN helped pay the deposit and other move-in fees. After an 8 year battle, Beth's SSI claim was finally approved last April, giving her a monthly income and allowing her to be financially self-sufficient.

Steve, Beth's Retention Worker at JOIN, encouraged Beth to get involved with some of the community-building activities and events that JOIN offers. Beth came to Sunset Presbyterian's monthly dinner where she met Debbie, a member of the church who was interested in volunteering with JOIN. Steve asked Debbie if she would be interested in becoming a "friendly visitor," visiting Beth in her home and supporting her transition to stability. Debbie and Beth both agreed to meet.

Debbie realized that she and Beth were going to hit it off, despite their different backgrounds, on one of their first visits: "We seem to enjoy a similar quirky sense of humor. I think I knew this first when she was telling me about her habit of chewing ice. She was telling me once about going through a couple of 5 pound bags of ice every couple of days. I said very seriously, 'You know that chewing ice is really bad for your teeth?' She looks at me with her nearly toothless grin and says, 'I'll remember that!' And we both cracked up. It was a moment that for some people might have been awkward for one or both of us but instead we both saw the ridiculousness of it."

Soon after Debbie started visiting Beth, Beth's partner Ed passed away. Debbie was one of the first people Beth called when she found Ed in their apartment. Debbie was and continues to be "grateful for Beth's trust in me and being willing to share something so personal." The two women soon grew close and for almost a year now spend every Tuesday together. This kind of friendship is new for Beth, she says, "I've never really had anybody in my life besides my significant other. I learned that I need other people too." Beth received a large back payment from social security when her claim was approved, and was intimidated by having to manage money for the first time in her life. Debbie is helping Beth learn to budget, advising her on when it's appropriate to "splurge" and when she should spend wisely.

Beth and Debbie start every Tuesday morning at the coffee shop near Beth's apartment, and decide what the day will hold. They do a variety of things including visits to the Rose Garden, manicures, and shopping. Beth says that Debbie is a great listener--"I can talk to her and open up to her. She hangs on to every word I say and really listens. If there's something I don't know I can ask her and she will get on the internet and look it up!" Both women express how grateful they are for the friendship, and how much they both have learned from each other. Beth said, "I would never give her up, she is worth millions."

Thank you Debbie for your dedication to Beth and JOIN. People like you help make it possible for formerly homeless individuals to permanently break the cycle of homelessness and find strong, vibrant, and supportive communities.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Haircutting Day at JOIN!

Ginger and Amanda, two stylists from Regis Salon, generously donated their day off to provide haircuts for friends at JOIN. They were here for 5 hours and did almost 30 cuts! Ginger and Amanda plan to organize their friends and co-workers to provide a day of haircuts each month at JOIN. Thank you so much! To view more photos from the day, became our fan on facebook and view the album. Just click here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

saying goodbye to JOIN in the language of cards.

By Malcolm White, Immersion Coordinator

My last day at JOIN was on Friday. As a Jesuit Volunteer, I am only on contract for one calendar year, so August approached like the witching hour in my last weeks at JOIN. I buried the idea of leaving for a while under the frantic list of overdue tasks following the Portland Plunge, my biggest event of the year in late June. Yet, no matter how I resisted, the days of July melted away in the 100+ degree heat until only one remained, and I reluctantly told folks that if these silly goodbyes were to happen, now would have to be the time.

The day dawned with anticipation and chaos for me; quite typical of any JOIN landscape. Like a graduation of sorts, I felt the pressure to set up food and festivities for visitors to come in order to meet my final high expectations. In the end, nothing quite worked that way and yet it was perfect all the same....

JOIN can seem like a foreign land with its own language upon first visit. The chaos of the House seems unintelligible, and for the brand new employee watching his brilliant co-workers easily swim through the currents of confusion, one had to wonder "can I do this?" So on that stupified first day long ago, I finally recognized some familiar lingo coming from the cribbage table corner. I'd been playing the card game for 15 years, so while I'd maybe struggled interacting with people earlier that day, I felt welcome in an enironment where diamonds and clubs were the language of the day rather than social work dialects. I met Jake, the self-proclaimed "Captain Crib" that day, along with a few others, and friendships were formed around the knowledge that even if I had no clue about how to write you a laundry voucher, I would be able to at least lose (and occasionally win) at cribbage with you....

