Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘homelessness’

My Year of Giving was a life-changing event. I could have never in a million years imagined before I gave away my first ten-dollar bill on Dec. 15, 2009 how the journey would change my life. One of the amazing 365 people I met during that year was Anthony. Our lives crossed paths on Day 67.

ReedAnthony.jpg

Anthony & Me on our first day of our project. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

In two weeks it will be three years since I started the project. A lot has changed. I am now employed, I can’t walk around my neighborhood without seeing somebody I gave $10 to and I have an entirely new perspective on giving. Life is pretty good.

Many of you have encouraged me to put this story into a book. I’ve started that – well, I am trying to do this at least. It’s harder than it sounds to dedicate time to writing – especially when you are often tired from your day job. But I am committed to finishing the book. But I thought I would enlist some help. That’s when I turned to my friend.

Anthony has been homeless for nearly 10 years in our nation’s capital. One of the first Street Sense vendors, vendor number 5 to be exact, Anthony doesn’t let the fact that he can not afford housing get him down. He works Monday through Friday at the corner of 19th and M selling the paper. But his dream is to have his own apartment and I have wanted to help him achieve that goal for some time.

Anthony offered to help me stay on track with my writing. You know, sometimes you just need someone to be accountable to. In return I am trying to help him get housing. If this sounds simple – keep in mind that I don’t know anything about helping someone get off the streets and Anthony hasn’t a clue about what it takes to get a book published. But that hasn’t stopped us.

We are working to achieve our goal by the end of 2013 – and with a lot of hard work, collaboration between Anthony and me, and possibly your help too – we just might make it! If you would like to follow our journey – drop by and say hello at AthonyAndMe.com.

Read Full Post »

Before I share with you my amazing volunteer experience at Miriam’s Kitchen here in Washington, DC, I want to introduce you to a very important person at the Year of Giving.  His name is Kyle.

A photo of Kyle when I met him back in October of 2010.

Some of you might remember him from Day 311 last year when I gave him my $10 for the day after seeing him do a stand-up routine at a local open mic night.  He recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire and completed an internship here in Washington, DC at a talk news radio station.

The Year of Giving has grown and around the beginning of this year I realized I needed some help.  Kyle volunteered to be the Web Editor and help keep the daily blog posts coming.  In addition to volunteering with the Year of Giving, he’s currently looking for magazine or internet related journalism work in New Hampshire, Washington, DC or potentially other areas of the country.  Please reach out and let him know if you have any connections or ideas for him.  Although he has worked in news, I know that he is also very interested in music and film journalism.

DSC_0038.jpgSo back to today’s volunteer experience.  I was so impressed when I walked into Miriam’s Kitchen.  It was warm, not because of the ovens but because of the love.  I was almost immediately met by Ashley, the Development and Volunteer Manager.  She gave me, and the other 8-10 volunteers for the day, an overview of the 28-year-old organization.  “We like to bring people in through our healthy great tasting food,” she said going on to add that their guests usually stay and utilize the many other services available to their guests.  There was a station full of donated personal hygiene products, a security guard who also gives a hell of a sharp-looking haircut, case managers, legal assistance, access to healthcare, etc.  “A lot of our guests don’t have a physical address so we allow them to have mail sent here too,” she added.

I strapped on a blue or purple apron (I’m color-blind, so who knows which one it was) and was sent to help out Chef Tom.  He had me preparing some home-made chicken and duck stock.  After that I helped wash some of the items used earlier that morning and get them put away.  After the kitchen was in good shape it was time to go out and work the front side of the house.

The inviting dining room had about 25 tables, all with fresh flowers on them, some of them even had cards and games on them.  The walls were covered with art work from the guests.  “It’s a fun environment,” Ashley said as smiling staff members and volunteers started to greet guests making their way in out of the cold.  I was assigned to the personal hygiene station and got to interact with several of the guests who needed essential items such as multi vitamins, deodorant, toothpaste, shaving supplies, condoms, etc.  Everything of course is free for the guests; however, they are limited to receiving a reasonable amount of the items.

