Wednesday, January 2, 2008


"Tonight about 50 homeless people are staying warmer with HotHands and thanks to Pralines Restaurant owner Curtis Moore, they have restaurant quality warm soup in their bellies." This is how today's homeless story ends.

This is how it began. First I got there way too late tonight. My intuition tells me to get their right before dark, but not at dark. I got there tonight about 5:15 as it was just getting dark. As I pulled into the area I park before walking over to the highway underpass, I noticed an ambulance and a police car, the ambulance lights flashing. One of the homeless men I talk to as I give out the HotHands handwarmers Carlos, told me that he saw the accident happen. Someone driving by hit one of the homeless crossing the street. He was taken to the hospital. Carlos helped him until the police and the ambulance arrived, he knew to clear his throat and make sure the man did not move as Carlos said he was hit so hard"his pants came off". I asked Carlos later how he knew to do what he did, " I read a lot" he told me.

Another homeless man came up to me and said "Your the woman with the hand warmers," "look," he said as he shows me the palm of his hand and what is left of last nights hand warmers, it was just a small bit of fluff in his hand. I couldn't help but give him and some of the other men an extra set for tomorrow during the day. They are so cold. That is why I left the house with 63 pairs and gave out all of them to about 50 people tonight. (I have 80 left for Thursday night - 27 degrees expected low). I saw many more people around the Mission tonight as I drove back down Oreatha Haley to get back home. There are some that are able go to the Mission and the other shelters, and others who for whatever reasons, do not feel that they can. I haven't gotten their stories, but I trust that they understand and those who are sleeping on the streets know that this is the price they must pay to keep what ever level of freedom or independence that they can for themselves.

Some of the homeless just need to be cared for by "We the People", through the feds and the state. Many of these planetary brothers and sisters are mentally or emotionally ill or for whatever reason, cannot (fully) fend for themselves. It is so odd how people I speak with who are not homeless or who never have been homeless are harsh in their judgements and far too quick to criticize the homeless for their poverty and often, their wretchedness. When I hear such talk, I feel so sad for those speaking for I hear it coming from a human heart that has closed to the suffering of others... The polar opposite of this closed heartedness is also very evident in the city of New Orleans. There really are people who care about the homeless here and do what they can to help. Without the help of federal or state funding though, everything that is done is a form of triage at best - which if you are homeless - you are only 'eixisting' from moment to moment anyway, so triage is okay with them.

It is getting harder each time I bring the handwarmers to the homeless to maintain my anonymity and good boundaries, especially with the men. I have made it clear that I am not interested in any of the men, in any romantic way, and have asked those who did flirt with me, to not to flirt with me. I told them that I don't want to feel uncomfortable coming into the area because someone who wanted to flirt with me felt slighted.

Tonight I was walking around faster than usual, (I am a northerner after all and just naturally move way too fast). It was bitter cold all day and now the cold Canadian winds and air was creeping into my bones. {I will never have a good relationship with cold weather as long as I am around on this planet after the years of experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts, during the winters, in the snow!} My sensory nerves and my thyroid can no longer tolerate cold weather. The homeless that I interact with don't know that about me, they just saw me rushing by with no time to stop and talk, and a few felt tonight as if I was giving them the proverbial "bums rush".

One man reacted angrily towards me as I walked around handing out the handwarmers. He, like many of my planetary brothers, wanted me to stop and talk to him. Which is respectful and part of the culture here and he was right, he wanted to be treated with respect and I was rushing by - he was right, yet not justified in his angry reaction. And I had a lot of HotHands to give out and I was not comfortable being under the bridge at night. The man, who I later found out was a Vietnam vet and needed to be in long term care, angrily threw the handwarmers back at my chest (towards my heart area - he was right in his own way he felt like my heart was being cold to him and they needed the handwarmers more than he did),when he saw I was not going to stop and talk to him. "I don't want them." He shouted at me.

Okay, I had to get going. I did understand the dynamic which was happening.