...Fast forward back to July 31. The afternoon of my final day was waning, and Jake and the other usual players hounded me about getting in my last games with them. By this point I was adroit at writing laundry vouchers and felt like I could carry that same swagger at the card table. After Jake thrashed my predecessor, I sat down in front of this 350 pound man and said "I'm not that easy to beat."

I have never quite been so incorrect. Josh easily dispatched me in a quick game and then, being a generous soul, gave up his spot in the winner's seat to allow me my final games with other rivals. One after one they came, one after one they left victorious. When the smoke cleared, I had lost 4 straight in a card game whose language I spoke fluently. Oddly enough though, it was a reverse situation to my earliest days: while I apparently could not play a good hand of cards to save me from drowning, I laughed and joked with each of my opponents easily throughout the fiasco. I finally stood up from the table not upset at my humble 0-4 record, but rather grateful to have known and spent the year with Jake and each of the smiling gentlemen who had so capably administered my losses.

As the door finally closed and I gave my last hug and told my last inside joke, I relaized I spoke the language of JOIN with ease. But as with any language, steady practice is the only thing that keeps one adept, so as I venture back to the East Coast I know that I will slowly lose the fluency I so happily earned through countless hours of cribbage and chaos. And I will miss it. I think that one day in the future, when I finally do manage to beat my next opponent in cribbage, I'll look back and only wish that I could lose 4 straight again...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chronic Funny Business Syndrome

by Bill Boyd

My friend Don passed away in his home a few months back, 2 weeks shy of his 60th birthday.

Don was one of the most colorful people I had met at JOIN. I met Don in inner southeast Portland in late 2004, and it took the better part of 6 months before he trusted my intent on offering him a way off the streets. He was successful in finding a studio apartment in mid 2005.

On the exterior, Don was a tough person to be with - he was usually drinking, often angry and always quick with a complaint. But as time and mutual persistence played its role, his true nature began to emerge. He had a sharp wit, a passion about science and technology, and a love of late night talk radio. Plus, he was an inspired harmonica player, and would share many of the old time classics, as well as some original tunes.

Don had a tough upbringing, and he developed many methods to protect himself. His efforts to hide his vulnerability often resulted in isolation. But during his 3+ years in housing, we became true friends. Granted, I had to be his social worker on occasion to help keep his housing intact, but he'd rather tell me the latest jokes than discuss ways to keep his landlord happy. He always summarized his willingness to abide by the rules: "I'll do anything within reason. My reason."

He loved to self-diagnose his condition, which he labeled CFBS - Chronic Funny Business Syndrome (with an emphasis on the BS). Some of the symptoms of CFBS included an insessent fascination with the trivial, endless tinkering with dead electronic equipment, ruminating over an embellishment of his last joke, and an idolization of both Alfred E Newman and Albert Einstein.

Time went on, and his love of wine and disdain of compliance with mainstream norms of cleanliness began to take their toll. His landlord began issuing the "clean up or pack up" ultimatums, which Don ignored. I knew his time in housing was coming to an end.

After two days of knocking on his door with no response, I pushed it open. He must have been on his floor for a few days. I couldn't get myself to look at his face - death is not something I handle well. The police were the first to arrive. I know their job probably demands the development of a grim sense of humor, but I found their disparaging comments about Don and his situation both insensitive and dehumanizing. I kept quiet. The medical examiner was more compassionate about the situation. He said that it was unlikely that an autopsy would be done, since there was no foul play. Since Don didn't have any extended family, his passing would go unnoticed by society... no death announcement, no burial stone, no recognition of his time with us in this life.

I guess this blog will have to suffice. I think of Don often.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

JOIN's Future Home

We are slowly crafting a shared vision and plan for JOIN's future home at 1435 NE 81st Ave. The design so far has been sculpted from the suggestions and ideas of JOIN's Board of Directors, Staff, and most importantly the people JOIN serves. The ideas are functional in nature in our effort to deliver services. However, like everything that JOIN does, there is a strong set of values behind them with the goal of incorporating practical and sustainability principles. Our architects Doug Circosta and Saj Jivanjee have done a masterful job in hearing and articulating these ideas through drawings. We appreciate their patiences with us.