DSC_0033.jpg

Just one of the delicious items being prepared at Miriam's Kitchen.

Ashley then asked if I would help refill juice cups to those who were seated eating their lunch.  This got me circulating a bit more and I was able to spot some familiar faces: Jim M., Lionel and Bill C. I spent some time speaking with each of them and will update you in the coming weeks on how these 2010 YOGIs are doing.

Lunch came to an end and the dining area transformed into an art center with several of the guests busy working on projects.  Bill was working on a new painting.  “I’m not sure what it is going to be yet,” he told me as he applied some broad strokes to the canvas.  He showed me several of his pieces which were going to be highlighted in an art show being held the following day at Miriam’s.

DSC_0022.jpgMy shift ended and I cleaned up and said my goodbyes.  I walked out into the brisk afternoon, the sun warming my face as I headed north along 24th Street.  I was impressed by how well the staff seemed to know the guests.  “Yesterday we had 212 guests for breakfast,” Ashley told me earlier, “and our case managers knew all but three of them by name.”  Everyone there seemed happy.  It was almost family-like.

DSC_0036.jpg

Reed finishing up in the kitchen.

This appears to be a really well run operation.  That being said, they rely on support from volunteers and donations.  If you live in the DC area you can check their list of volunteer needs.  In addition to your time they need lots of items for their guests such as: gloves, socks, long johns, sleeping bags, jackets, yarn, crazy glue, Crayola markers.  If you would like to donate any of these items, reach out to me and I can see that they get there.  If you would prefer, you can also make a financial contribution.

Thanks to Ashley and everyone at Miriam’s!  You guys are awesome.

Read Full Post »

Being a Kindness Investor is a very interesting study in human nature. Especially my own. Especially when I allow myself to follow my gut and not my mind’s predetermined plan. For instance, my intention to give away my fifth $10 was specific: I was on my way to Ray’s, a well-known Seattle restaurant with a breath-taking view of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. On my way, I kept catching glimpses of an exceptionally clear, majestic day which was hosting glistening water and a horizon boasting one long dance of snow-capped peaks.

 

John holding his newspapers in front of his truck.

As I descended off a main road, preparing to make a left turn under a bridge to get to Ray’s, there stood John at the corner, several cars ahead of me. In that instant, my plans completely changed. I had to talk to him.

 

I made a U-turn, and then pulled around and under the bridge to park. John was clearly a bit confused as to why I was getting out of my car and approaching him. I’m sure I’d seen him before at this well-traveled intersection, but until that day, I never saw him.

John is one of hundreds of Seattle’s homeless people who sell Real Change, a weekly newspaper dedicated to advancing not only the facts (instead of assumptions) about those who are living on the streets, but also providing a safe and legitimate way for them to make money (as opposed to holding a sign or otherwise asking passers-by for spare change). When I meet a person who is offering this newspaper and asking that I purchase it for $1, I also see a badge which indicates that s/he is a bona fide participant in the Real Change extended family.

On the day I met John, the wind seemed to gather even more momentum as it whipped around the cement columns and twist through the underpass where we spoke. John’s pickup was parked near the corner where he stood patiently, albeit freezing, hoping that those who were sitting snugly in their cars would not ignore him at the stop light and perhaps buy his newspaper.

John was more than happy to accept my $10. He pointed to his truck. “I’ll probably buy some gas for my truck or propane because I live in the back-in the camper. There are a few of us who park over there in an empty parking lot at night and we use the propane to keep warm. No, I don’t light the propane in my camper,” he continued as my brow knitted in obvious concern.

“I’ve been homeless for about 12 years. I’m 43 and it all began after a very bad divorce. I lost everything, including my daughter.” John had lived a warm and productive life in Tennessee where he had a business – a store which sold everything from carpet to hardware supplies.