I am glad I did keep moving as it got darker and I was under the Canal Street part of the bridge a young man of dubious intentions started to 'shadow' me. I was aware of him and I know that there are others there who were watching my back and that I would be okay. He was just spooking me the way he was 'showing up' behind me silently and then not speaking to me. When I first encountered him with another man I asked him if he stayed under the bridge. He didn't look like he did. I said to his friend, I know a lot of people down here got friends that might come and see them. The young man who later followed me as I handed out the HotHands, turned his back to me as I spoke and never answered, he would not make eye contact and just made me who is not a nervous person, nervous of him - something was amiss in his energy field. As I walked around in the now darkness, I knew he was 'shadowing' me because he would turn up in my peripheral vision in places my consciousness understood that he shouldn't be in if his movements were natural and not aligned with a possible nefarious agenda. Eventually I left him by the catering van which had pulled up to feed the homeless.

The white box catering van was from a restaurant called Praline Connection, 542 Frenchman Street, in the Quarter. The owner who was scooping out what I can personally describe as "hot, fortifying, delicious soup", Curtis Moore, who told me later when I saw his van again, down the block, that he was feeding the poor "because he is a Christian and that is what he is supposed to do." He told me "I own a restaurant in the French Quarter and I have been feeding the Sugar Bowl fans, I felt like I needed to come and feed the homeless too." From a review I just found online about the restaurant - "Fodors described the food as "creole comfort food."

As I was walking back to my car I met a city bus driver named Ronald Horn, who had the back of his SUV open on the street and men were getting individually wrapped plates of food wrapped in plastic bags. I told my momma that we had all this extra food today and she made up 50 plates of food for the homeless. I came down this end cause I only had 50. He had given away 40 plates by the time I had spoken with him. he had taken the time to write down his number but I lost it in the confusion when a few homeless men came up one asking for help and another wanting to talk - he was with the man who got angry with me. Ronald came up to me and said to me, "don't be angry with him for his temper, he should be in a Veterans hospital, he is a Vietnam Vet and he isn't alright." I told him I understood what had happened and why. I asked Ronald to introduce me to him the next time I come down.

I wanted to speak with Ronald Horn longer but a homeless man whom I have seen at tent city as well as here, came over and asked for $2.00 to get some Pepto Bismal for his wife who had a stomach virus. They are both homeless. Ronald Horn gave him the $2.00 without batting an eye, his hand was right in his pocket as the man who was asking explained what his need for the $2.oo was for. As Ronald Horn was packing up to go he found out another homeless man needed a ride and he was throwing his belongings in the back of his SUV. (Many homeless men and women stay in the absorb amount of empty houses that are in this city. A dangerous and safer prospect than the street).

It is difficult for me to do this work alone as I am a single woman. I find that I must exert a lot of energy to set boundaries with the each of men I interact with. Each one whom I meet who sees me as suddenly interesting or a source of Light, or comfort, or a a possible new girlfriend - some men have the most incredible egos no matter what their circumstances. I must reaffirm (with some each time I engage with them) that am not interested in them romantically, that I am here to help. Then there are those that are horribly lonely and isolated and just need to talk. There are so many people here in need of loving human contact and I just can't provide all that people hope that they might get from me. It leaves me feeling so powerless and frustrated with my limitations.

After interacting with the 2 Ronalds I had just met, I walked back to my car. Next to my car I saw the van from Praline's restaurant. That is where I officially "met" and then got to "dine" with the owner of Pralines, Curtis Moore. The soup he made for the homeless was delicious, I took a bowl full before he closed up and left. It was full of pepper and veggies and it is till warming me now hours later. Just as I was pulling out, one of the homeless men that had wanted me to wait at his tent when I first arrived whilst he found some gloves and an extra ski cap he had ("to give to anyone I met who needed them in my travels - women first") His name is Alex and he wanted to give away leather gloves he had found at work. Yes, he and many others whom I give the handwarmers to "work". Alex works at the Superdome and found the gloves and hat after an event at the Superdome. When he put on the leather gloves he said he felt his hands get warm, "I am 58 years old," he said to me, "I have to keep myself warm, I am going to keep these gloves but," he says as he hands me a plastic bag, "here are a pair of socks, another pair of gloves and a ski cap".

