Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count

lahsa homeless count 2019

Last night I volunteered a few hours of my time to participate in the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.  Basically what this entails is walking, or driving in an assigned grid with a small team of people to simply view and count the number of people or shelters you encounter on the street while wearing a bright yellow vest with reflective tape all over it, looking as stylish and as inconspicuous as a walking traffic cone.

vest

All questionable fashion attire aside, it was a beautiful night to be out walking the mean streets of No Ho.  It was chilly, but not bitingly cold and I was grateful it wasn’t pouring rain as it had been all last week.

We. the volunteers, met in the Senior Center at a local park where we were briefed on what to look for, how to do the count, and how to report our findings accurately.  I was especially impressed with the level of respect the organization stressed.  Respect was undergirding every bit of language and instruction we were given.  We were advised not to engage or intrude upon the privacy of the individuals we encountered.  The people we were counting were referred to as “individuals experiencing homelessness” not “homeless people” or the even more dehumanizing term “the homeless” – as if “they” were all one big teeming mass of human driftwood cluttering up the shores of our lovely city.

We were told to look for people who may be living in RV’s on the street, to check parking lots for individuals who may be sleeping in their cars, those who may be in tents or those who may be sheltering in doorways.

After the orientation, the paperwork of signing release forms and grabbing our vests, we split up into groups of four and got our grid assignments for the night.  One of our team volunteered to drive, one to navigate, one to record and I was there to be awake, aware and to count.

We walked and also slowly drove through the residential areas and walked on foot down the brightly lit main streets.  We also walked all the alleyways on foot and I was surprised at how clean they were and how quiet the residential neighborhoods were considering the area we were in was between a main street and the freeway.

As we walked we talked and joked.  We noted all the sights and particularly the smells around us as we passed burger joints, outdoor taco vendors, laundromats and, my favorite fragrance of the evening, an Indian food restaurant.  The funniest part was that all of us became instantly aware when there was a marijuana dispensary ahead of us because even with the doors closed, that smell was more pungent than a thousand garlic naans!

But as a group, whenever we spotted a car, a tent, an RV or a person sleeping on the street, all conversation ceased.  We would simply observe and our recorder would make a notation on her clipboard.  Every time the reality of one person experiencing homelessness was before us, we became silent and sober and no one would talk for a long while afterwards.

At the end of the night, when we had gone down every alley and driven down every street our tally ended up being three RVs, one tent, one person living in a car and one man curled up in a doorway – hard to spot, but there – surrounded by cast off Goodwill donations.

At the end of the night, our mission completed, we all got signed certificates of appreciation for our time.  We got in our nice cars and went back to our cozy homes, with our full refrigerators and our warm beds, our counting done.

For me, I see people experiencing homelessness every day as the area behind my home has been turned into a jogging path and there are a few guys living right behind my house who I see often.  Even still, now that I have been trained to spot people “living rough”, as they say in England, I can’t unsee the tents, the tarps, the abandoned couches, the dirty feet sticking out from behind dumpsters.  On the way home I was still counting… there were four tents clumped together on the freeway underpass.  One block from my house there was a dude sleeping in a sleeping bag in another doorway on the street.  And the women who are experiencing homelessness.  I know they are out there, but where are they?  Even further hidden away, I suspect.

Homelessness is such a huge problem and it appears to be getting worse, not better.  The purpose of our counting last night was to get some hard numbers to determine funding and provide resources for these folks. Actually seeing how some people are barely surviving in our country, one of the richest on earth, is sobering, and so are the stats:

53,195
People in Los Angeles County are experiencing homelessness

22%
Increase in people aged 62 and older who are experiencing homelessness

3 out of 4
People experiencing homelessness remain unsheltered

6%
Of people experiencing homelessness are currently fleeing violence

9,322
People over the past year are experiencing homelessness for the first time

I’d like to end this blog post on a more uplifting note, but it is what it is. For me, I do what I can and I take what I can into my daily prayer. But after last night I do want to say this: If you are experiencing homelessness? I see you and you do count.

help

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Forgiveness: The Gift of the Peach 🍑

Rumi Field

I had an entirely new experience with forgiveness recently which was so effortless and blissful, I feel compelled to share.

I was talking on the phone with an old friend who has been, at different times in my life, a lover, a teacher, a mentor, a hero and/or a burr in my butt. Over time our relationship has mellowed into something that is delicious and precious. Years go by and we don’t speak, but I’ve just decided on a new nickname for him: Peach. No word back on how he feels about the nickname, but there it is. The man is a peach of a human being. He has no choice in the matter.