The implementation of those ideas has begun with some of the same people that created them through dismantling the inside of the building. As one of JOIN's partners said to me, 'This isn't demolition, it's deconstruction.' He was correct. Our demo process is really a deconstruction process. We are recycling or reusing the majority of materials that are coming out of the building. The vast majority of the work is being done by volunteers--105 volunteers' hours so far. We have had employees from Tazo Tea, members from Sunset Presbyterian Church, the JOIN staff, and several of the people JOIN serves.

We have reclaimed roughly:

17 sheets of sheetrock
16 sheets of plywood
280 feet of insulation
11 doors
2 windows
56 metal studs
27 wood studs
47 feet conduit
several pounds of screws

We are recycling the metal and old sheetrock that cannot be used. All the work being done is under the watchful eye of Stewart March, our general contractor. Stewart brings his own experience and passion for sustainable creations. We will keep you updated on our progress as the summer unfolds.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I love the Greeks!

by Annie Jesperson, Retention Worker

For my first blog entry ever how could I not write about one of my favorite topics of all time: the GREEKS (the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church community)!! A group of about 15 people from Holy Trinity started a Greek cooking class for folks JOIN has helped into housing, as a way to promote health and build community. They initially organized a series of six cooking classes for 12 newly housed individuals, during which Greek restaurant owners would provide the food for hands-on cooking demonstrations. After each class, the participants and the parishioners ate the meal they taught us to cook and sent folks away with supplies to make the meal again at home. It was an incredible time for everyone involved (as demonstrated by almost perfect attendance for all the classes, which is unheard of for the majority of JOIN events, as people's lives are super unpredictable).

It all sounds a bit wild, doesn't it? Folks who had recently moved off the streets teaming up weekly with Greek Orthodox parishioners for Greek cooking and friendship? It was wild brilliance. Pure beautiful brilliance.

Nobody was willing to say goodbye to the relationships that were formed in those six weeks. After that first round of classes, the parishioners hosted four reunion dinners (including a special Christmas party at a Greek restaurant's banquet hall), some of them shared Christmas day with the JOIN folks who didn't have family to be with for the holidays, three of the women from Trinity attended a JOIN woman's child's birthday party, and continue to regularly support her, they provided the whole JOIN crew with free tickets to the hugely popular 3 day Greek festival, and, and, and...there's way too much generosity to report in one blog!

The Greeks have now completed their second six-week set of classes to which they invited ALL the JOIN folks who participated in the first round (AND THEY ALL TOOK THE CLASSES AGAIN)!! They also added slots to the class to bring five new fortunate people into the joy-filled fold. The Holy Trinity group is already planning round three for the fall of 2009, during which they plan on helping participants gain their food handlers card and other special cooking related certifications to help folks in their pursuit to find work. In a recent cooking class feedback meeting, Darius said what he liked most about the class were the people. Mik appreciated how the parishioners treated him like a human being. Theo, a JOIN participant, echoed these sentiments and said he most valued the fellowship that was a part of every night of this experience. Oh, how I love THE GREEKS!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A brief story about a JOIN peep, by Quinn Colling

I first met Eamon in the fall. I saw him randomly around the west side of town, camped wherever he would be left alone. Eamon really did not want anything to do with me. I offered him a few blankets or whatever I had with me, but he usually responded "thanks, I'm fine".

As an outreach worker, you soon learn that, with a little patient persistence , a relationship of trust will begin to develop. Eamon, after a few months of hellos and goodbye, decided that he would share a bit of his life story. He came from a middle class family and claimed he had a fairly normal upbringing. Some of his family members had a gambling addiction,which made money tight and the tension high as he entered his teenage years. This led to a separate life outside of his house which sometimes clashed with the law. At age 18, Eamon faced some legal difficulties and spent his early 20's incarcerated. After his release, Eamon went to school, worked as a technician, and supported his family. He maintained a stable life until a divorce from his wife caused a severe depression and a manageable drug habit out to grow out of control. Eamon could not kick the depression and found himself without a job or a home.

