THE ONE STOP CENTER
At Tuesday nights' Commission meeting a number of people acknowledged - some from the podium and some from the audience - that the commission was being presented with nine bad choices, and that the only choice that makes sense at all is St. Francis House, despite insufficient room for expansion, because a One-Stop Center needs to be downtown. That being said, something is better than nothing. After giving a tent to a young woman with severe anorexia, and a blanket to an old woman who needed something to lie on (I had no tent for her), something IS better than nothing, at least for the most vulnerable portion of the homeless community. Many homeless people will not choose to go to a sort of internment camp on the far fringes of Gainesville.
The commission, led by the Mayor, also recognizes that a remote One-Stop Center needs to include housing. The city and many homeless advocates as well have been worn down by years of battling NIMBYS with their threats of lawsuits. So we are embarking on an attempt to make a bad choice work.
It's all about making homeless people invisible.
It is going to take a long time to realize this plan. In the meantime, St. Francis House may be given additional funding and serve as an interim One-Stop Center.
As this plan evolves, we are going to need to fight for transportation that is free, frequent and convenient. Many of our homeless people are elderly and disabled. Walking a mile or more to a busstop would be a cruel burden to place upon them.
We also need to be vigilant that life-sustaining services downtown not be brought to an end if and when this new facility opens. That would constitute an attempt to starve our homeless citizens into submission. We have embarked on a slippery slope, morally speaking - one that could easily lead to a sort of homeless jail out on the fringes of town, and it will take great vigilance on our part to make sure that doesn't happen.
Up to this point, St. Vincent de Paul has had two food pantries, one for homeless people and one for families. Due in part to the terrible increase in food emergencies, I am no longer running an open food pantry for homeless people. (To be honest, four-hour food lines at my pantry was also wearing me out - I haven't been a spring chicken for quite awhile). I am gathering food for the most elderly and vulnerable of my food pantry customers, who have been told individually that they can come for food. I am also stockpiling food for the folks who are referred to me by United Way 211. Since we have no rules and no waiting lists, life-and-death food emergencies are referred to us (e.g., an elderly woman with diabetes who has no food in the house). I also hope to be taking more poptop cans on the van, for when we run out of regular food. So you good elves who bring food to Home Van Central are still needed, now more than ever. Any excess food I receive will go to our family food pantry.
One of our readers asked for more information about the Iraq veterans we are seeing. I don't know how many we are seeing. Except during the Point-In-Time Survey, we never ask people why they are homeless, or any other personal questions. The first Iraq veteran we saw, a year or two ago, was very young and extremely angry. He didn't attack anyone, but he did take his guitar off his backpack and pound it on the sidewalk. I've never seen him again and don't know what happened to him. Another young Iraq veteran was homeless because his family had taken out a restraining order against him, because he was doing them violence. Domestic violence by veterans with severe PTSD is one cause of homelessness among returning soldiers. This young man took full responsibility for what he had done. He knew he couldn't go home until he had gotten treatment. He did take every opportunity to work and gather money for his children. He also bought a bicycle at a garage sale and fixed it up for his son's 12th birthday. And he donated money and bicycles to the Home Van. He has moved on now, to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere.
Julie is a young woman veteran from Iraq. While she was over there, her father, her only surviving parent, died. She came home from Iraq with severe PTSD and nowhere to go. She is living in a tent with two other veterans, both older and with worse medical problems. She takes care of them and brings them food. She is on various waiting lists to get help for herself.
The last time she was here she noticed I have a small electric piano. She said, "Oh, please can I play it! I have been dreaming about being able to play a piano again! Please!" She went over to my little piano and started playing classical music, beautifully, and then segued into a beautiful improvisation she created herself, one that included a mysterious, ominous, relentless beating of drums.
I think it was Ghandi who said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." What better advice is there, for these dark times?
The Home Van needs peanut butter, jelly, Vienna sausages, white tube socks, bugspray, bottled water and tents. Call 372-4825 to arrange for drop-offs. Financial donations to the Home Van are tax deductible. Checks should be made out to St. Vincent de Paul, earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601