“We lived on a 12 and a half-acre farm. My ex-wife and her family are rich. But they wanted me gone and to keep me down. So here I am.”

I was struck by John’s optimism and confidence. Throughout our conversation he quoted several verses from the Bible which punctuated a point he was trying to make. His breath left a wake of steam as he spoke.

“I really need a job. I have a lot of experience doing many things. So if you or anyone you know needs help with building or painting or any of that kind of thing, please think of me.” John ran back to his truck and returned with a one page resume which was clean and professional. “They help us with our resumes at the office (of Real Change).”

When I asked him about staying at homeless shelters, he didn’t actually diss them but offered his own observation. “In a shelter they label you.  You’re a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or just plain crazy. Hey, I’m just out of work. Besides, I like living and sleeping in my own place – as humble as it is.” He gestured to his truck again.

Throughout the years, John had been to Texas where he worked off-shore on a boat fishing, but that didn’t stick as two of the guys were drunks. He had part-time job at the post office and then decided to move to California.  There, he had a sleeping bag, a tarp, and a man who helped him out by hiring him for some construction jobs.

He was quick to give the staff of Real Change a lot of credit. “This newspaper and the organization – what they do – has helped me in so many ways. I’ve been able to buy clothes and food because of it. They give me four papers free and I buy the rest for $.35 a paper. I sell it for $1, so I make $.65 off each one.”

While John’s day was just beginning, my ear lobes were bright red and my nose was running from the biting cold. And I grew up in Minnesota where this day’s weather was SOP!

I asked if he could use a blanket. “Always,” he replied with a smile. I ran back to my car and pulled a small blanket out of my emergency car kit and handed it to him. Then I remembered that I needed to buy the paper. I offered John $5 for a copy of his Real Change, he said no-I’d already given him $10!

“That was a Kindness Investor gift. This is for the paper. And since I don’t have change, please take the $5.” He did.

A hug and “good luck” was the only appropriate way to say good-bye to John. He smiled and waved as I climbed back into my car and hit the fan which blew warm air over my face and hands.

Driving home I was once again overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. Not because I was returning to my own warm home with (some) food in the fridge and an inviting bed. I was grateful that I met John and had an opportunity to learn about him, his life, and ambitions. He really does have a striking resume. I hope I will someday be in a position to hire him. That would make me even more happy.

-Petra from Seattle, WA

 

Read Full Post »

Today I went to donate blood and was on my way home when I saw a man named “Happy Pappy” standing on the side of the street when I was at a stoplight. I detoured around and parked at a nearby McDonald’s and headed across a few streets then under a bridge to speak with him. I explained the project to him he accepted the $10 and said “Proverbs 28:27 He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses”. The next words he spoke almost left me speechless. Pappy said, “would you like to know what I think about those on unemployment, I think they have got too used to the check coming to them without having to do anything that they just don’t want to work. There is work out there, I’ve mowed lawns, painted houses”.

Pappy decided it was time for him to head to McDonald’s to warm up. I walked back across the way with him and sat in a nearby McDonald’s and we sat and talked for an hour until he said he needed to go.

The conversation with Pappy was very broad. He is 61 and a Vietnam War Veteran and showed the scars on his legs from where he was hit with shrapnel. He has been married twice and has children. Currently he was renting a room nearby but has been on and off the streets for 12 years. He spoke of coming home from Vietnam and working as a Publisher at the local Veteran’s Hospital and then having to return to the Veteran’s Hospital for nearly 2 years of rehabilitation therapy after being in a car accident and didn’t know if he was going to ever walk again.

He’s attempted suicide twice, and showed me the scar across his neck from his most recent attempt in 2001. Pappy attends church 7 days a week and spoke of the 3 different churches he attends service at. He shared how he has been on many prescription drugs due to illnesses, one of those being Hepatitis however he decided to heal himself through God and garlic herbs rather than healing himself through pharmaceutical companies.

