STORMY NIGHT DRIVEOUT
Unless there are trees toppling and lawn chairs flying through the air, the Home Van goes out. We figure if they can live outdoors in all kinds of weather, we can take it for two hours. Also, we knew the Salvation Army had closed down entirely for two days, so they would have no dinner unless we went out. I'm sure there are people on this list who donate to the Salvation Army, and that's a good thing, since they run a shelter and soup kitchen that are sorely needed. However, it wouldn't be a bad idea to contact them and suggest that a shelter should be open, not closed, during weather emergencies. You could even throw in a little WWJD, just for good measure.
We were glad to be out there with our folks. It always feels good. It was, however, a harrowing drive out. People soaked to the skin, shivering uncontrollably. People whose clothing and blankets had been stolen. People without tents. Newly homeless people terrified of the situation they were in. Worst of all, we could not console ourselves with the thought that all these folks would be going into emergency shelter at St. Francis House at 7 p.m. In the early 1990s the City Commission passed a law requiring all homeless shelters in Gainesville to require police clearances for their guests. A police clearance is a warrants check. The police go onto their computers and see whether the person in question has an outstanding warrant in this state or any other. If he or she does, they are arrested. If they don't they are given a piece of paper to present when they check into shelter. If you don't have a photo I.D., you can't get a police clearance. Gainesville is one of the very few cities in the United States to have such a law. Housed people who check into an emergency shelter are not required to present a police clearance.
Many of our homeless people suffer from mental illness and addictions. They have trouble holding on to a photo I.D. Replacing a lost I.D. is also a daunting task. So some of the most vulnerable knew they would be out in the storm all night. One newly homeless man was in a state of terror about this, begging me to come up with a solution. I didn't have one.
Equality under the law is one of the cornerstones of a civilized and democratic society. Our City Commission needs to either repeal the police clearance law or require police clearances for all housed people who check into a shelter.
If this comes up before the City Commission, someone, either from the podium or the audience, is going to bring up the fact that Danny Rawlings was a homeless person. This would be useful information if there were a demographic profile for serial killers. In reality, serial killers in the United States have included a law student and Republican campaign worker, a railway porter, a data processing clerk, a codes enforcement officer who was president of his Lutheran congregation, and the founder of the Save-a-Lot stores. Oddly enough, there have been no outcries demanding that the UF law school be moved to a feed lot on the far outskirts of the community, and no petitions circulated by people who don't want Lutherans living in or near their neighborhoods.
The vast majority of warrants out on homeless people are for the misdeanors of being homeless, such as sleeping in the park after 11 p.m., public urination, open container etc. Homeless people deeply fear and resist being put in jail, because the price tag on these misdeamors can be so high. Most of the time, the homeless arrestee is denied bail because he or she does not have an address. Then they sit in jail for weeks, sometimes months, awaiting a court date. When they finally get into court, they are judged guilty and sentenced to time served. In other words, first they are punished and then they are found guilty. While they are in jail, all their meager worldly goods will probably be stolen, including the tent they live in. If they've managed to find a job, they will lose it. If a homeless man has a wife or girlfriend who is homeless with him, he has to live with the knowledge that she is out there alone, without his protection. If he or she is the caregiver for a seriously ill homeless friend (and this is a common situation), there is the anguish of wondering how this friend is faring. I have known people to stay outside during hurricanes and when the temperature is in the twenties, to avoid going to jail.
The Home Van does not accept money from any organization that has rules about how we can spend it. All our money comes from you, our extended Home Van family. Last Tuesday that meant you helped us save a life. We found a woman in mortal agony in the downtown plaza. She had been given two prescriptions at the ER - one for an antibiotic and one for an anti-spasmodic drug. She had gotten the antibiotic RX filled at wonderful Publix - who give antibiotics free to poor people. To fill the other RX she needed fifteen dollars. She had been to every agency she knew of, all over town, trying to get the copay for this prescription, to no avail. The medicine in question is classified as a narcotic and is on a list of drugs these agencies are not allowed to pay for. She went back to the ER, but they would not give her the pills (rules). By this time her plumbing had been out of commission for six days and she had been living in the August heat, having to severely restrict fluids. She was crying from pain, unable to sit, lie down, eat or sleep. We gave her the fifteen dollars. Pastor Reggie, a minister who lives in Tent City in order to be a counselor and caregiver there, found her a ride. Thank you one and all, and thank you God, if we have to have emergencies, for giving us those $15 dollar emergencies.
Len Ringel, a volunteer who comes to us from the Unitarian Universal Fellowship of Gainesville, wants you to know of this important event:
The recent tragedy in Knoxville has made us more aware than ever of
how important it is for people to know about our "Good UU News." To
present ourselves to a wider public, I have been at work with Meredith
and LoraKim in organizing a UU religious service at Gainesville's
downtown plaza (near the courthouse and main library). Our application
for a permit for an approximately one-hour service has been approved
for Sunday September 7, starting at 5:00pm. The service will remember
the attack in Knoxville as well as introduce and exemplify community
based on progressive, liberal religion and our covenant to love and
honor people of good will of all faiths.
Music and singing will be included. Both Meredith and LoraKim will be
speaking. You're welcome to bring sandwiches, etc. if you'd like (no
The Home Van needs tents, bugspray, Vienna Sausages, creamy peanut butter and jelly, and white tube socks. Call 372-4825 to arrange for drop-off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be made out to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL All donations are tax deductible.