“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
http://www.irp.wisc.edu/dispatch/ great blog on homelessness and poverty, etc.
I am presently sipping a Wild Turkey and Honey. November 26, 2009, I volunteered at the Manitou Town Hall Salvation Army Thanksgiving. All my family is out of town and I wanted to be with others on this holiday. Manitou people are the friendliest and I had done it about 10 years ago. In this picture you see, I believe, MaryAnn, her son and WD being served. I kept asking MA if she needed to sit down. She was a little wisp of a thing and I just kept my eye on her……She was a trooper serving that turkey. Finally after about 2 hours she said she was going to sit. I thought, well thank God. I was standing behind her and caught her as she appeared to have several seizures and caught her and held her until the paramedics got there. A young women got out her cell phone as I ordered, “call 911”. I apologize to anyone I yelled orders to. I was frightened and have worked in crisis situations in the past. We were right next door to Fire Station and not sure if they got there first. James or John, who I had been preparing food with got a blanket from the donated clothing and blankets and put it on her. After paramedics got there they laid her down on the floor and I put my jacket under her head. oh I forgot this part…The woman who was singing Christmas songs and playing guitar appeared, I guess she was taking a break and she said, let’s pray so I think I held her arm while holding MA’s head in my other hand and we prayed. Business went as usual; someone stepped in to serve in place of MA and I don’t think too many people realized what was going on. I thought that at one point MA had died right there, however, I didn’t want to move her from the chair. Anyway, as she was being wheeled down the back to the ambulance that was parked by the creek, she waved to everyone. Her son and daughter-in-law went with her to the hospital. I pray she is ok. I’m a mess. The best turkey I’ve had today is “Wild.” P.S. While living in Minneapolis before I moved to Colorado I had similar experiences. There would be a couple roll over wrecks in front of me at an intersection. I would get out of my car and the person would crawl out of the upside down car and fall into my arms. Weird. I’ve been a community social worker for several years but have taken some time off from the stress. I think I need some more time…..I almost forgot this part. I had put my jacket under her head when she laid down on floor and then I went outside for air when paramedic told me I could git. I came back to look for my jacket(it was sort of new) and I couldn’t find it. I went to the clothing donation table and asked one of the volunteers if they had seen my jacket. I bet we had over 1,000 pieces of clothing there to donate. I got there just in time. Someone had folded it up and put it at the front of the table to give away…….
Today, Nov. 21st, I volunteered at Springs Rescue Mission. I did yesterday too, however, I just want to write about today and Alvin Paul. Alvin came to the Mission looking for warm clothing. We were only seeing people that had signed up previously for a bag of food and a frozen turkey, however, Alvin is well known at the mission and we unlocked the clothing room for him to get some pants and warm things. Another cold front is moving in tomorrow. It was balmy today. Alvin Paul kept saying “I’m sorry” to us while we were trying to find him some long underwear. I told him he didn’t have to say that. He looked about 80 yrs. old and had sores on his face and hands like possibly frostbite, who knows. Sort of greenish. He had long curly blonde/gray hair under his stocking cap. The director said Alvin tried their recovery program several times but it just didn’t take. When I was finished not finding all that Alvin needed he asked me my name, extended his gnarly hand with green sores on it and I shook it. He said nice to meet you, I’m Alvin the Tramp. That’s who I am. Thank you very much and hobbled out of the Mission. The director said he usually has a bicycle with a cart, but someone must of stolen it. Hope to see you again soon Alvin and I’ll try to get someone to donate some long underwear. It’s been a while since I’ve worked out on the streets, about 3 years exactly, so I got a little lump in my throat after he left. Stay warm Alvin.