For the next seven years, Eamon moved across the continent. (At one point, he was homeless and sleeping outside in the Manitoba provence of Canada). He lived on the streets or with anyone that would let him sleep in their home. He worked odd jobs, barley scraping a living together. Eamon admitted that a few times he tried to get off the streets, but without any success. "Really", he stated, "I gave up on life long ago." Eamon and I spoke for a while longer that night and I told him if he was interested in housing that he should come see me at the office. The day arrived that I was supposed to see Eamon, but he did not show up. I spent the next two weeks looking for Eamon at various camping spots and did not find him. I assumed that he moved to a different town.

I was wrong. One month later, Eamon came to see me at the office. It was a shock to see a healthy, cleanly shaved and smiling Eamon standing in front of me. It turns out that he almost died and had been in the hospital. Some of his organs are failing and he ended up in a coma for over a week. He had been clean for a month and wanted to take me up on my offer.

Eamon moved into housing three weeks later. He has been clean for over five months and housed for three. His health has its up and downs, but that is not stopping him from starting a new life. He is in the process of applying for social security and he volunteers twice a week for various agencies. Eamon has even decided to go back to school. A technical college recently accepted his application and in four years he will receive a bachelors degree. He is currently applying for scholarships and trying to make sense of the student aid process. It will cost quite a bit of money, but he states that it is worth it. He tells me "Quinn, life is worth living and I will make this happen". I believe he will.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Congratulations, Marc!

JOIN's fearless leader won the Lowenstein Trust Award for his extraordinary contribution to our community. Check it out:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Immersion Retreat- A glimpse into being homeless in Portland

Immersion Retreat- A glimpse into being homeless in Portland
by Rico Micallef

My son John is being confirmed this year at St. Anthony’s in Tigard. Kathy Fedr is the youth minister in charge of the program. The kids need to perform service hours for confirmation. As part of the service hours, Kathy makes available a variety of programs to give the kids the opportunity to perform these service hours. One of the programs is an “Immersion Retreat” with JOIN. JOIN is a Portland based outreach program whose mission is to make connections with homeless people and help them transition into housing. Kathy told me about the program. I thought it sounded like a great program, and a way to gain insight into a world that I really knew very little about. In fact I thought the program would be a great experience for me and my kids, Maria (13), John (14) and Megan (16); my oldest Amy is away at University of Oregon so she did not participate. My goal was to gain understanding and insight and hopefully through that gain compassion for a lifestyle that I fortunately have never had to experience. So the kids and I, along with Kathy Fedr, Gabe and Katie, (two other confirmation students) headed down to JOIN for the immersion on Friday Jan 16. We arrived at JOIN at about 7:30pm, and were met by Malcolm; a 24 year old man whose enthusiasm to help was quite infectious. Malcolm’s sense of duty and willingness to help is very inspiring, this is a man that clearly feels guilty that he gets to leave the world of the homeless and curl up in his bed each night.