"Keep as warm as you can," I shout out as I get into the car with his donation and thank him.

Here's a few thoughts from tonight's interactions:

(1). I am glad that it does not get cold for weeks at a time, as I have concern about the amount of energy that I need to invest fending off men who are confused as to how they should interact with me as I try to give out the HotHands. I am not worried about my safety. It justs takes a lot of energy for me to have so many interactions, with so many people, who are really having a "difficult life". Not just a "difficult day". They are experiencing "difficult lives". Then there is the energy that is needed to go into assessing the need for boundaries with certain people, then going about setting the boundaries and then reinforcing the message and the boundary. Whew! Now times this by 10, 20, 30 in a half hour period of time. It also takes a lot of energy to discern in the moment when I am exposed to so many people, who have so many different needs and agendas, what is going on, when and what is needed in the moment. Then there are the situations where an individual who has long term needs that I will never be able to meet in a few moments, seems to be trying to meet these needs psychologically or emotionally in the few moments, that they are with me.

I think I am going to ask my Rastafarian friend Albert "Nature Man," to go with me the first day of the next batch of cold days after a brief warm up we are going to have this weekend. He is a gentle spiritual being and a big man and might clear up any misunderstandings someone might have about me by his presence with me. Gosh I dislike doing this and it is best that I do so that I can come and do my work and people can assume that I have a "man" to take care of me and not hit on me. Aaargh! Limitations. Limitations. And "Thy will not mine". If this is what I need to do occasionally to be able to serve as many as I can, so be it. I have friends who will help me help others.
12/3/08 Update! I have asked Ms. Elizabeth to come with me today, she knows many of the homeless and she will be able to talk with people and help those who feel that they need a little extra attention, feel like they are getting it. She is very compassionate and has been homeless off and on in New Orleans for years. She is also a "free-lance advocate" for the homeless, and a tarot reader on Jackson Square. After I wrote this posting last night guidance came to me to ask Ms. Elizabeth. I spoke with her and she is really excited to be going out with me, as only she can be with her dear heart. A challenge solved for now!
(2). It is interesting how the groups have spread themselves out into little areas. Each area is unique unto itself in regards to the people who stay there and how they are living homeless. In one section are tents only. People are Caucasian in the front area and then towards the back center area, they are primarily Black men and then in the very back, it is integrated racially. I don't know the rules but I perceive that there is some sort of a hierarchy there. And I think that the Black men who stay in the center, rule. At the first area under the bridge, most of the people who stay there are either still working at their jobs or have chosen in this bitter cold to stay the night at a shelter or the Mission. Many who stay in this section are primarily Black New Orleanians. In the next area under the bridge are a racially integrated group of homeless folks who all seem to resonate with each other and have created their own little village of sorts. Yeah, that is what it is like, the different areas, little villages that have been created by the homeless staying there. Doesn't that say so much about their humanity? I guess I am speaking to the "choir" as the saying goes, for I doubt anyone who has a closed heart will be able to tolerate my compassion and the content of this posting...
As I walk around under the bridge I see the bedding and the empty mattresses of the working homeless and those who are at the shelters for the night. Yes, some of the homeless have mattresses. Some of them have created little rooms, out of their tiny spaces under the highway in between two busy highway streets. 1 woman who I am thinking of is clearly mentally ill, yet has enough wherewithal to take some care of herself. When I saw her yesterday evening she had taken the HotHands packages I had given her and put them on this sacred altar like structure of gifts that have been given to her. She displays them so proudly. She told me that the handwarmers kept her warm until they came and got the homeless (I am going to assume it was the Homeless Assistance techs who came to get them, which are part of the NOPD) at 4a.m. and took them to shelters. I gave her an extra packet today for tomorrow. She seems simultaneously strong and incredibly fragile when I speak with her. I showed her tonight how to take the handwarmers and put them between 2 pairs of socks to keep the feet warm.
I am not taking pictures for a few reasons. 1. The last time I did in tent city - they were gone within the month. I know the t.v. stations and people from newspapers come to photograph the homeless. 2. Something intuitively tells me not to. For whatever reason my mind has not been given as an understanding, my intuition and my heart say "do not" photograph them and I am honouring this inner voice until otherwise guided.