One Story From the “front”: Under the Willow Tree in St. Paul
Previously I wrote about an experience with a sweat lodge in the north woods of Minnesota. The sweat lodge was used to bring American Indian(mostly Ojibwae and Lakota) families and homeless teens on my caseload back to their tradition, to their spiritual core, to their strength. All week I have been thinking of one particular woman for which I advocated. For confidentiality reasons I will call her by a different name. Her real name that her mother named her was extremely beautiful. I will call her Ann. Ann was 23 yrs. old when I first went to her home for a visit and introduce myself as her advocate. Ann’s mother was in prison on meth charges, and two of her sons, age four and six were in a foster care home. Ann lost another baby son to adoption during a stint in jail. Ann’s grandmother lived in the neighborhood and was known as a pretty mean woman with the disease of alcoholism. Ann tried to live with her and used her phone but ended up living in a house a couple blocks away because of all the fights they would get into. Ann had a sister in the neighborhood that was known as a pretty heavy drug user and drinker. Ann was a meth user and drinker too. Before I made my first home visit my co-workers warned me that Ann was a mean little cuss that didn’t like people to offer help. With my assessment paperwork and bundle of sage in hand I drove down the alley and knocked on her back door. surprisingly she let me in. I sat on her sofa with her and tried to build some reporte. Trust comes after many visits if even at all. My co-workers were right. She was a tiger. After a few questions that I was required by my grant to ask, Ann piped in and said, are you going to help me get my boys back or not? She just wants her boys back. I told her I didn’t have much power to do that but I’d walk with her through the process. Her affect was so flat and I left before I completed the grant assessment, gave her my business card, and told her to call anytime. Back at my office in the basement of an American Indian agency, my co-workers told me, she will never call you. She has gone through several workers. I can’t remember exactly how long it took, but Ann did reach out to me after a while and we did engage in dialogue about what was expected by Child Welfare for her to be re-united with her sons. The number one expectation on her treatment plan was for her to be sober. I would invite Ann to talking circles held by Elders from various tribes. I invited Ann to feasts and sweats. The agency gave her bus passes and we went to another agency to get food. Ann was reluctant but she started attending therapeutic gatherings. She was a little cusser, and that was fine, we were just glad to see her finally start working her treatment plan. I have worked on the other side before as a child protection case worker. I knew the hard road before her to get her boys back. I was totally honest with her when she’d come to the office for a visit. Sobriety is number one, Ann. You must be in recovery before the state will even consider returning your boys to you. Co-workers as well as myself were always surprised when the receptionist would call me from my basement office to announce that Ann was here to see me. My clinical supervisor and I researched some treatment center possibilities for Ann. We found one up in northern Minnesota that was mainly for American Indian women. It was a very spiritual rehab that focused on American Indian traditions. Ann came to me finally and said she would go, that she was ready to get sober and get her boys back, to do whatever it took. I took her to a center in the city and a bus picked her and some other women up and took them to this treatment center up far deep into the north woods. It was a freaking miracle that this took place. Ann was finally going for treatment. After a month she came back with a smile on her face. It was the first time anyone had ever seen her smile. I had made arrangements for Ann to live in a halfway house in St. Paul. When I would visit her there she would show me her beautiful beaded earrings she made at the treatment center in the woods. She smiled often. She was so beautiful when she was happy and she was so full of hope. We were all so proud of her. However, we were afraid when she spoke of going back to her grandmother’s and spending time with her sister. We warned her that even though these people were family she should spend her first months in recovery with other people who did not use and were also in recovery. We knew that if she went back into the inner city environment from where she came she would be doomed. Therapists at the halfway house like working with Ann. They said that even though she showed a rebellious spirit at times they also had hope for her. Ann and I would go to visits to see her sons. She showed much love for them, taking little toys to them with money she made at the halfway house. Then one day I got a call. Ann screwed up and was kicked out of the halfway house. She came to my office in tears begging for me to try to get her back in the half-way house. I went to advocate for her and they said they would consider it if she was sober again for another month. Ann started hanging out with her sister again and went back to her grandmothers. Child welfare said this was her last chance. We needed to find a permanent home for Ann’s boys. Ann disappeared for several weeks and re-appeared at the office. I asked her to come on a picnic with some women and some workers and she agreed. We fished at the lake at the park and grilled hot dogs. Ann and I then went to a big tree by the lake and sat in the shade so I could talk with her. I told her she would not be getting her boys back according to her child welfare worker. It was hard and I tried not to cry…sitting under the willow tree by the lake in St. Paul. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I said that she needed to help us find a home for her boys. A home with some relatives possibly. She said she had a cousin on a reservation in Nebraska that we could call. She cried. We went back to the agency and Ann disappeared again. She appeared one day with her cousin’s phone number. We made plans with the cousin and her husband to come visit the boys. They informed us that they would like to help and take the boys to the reservation with them in Nebraska. They said if Ann was ever sober, and only then, could she come up and play a role in her boys lives. The last time I saw Ann she had her own apartment she was proud of and she appeared sober. I left the agency after a year and half and moved to Colorado three years ago next week. I don’t know why I’ve been thinking of Ann lately. It’s been a difficult year for me. Maybe I was trying to gather some strength from her spirit to mine. Not sure. I just hope she’s in Nebraska with her boys.