The forgiveness isn’t about him, it came through him. We were talking about various friends, practitioners and ministers we have known, about the subject of working with clients, and about healing. I was sharing with him where I am currently on my path in ministry and we talked about what it’s like to work with someone who can “go there” with you.

The conversation created such a deep, vast, wide field of unconditional love that words became irrelevant, and although I was listening to him, something else was happening. I was being fed by what was moving behind and between his words. I didn’t even know what was happening, but I downshifted into this space and I told him. “Whoa. I have to get off the phone and sit with this.”

I tried to write then, but I couldn’t find the words. The closest I can come is that I’m feeling my way into a new way of being. As a practitioner, as a minister, as a woman, as a friend, as a lover, as a conscious being on the planet.

As a result of what was fed to me through that conversation, shift has happened in almost every area of my life. I had a few old resentments that seemed huge to me, but I watched them wash away like tiny specks of dirt in this ocean of limitless love.

This is the promise of healing made manifest. Effortless forgiveness. Boundless love. A field of Infinite Possibilities.

Are you willing to go there? Because this is the only place I want to play now. This is where I will build my new home, my new life.

I invite you to meet me there.   ❤

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💥 Happy Independence Day! 💥

Liberty Bell

On this day as I contemplate my bittersweet feelings about this place called America, I remember how painful becoming conscious can be.

32 years ago today I threw in the towel on drinking and drug use and decided to give this thing called sobriety a try. It’s been a long and rocky road and I’ve slipped a few times along the way, but I have no regrets.

Today as I contemplate the original bold intentions of the founding fathers I know that declaring an intention is only the first step of the journey. We’ve come a long way, but there is still obviously a long way to go when it comes to “liberty and justice for all.”

In 12 Step programs, Step 4 involves taking a “fearless and through moral inventory” where we review those we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. This is the leg of the journey where we pick up the stones and discover all the creepy crawlies that lie beneath the surface that we haven’t been willing to acknowledge or deal with before. It’s a time of reckoning. A process of facing what is there before us and becoming willing to do the work to stand in integrity, once again, or perhaps for the first time. It is not a process for the faint of heart, but it is most definitely a journey worth taking.

This is my prayer for myself and for America this 4th of July, that we become willing to do the work to not only stay awake and aware, but that we stand in strong integrity with the original intention that brought us here.

For myself I celebrate this day and my personal freedoms. I am grateful to have come this far knowing I still have a long way to go.

As the usual rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air begins, please take a moment with me to be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy, and let us set our intention anew to remain conscious and compassionate with ourselves and all others on this journey.

Let freedom ring! 🔔

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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day Four

Desert Rain

3:48am – Desert Rain

As I was taking a nap in the afternoon yesterday it rained! The joyful sound of it woke me up. Inside my room it sounded like someone randomly hitting notes on a collection of pots and pie pans.

We had a group meditation directly after that and it was lovely. The sound of the rain on the meditation hall, the rumblings of the thunder and the cooing of the mourning doves taking shelter under the eaves of the meditation hall, all the while trying to find the nose on my face in my mind so I could observe the respiration through my nostrils.

Dream – Meta Goenka-ism

I woke myself up with my own snoring this morning. I was having a dream that Goenka was telling me about tax write offs for householders who practice Vipassana through the Triple Gem law. This is a very funny joke, but only if you are at a Goenka Vipassana Center doing a 10 day course.

Note on the mind’s workings: Noble Silence allows one the opportunity to completely project entire personalities onto other people without having to be bothered with any working knowledge of who they are by how they present themselves in words. It makes me laugh how I already picked out a love object, an enemy, a few kind helper types, etc.

I realize the only men I’ve seen on this retreat have been fleeting glimpses from far away. I’ve looked at the male teacher and the male manager, who is a young, dishy Thai guy. Other than that, my strict adherence to Noble Silence has been impressive as it concerns the men.

The women I watch, but I am careful not to interact and I avert my eyes. Sometimes we hold doors open for one another, one time I got someone a spoon when I realized she couldn’t reach, but I did it covertly as if I was just moving a soup spoon into the teaspoon bin.

Morning gong is being sounded. It sounds so lovely. Even though I’m writing, which is verboten, I’m not regretting it, having my own room lets me keep my secret. I remember sneaking out into the desert and the woods to scribble a note on a scrap of paper at other retreats, an idea I didn’t want to forget, or an insight I wanted to flesh out in my writing later.