He spoke of getting caught panhandling without a permit which has a fine of $154, he went to court and his punishment was making him wait 1 year to get a panhandling permit so he is still on the streets with no permit. He says he has figured out the best place to stand where he can see in all directions and if he sees the police he folds his sign up and walks away, so far this tactic has worked for him.

Pappy said he was going to use the ten dollars for food.

Unfortunately the picture I took of Pappy wasn’t clear. I’ve tried going back to his spot but was unsuccessful in finding him.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

Read Full Post »

Melinda met Nick while he panhandled at an exit ramp. (photo: Melinda T.)

Today I met a man named Nick.  Nick was standing near the exit ramp.  I felt drawn to give the $10 to him so I parked nearby and walked across the way.

Nick has been on and off the streets for a year now.  Nick was extremely skeptical to speak with me at first because he thought I was with the police and quickly pulled out his panhandlers permit to show it to me.  Perhaps I was just as skeptical as this was the first time I had ever approached a person standing on the streets panhandling.  I assured him I wasn’t with the police and he accepted that and then shared his life with me.

At the beginning of the video you see a quick shot of an ID.  This is Nicks ID showing that he is homeless, I never knew there was such an ID available.  He shared with me the views of inside the homeless shelter where he has spent a few nights and said the conditions there are awful and not a place for anyone to be but it keeps him out of the elements.  He invited me to take a visit with him to the homeless shelter however I declined that offer.

Nick said today was his first day out on the streets and he was there trying to collect money so he could purchase Christmas gifts for his children.  He was addicted to pain pills at one point and his life had went downhill since then.  He’s currently not addicted to anything and is trying to get his life back on track by getting a job so he can pay for a place to live and not have to sleep at the homeless shelter or jump from home to home sleeping on people’s couches.

I would have liked to speak with Nick a bit longer but the temperatures today were extremely cold and the wind we were encountering didn’t help.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

Read Full Post »

There was a lot of talk earlier this week of a white Christmas here in Pennsylvania, but so far no snow.  I had a wonderful holiday with my father, brother and sister-in-law.  I got some great presents and had fun making cookies and playing bridge.  I am stuffed though.  No more food for me until Spring.

It's hard to see here but this is a photograph that I took of James sleeping. He leans slightly against the wall and his upper body slowly bends toward the earth.

Today’s recipient is going to touch your heart.  He’s 58-year-old James who has been homeless in DC for “six or seven years.”  I found him at the Chinatown Metro stop late at night while he slept standing up.  I observed him for about five minutes and then he began to fall over and woke up again.  I walked over to see if he was ok.

“Oh I’m fine, thank you,” James said forcing the words through the frozen air.  “I sleep standing up ‘cause I get cramps lying down.”  He later added, “The last time I slept in a bed was 1995.”  I can’t imagine that.  I was still in college at that time.

Through speaking with James it appears that he has some chronic health problems, but he refuses to go to the hospital.  “I don’t trust them,” he says softly.  

Everything that James owns sat in front of him in a cold metallic shopping cart which he keeps chained to him to ensure that nobody steals it while he sleeps.  “I have my clothes, soap, cleaning stuff, shoes, underwear, socks, a step-ladder,” he says continuing on to name some other items.  I notice that tucked on top of the cart was a Webster’s Dictionary that was probably 25 years old.  “Oh, that’s my dictionary,” he said rallying a bit of energy, “I like to read the dictionary.” 

James says that he doesn’t have any living relatives that he knows of.  His mother died in 1968 and his grandmother looked after him until she later passed away.  

James eyes rarely opened wider than this.

He seemed interested in US presidents.  He enthusiastically spoke about President Obama.  He seemed fond of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too.  “Clinton was alright, he came out to a trailer park one time to meet the folks,” he started to say, “and Jimmy Carter was a good man too, he had nigger lips, did ya ever notice that?”  His comment paralyzed me slightly and I couldn’t even really come up with a response.  I’ve never liked that word and don’t use it myself.  It so often comes loaded with so much hate when it is uttered, but James said it with endearing admiration for the 86-year-old former president.