(3). Far too often as I walk around under the highway, it is as if I am walking around peoples bedrooms and that is so wrong that we treat our planetary brothers and sisters in this way all over this planet. So wrong ethically and morally, that so many can drive or walk by the homeless and for all intents and purposes, ignore them. Many of the homeless that I have interacted with have little spaces (4'x6') under the highway, set up like it is a small corner of a room, which is all theirs, (without end tables, lamps, etc.) Many of the homeless in this one area, have sleeping bags or sleep wrapped in blankets on the concrete. Others have mattresses and some have tents. There are some couches that people sit and visit with each other on. And either someone brought or someone found, a grill, which some of the homeless are using to build a fire and keep warm on the bitter nights. Others are burning anything they can and then sitting in front of chemically laden burning paper and scraps.

(4).The lost 2 cases of HotHands handwarmers arrived today postage due (so much for free shipping!) my postal guy was really cool and took a out of state check which he usually doesn't after I told him what was in the package and how I was going to distribute them to the homeless. I could see in his eyes that his kind heart opened immediately and he decided to trust me on the check thing. I told him "you know where to find me to come if you need to come back for the cash."

Getting "tapped" out.
(5). I gave out my last $10 last night to a homeless man who had a job, was looking through bags of clothes someone had left for the homeless by the curb, (in a busy intersection), for clothes for work but did not have a back tire for his bike to get to his job. It was a difficult decision, as I am struggling myself financially. My heart told me to give him the money and I told him, "look you can go and drink with this $10 or you could get that bike tire in the morning, get to your job and make enough money to have drinks every night if you wanted them." He told me that he was a hard worker and was really trying to get it together. I chose to believe him.

(6). Recently, in my neighborhood, I have been feeling like 3 people who are good people, good to their neighbors, who are down on their luck, are "tapping me". A few dollars here and there. Two of the three are women. The women I know by name, they do not come and speak with me in conversation, lately they only seem to stop by my door when they see me out front or they will knock on my door to ask me for money, usually enough for a pack of cigarettes.
One of the women got angry with me for saying no when she wanted to borrow my bike. I told her that she has had a history since I've known her, of having flat tires and losing her bike and that I can't afford to replace my bike. (I found it on the street left out for trash, Uptown). I told her, I lose it - no bike. That's it for me and I can't afford a bike tire if she got a flat. She got angry with me for saying no to her. It is not the first time I have had to say no - and explain to her "just because I am white doesn't automatically mean I have money". It is a false premise that I have to counteract and educate people on far too often in New Orleans. A few minutes later, I heard her out front using the bike pump I leave out for her under my fence, to share. I told her she could take it with her to go to the store and bring it back. She has taken it for a few days before and I have had to ask her to leave it so we both can use the bike pump when we need it. This time she took it in anger for 4 -5 days and only brought it back when I saw her on the street and called her over and asked her to put it back so we can both use it when we need it. I realize I am going to need to have the "asking for money" boundary setting conversation, with her, again. It takes a lot of energy out of me to continually have to do this and follow up with the reinforcing of the boundary.
The other woman in the neighborhood who has asked me for money came up to me tonight as I got out of the car from my trip under the bridge. She asked me if I had cigarettes. She knows I don't smoke, I think she was hoping I would give her cigarette money again - she came to my door before Christmas and I gave her $4 for smokes. Tonight, I felt that I needed to say no and not offer anything (mostly because I have no money myself and the gas tank is on E! and because it does not "feel" intuitively right as she has a job at the park zoo and should have enough for smokes -I need to find out what is going on to figure out when and what to give or not).