The evening started with a discussion of what our expectations and thoughts about homelessness were. That evening we slept in sleeping bags on the floor. We awoke the next day at 6am, and took the bus to the Blanchet House for breakfast. Blanchet House is in Old Town and serves 3 meals a day, 6 days a week. They serve 41 guests at a time, but still manage to provide an astonishing 26,000 meals a month! We broke up into groups of two, and got in line; once we entered we were given a fork and satdown at table. We were immediately given a plate with 2 pieces of French toast, a ¼ of a grapefruit and half a bagel. In addition there was a thermos of hot chocolate, peanut butter and syrup on the table. This was a perfect way to warm up on what was a beautiful but cold January morning. Maria (my youngest) and I were paired together and we sat down by two gentlemen. The one on my right was a machinist who was out of work; he was well spoken and talked about the difficulty in finding employment. He was inside (i.e. he had a home). The gentleman on my left was difficult to understand, all his belongings were in a large black garbage bag. He took considerable interest in Maria and me and was very concerned for our well-being. Although I told them both that we were here with JOIN, they did not understand that we were in a sense, “visitors”. They did not pass judgment on us, did not look at us and see that our clothes were in better condition then theirs; they simply assumed we were in dire straights and were now in a similar predicament as they were. I am a coffee drinker, and I HAVE to have my morning cup of coffee. I asked about coffee, there was none, that morning they were serving hot chocolate. I poured a cup of hot chocolate. Well, the gentlemen on left got up, went to his bag and returned with a jar of instant coffee, and proceeded to share with me. Once I finished my cup of hot chocolate he called someone over and got me a cup of hot water and made me a cup of instant coffee! I was taken back, this man who had so little would so willingly share with me. After all, he did not know me from Adam, had no idea what my story was, just that I, like him, was at Blanchet House this cold morning for breakfast. Well, his generosity did not stop there. He asked me about various social agencies that I could go to for help. I tried to explain that we were here with JOIN, but he simply said “great”, and sought to further assist us. I did not know what to say, do I say I am not homeless; I am just here to learn? Well, I did not; I did not want to offend him. I accepted his willingness to help and told him that we were working with JOIN today. He asked me if I had food stamps, when I said “no” he offered to meet me later to take me to the food stamp office. Then he opened up his wallet and gave me 7 coupons for meals at the Sisters of the Road Café. The café serves low cost nutritious meals to everyone. The meals can be purchased via cash, food stamps or in exchange for work. He clearly had worked there and had earned a variety of meal tickets. I thanked him and told him that he needed them, so he should keep them. He insisted that he had plenty for himself and for me to take them, so that I could take care of my daughter! I was overwhelmed and accepted his generosity. At the time I really did not know what these coupons were for and what they were worth, so after breakfast we got together to discuss our experience and I told Malcolm about the coupons and offered them to him, asking him to give them to someone who could utilize them. He instead gave each of us one of the coupons and said that if someone asked you for money give them this instead.

We then proceeded to walk around Old Town, where various social services, missions, housing, etc. were. In addition we learned the necessity of having the facilities downtown. Interestingly, the bus station is a central part of this. Greyhound is the most likely form of transportation that the homeless use, as a result many arrive in Portland via Greyhound, hence there is a need for these various missions to be near the Greyhound station. In addition since the government social services are downtown, there is a need for affordable housing downtown. This presents a difficult economic dilemma. How do you revitalize downtown neighborhoods but at the same time keep them affordable for low-income individuals? Low-income families typically do not have transportation, and must walk or take the bus to get from place to place. Being a distance outside of the city makes it very difficult to visit social services.

We eventually made our way to Downtown Chapel, where we sat and conversed and Megan and Katie served bagels and soup. We spoke with a variety of people; some of the stories were quite elaborate and hard to follow. One woman who was very friendly and told elaborate stories gave Maria a small toy. Once again the generosity and sense of community among the individuals we met was incredible. It was now around noon, and it was time for our scavenger hunt and lunch. We were each given a $1 for lunch. We could give the dollar away; buy something to eat or something else. In addition we could go back to Blanchet House for lunch. We broke up into two teams, John, Katie and I, and Kathy, Megan, Maria and Gabe. The scavenger hunt consisted of finding various services for the homeless such as where to get a food basket, where to eat lunch, where to go for shelter, where are public bathrooms, where to get socks or blankets as well as learning terminology such as what is the CHIERS van? What is a Burnside Cadillac? Find a copy of Street Roots and find out what the newspaper used to be called. In order to be successful it was necessary to converse with people on the street. This was an excellent way to simulate the day-to-day activities that a person who recently found himself on the street would have to go through. Since we had recently had soup and a bagel we ended up skipping lunch. I used my $1 to buy a copy of Street Roots. The other team had lunch at the Blanchet house- where they enjoyed bratwurst.