James tries to stay warm next to his belongings.

“I’m probably gonna get me a burger and a $0.65 senior coffee at McDonald’s,” he said motioning toward the ten dollars that was folded between his fingers.  Sometimes he hangs out there to stay warm, watch some television and treat himself to the occasional ice cream.

The air was so cold my face was hurting.  I said goodbye and shook his bare hand.  It was cold and stiff and I asked if he had gloves.  If he didn’t, I was going to leave mine with him.  “I’ve got some, they’re in my pocket, I’m just not wearing them right now.”  The temperature was plummeting and I urged him to go to a shelter, but he insisted that he would be fine.  I hope that he was right.  Street Sense’s Ellen Gilmer reported last week that 37 homeless individuals died this last year in the DC area.  Sadly many of them probably died alone.

Read Full Post »

Jim has been homeless for more than three years.

So many of the 365 people that I have met have touched my soul.  They have made me think about things that I would have never had the perspective to ponder prior to taking this walk.  Jim, a 52-year-old homeless resident of Washington, DC, invited me into his world for a while.  Will you join me?

It was an abnormally warm November 30th.  Puddles filled the streets and sidewalks as water droplets still fell from rain covered tree branches from the late afternoon showers.  Tucked under a small awning in front of what used to be the Riggs Bank in DC – now PNC – was Jim.  His head didn’t move much at first when I called out to him, rather his eyes abandoned the crossword on his lap and found their way to mine.  He sat up a little bit, plucked the earphones away from his ears and offered me a dry piece of real estate next to him.

Mostly homeless since 2007 he credits not being able to find work as the cause of his current lack of regular indoor housing.  The biggest challenge he faces being homeless is not the cold or the danger, but finding a place to store his personal items.  “I lost all of my belongings…twice!”  He once tried to hide his things in Rock Creek Park only to find them gone when he came back.  “There needs to be some type of lockers downtown where to store things in,” he says, “I’d be happy to pay a reasonable fee for such a service.”

It’s a different paradigm living on the streets.  You become more in tune with some things.  “The saddest people out here are the schizophrenics,” Jim says.  “They don’t access all the resources that are available for them and they can’t keep schedules.”  We touched on a variety of levels of mental illness and I jotted down one of the things he said that caught my attention: “There is a certain charm that mildly psychotic people have.”

He told me about an “ex street boyfriend” he had.  “He once stole some ugly sunglasses and some eye cream; only a gay homeless guy steals eye cream!” he said appreciating the humor.

The air occasionally brought a chill with it and Jim slipped a blue knit hat over his head.  With the Express newspaper still in his lap he says, “If a crossword is too hard it gets to be like work and if it’s work, I expect to get paid!”  We laughed together.  Speaking of work, Jim did recently get a job at a Cosi for about a week.  “It was just not for me,” he said shaking his head slowly and watching some young people walk by probably on their way to a nearby coffee shop or bar.  “I felt like I had hundreds of managers telling me what to do.”

We must have sat there for about 90 minutes.  I shot some video that I have included here of Jim talking about where he is from, about being homeless, suffering from depression and finally he took me on a short field trip over to the Marvelous Market to do some dumpster diving.  His compassion and charisma impacted me a great deal. Check it out.

Jim plans to use my $10 to get some coffee and maybe a snack in the morning at Books-A-Million.  “I’ve been wanting to read God of Small Things,” he says about Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning novel.  “It appears to be a rich fictional piece that I might just end up getting lost in.”

I asked someone walking by to take our photo.

Through my conversation with Jim I learned that he knows Bill C. and Tommy N. who I gave $10 to earlier in the year.  As a final note, I have stopped by and left some food for Jim when I have seen him sleeping at his spot.  He also joined me at the Year-End Celebration which meant a lot to me!  Do check out the Lend a Hand initiative to see a couple of very simple things that you could get to help Jim out.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 324 other followers