You see, it takes a lot of mental and spiritual energy for me to be "present" and be able to assess in the moment what is needed and how to respond. It takes a lot of energy because I am so highly empathic and and especially after being amongst the homeless, I experience sensory overload and need to rest. It is my expereince when I am around people that my heart - without my "mind" granting authority and without my nervous systems agreement - starts taking in the spiritual, emotional, and psychological pain of those around me, as a form of energy. It doesn't matter what type of crowd I am in, although sitting in a doctors office waiting room or in a hospital is agonizing - I get so overwhelmed and my nervous system circuits go haywire. That is why I am feeling so challenged lately by losing my annonymity and some of the homeless men feeling that they can be more "familar" with me and my neighbors coming to my door to ask me for money. If it was just these acts it would be possible to stand back and assess without much difficulty - it is the added quality of being "highly" empathic that adds the monkey wrench into the whole dynamic.

There is one other instance I would like to share with you. It concerns a man who is homeless on and off in this neighborhood. He asked me to buy him some food one night about a week and a half ago. I did not have enough money for my own food needs that night and had a can of expensive tuna (I try to stay away from mercury in the fish so I eat tuna, when I can afford it, from Thailand, that I get at Whole Paycheck. I am hoping that the fishing waters in Thailand might be cleaner - somewhat - then ours.) So this is a $1.99 can of tuna, which I had for myself to eat and when I brought it to the man who was "tapping me" for food money, he got angry with me and accused me of giving him a can of cat food. Which I guess if you don't come from the same culture and background as I have, it would seem so. To me a can of 'good' tuna is a good protein source and a meal, we ate a lot of it as kids, tuna sandwiches, pb&j's.

Recently, when I see him on the street, he will tease me when he sees me for giving him " a can of cat food". After a few times of it, it was hard to hear him repeating this and I have asked him to stop. The other night he was very drunk and kept me on my doorstep, getting way too touchy-feely and speaking to me inappropriately. I told him to think of me as if I were a "nun" but without the "habit". He likened me then to the Dominican nuns who used to be very good to him as a small child, who would give him food and quarters. The next night when I walked by him on the street, he was drunk again. This time it was New Years Eve, I was walking past to see the firework display at the end of my street down by Carrolton Avenue. He was sitting on one of the doorsteps with some neighbors. I could tell immediately he was drunk as he began to speak with me, I told him, "talk to me when you are sober," he kept "but," "but," and asking for "a minute". I wouldn't budge and kept repeating as I walked by, "talk to me tommorrow when you are sober".

I guess I am sharing this with you my dear readers so that you see there is no glamour around helping those who have a lot of problems and little capital. It is the most challenging and most meaningful and profound service work I have ever engaged in. And I have had more than then average amount of chances to do so in the last 20 years when it comes to helping and serving my planetary brothers and sisters. Sometimes though, my heart gets too full and by telling, sharing their stories with you, I create a little more space in my heart to be there to the best of my abilities for whomever needs a little planetary TLC next.

Thank you for listening, for reading, for sharing, for holding me, and those I have written about in your hearts. It is going to be so cold tonight and tomorrow - Thursday and Thursday night - 27 degrees. Then it will warm up to 40 degrees at night. Endurable in a blanket or tent especially when you can warm yourself in the sun and warm air during the day.

Prayers for the Suffering.

P.S. It is so cold here tonight in my little drafty shotgun that I am still cold and I have on a ski cap, 3 shirts, tights and a skirt, two pairs of socks and winter boots. The curtain between the back room and the front room bellows out as if there was a breeze from open door - it is from the big cracks in my floor! And a big hole in the wall - from where my landlord put in a new plumbing pipe - he didn't finish the job and left a big hole between the wall and cabinet under the sink!

Imagine if your Planetary Sister is this cold in her house, how cold the homeless are - they are exposed to the elements. At least I have some protection...

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