At 1PM we met back at the bus stop and took the bus back to JOIN. At JOIN we met Buck, a man who spent several years on the street, but has now been off the street with the help of JOIN for several years. Buck was a small business owner who lost everything after his wife died. He had difficulty coping after the loss of his wife, and eventually found himself on the street after losing his business and his home. Buck was a very pleasant man. He explained why he had chosen to live underneath the Ross Island Bridge rather than in a shelter. In a shelter, you are inches away from the other occupants; illness and disease can spread easily among the occupants. In addition, Buck had a dog. There are no shelters that accept animals. In those situations a person has little choice but to wave a sign and ask strangers for money. To be honest, I have historically never had much sympathy for people hustling money on the street. I always assumed that they chose to be there and there were plenty of places that they could go if they wanted to. I never realized that there were reasons why you would not go to a shelter versus staying on the street.

Our first task was “dumpster diving”, we went to a dumpster that was locked at a local car wash. They permitted us to “look through” the dumpster to find items that a homeless person could use. The kids found a towel, cans, bottles, a sandwich that was still wrapped, and other “useful” items. When we were done we put the items back into the dumpster. We then proceeded to the Ross Island Bridge, where Buck showed us where he once lived. He and seven others lived in tents underneath the bridge. They would carry 4 gallons of water in jugs several times per week from the gas station to their campsite. The water was strictly for drinking and cooking. Buck mentioned that when he was on the street he took a shower once every six months. I use to work on Milwaukie, as a result I drove over the Ross Island Bridge almost everyday for about 3 years; I had no idea that anyone was living underneath the bridge. When we were there, we came across one shelter underneath the bridge made of cardboard. This winter, the idea of living underneath the Ross Island Bridge with only cardboard protecting you from the wind and cold is truly frightening!

We returned to JOIN, where we met Michael, a man that had been on the streets since he was 10 years old. Drugs and an abusive home life had put Michael on the streets. He spent much of his youth in and out of jail involved in drugs and violence. He was now clean and off the street, and wanted to help educate people on the horrors of making the wrong choices.

We then had a simple dinner of pasta with vegetables, sauce and bread. The last thing we did was reflect on the weekend and what we learned.

My children thought I was nuts to “make” them do this. Only my youngest, Maria, thought it would be an interesting exercise. In the end they all came way with something. I know for myself, I achieved what I wanted, which was to gain a better understanding of the issues facing the homeless and more compassion for their plight. Hopefully the lessons we learned will translate into action, making ourselves available to help. I for one plan on doing more to assist people who find themselves homeless through a variety of circumstances.

One last thought…..

I cannot but help think of an encounter I had several years ago with a homeless person. Allegro, my company, was at the time located on Airport Way. There was a green area behind Allegro with trees and a creek running through it. We had two homeless people “camped” behind us. At first I did not think much about it. Unfortunately, they would routinely go through our dumpster and make a mess; this coupled with employees concern for their safety left me little choice but to deal with the situation. I went out to speak with the people in the tent, but they were not there. Their “campsite” was a mess: garbage everywhere, old computers, monitors, open cans of food, trash, etc. I returned to my desk and called the landlord and explained the situation to them. They called the police and the police came out. When I showed them to the campsite, the officer had his gun drawn. I was a bit alarmed and asked why; he explained that you never know what you are going to find. I thought to myself- I naively walked into the camp by myself, maybe that was not such a good idea? The officer left a note advising them that they were trespassing on private property and that they had 24 or 48 hours to clear out or their belongings would be seized and thrown away. I felt awful, and asked if that was truly necessary. After all, how could we throw the few belongings these individuals had? I was told that if we tried to help we simply would never get rid of them and it was best to take this approach. Having had no prior experience with this type of situation, I took the easy path followed the officer’s advice. In the end Allegro was a tenant, it was not my choice to evict them or not. At the same time that this was going on, we had found a cat in the warehouse that had a litter. Before the day was out, several employees had volunteered to take the kittens home, and one employee passed a hat around to raise money to take the cats to the vet to ensure they were fine. There was no hat passed around for the individuals “camped” behind Allegro. No one wanted to know who they were; all they wanted was for them to be gone. I am ashamed that I did not do the Christian thing and help them. Unlike the man at Blanchet House that was so willing to assist me, at that time I was not willing take a chance, I told myself I was too busy, it was not my problem. I took the easy way out, and I closed my eyes. I won’t let that happen again.