I need a shower, but won’t have time before the first sitting. I didn’t take one yesterday because the one I took the day before was so disappointing. The shower is so low flow that it’s like trying to soap up while someone is spitting on you. The water almost evaporates before it gets to your nether regions. Frustrating to one who makes a well-cleaned crotch a priority.

7:14am – Worst. Oatmeal. Ever.

Entirely my own fault. How do you screw up oatmeal? Probably the same way you burn broccoli.

P.S. – A1 does not have A1 breath. Sitting next to her this morning knocked me back.

11:49am – Lunch looked great, it was Thai curry, but I was all about the salad again. My stomach is okay today. No wheat or dairy, but there were amazing vegan spring rolls like they serve at Hugo’s.  They might have had tofu in them, but I didn’t care.  I wolfed them down so fast, I forgot to add the sauce. I also didn’t read the sign that said, “Please only take two” and I took three. I got checked with a look by a Thai lady. It may have been the one I call Outbreak Patient Zero, but I didn’t glance her way even though her message came through loud and clear.  Noble Silence, indeed!

There’s a thing that’s started happening at lunch that I totally dig. A handful of us eat lunch at the table outside when it’s not too hot / not too cold and then we all move our chairs away from the table, kick back with tea, and just sit there looking at the view. I call us the “Desert Appreciators Club”.

The vistas here are awe inspiring, and the clouds that roll in put on a new show every day. I never thought I’d say I love the desert because I’ve always just thought of it as hot and dry with nothing to look at, but this trip has convinced me otherwise. There’s this wild beauty about the desert here that I’d never seen before. The only disappointment is that unlike the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, which is where I did my last one before they built this place, there are no actual Joshua trees here. I saw them along the way, but there aren’t any at this particular location.

Going back to food for a moment, I’m going to try and eat raw vegan as much as possible here if I can. I’m not drinking anything with caffeine in it, no Thai tea for me yesterday, or was it coffee?, I didn’t even look. No wheat or dairy, and I haven’t taken any IBU today, so all is well. I want the list of supplements Rev. MBB told us he would give to Rev. Cheryl. He takes systemic enzymes and I think those would really help me. I saw them at the bookstore, but didn’t have my glasses on to read the label. They were seventy something bucks a bottle though. Damn.

Okay, gonna go for a little hike and then shower if I have time before meditation starts again.

9:16pm – Shower won out over hike.

The bathroom here is nicer than my bathroom at home, lack of water pressure aside.

Today was a big meditation meltdown after lunch. A lot of anger and fear came up. Felt like I was having a panic attack.  A1‘s breath was so in my face I felt like I was in a closet with a dead person with no way out. At one point I seriously thought I was going to throw up. When I came back to my room I almost did. I was having hot flashes and then I realized I was dehydrated. I’m not drinking nearly as much water here as I do at home and I’m walking more and… I’m in the desert.  I chugged some water and felt better. Then the evening Dhamma talk made everything better. Goenka’s funny stories, especially the one about, “What is beauty? Is it the hair on the head? Is it still beautiful when it falls in your food?” Ha! I love that one.

Next Time Bring:

Glasses
Nail cleaner tool
Ayr or Neti Pot (dry air hard on nose)
Hydrocortizone cream (dry air makes skin itchy)
Citrucil (all day sitting does something to ya)
Get a pedicure before the trip (rough feet bugged me)

Bedtime.

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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day Three

Rumi

Noon – Today was far less difficult than yesterday.

No screaming back pain. I think it’s the IBU that’s f’ing up my stomach. Didn’t have any dairy, wheat or soy today and was fine until I took IBU.

Lunch today was the best meal so far. Yellow lentil curry soup and TWO kinds of salad! One had sorta ruffly lettuce with tomatoes and a sweet vinegarette dressing and then the ever awesome salad bar. Inspirational Salad Girl outdid herself at lunch with a huge mountain of salad on her plate and it looked like she made her own dressing. I don’t call her inspirational salad girl for nothing!

To amuse myself I’m making up names for people. There’s the Nice Manager and the Kind Teacher. In the row where I sit right in front of the teacher I’m between two other old students. The one to my left I call A1 because that’s her cushion position. (I’m A2, I try harder.) The one on my right is Burpy because she’s prone to frequent burping. Someone behind me is Rustly Girl because she’s always fussing with her cushions and blankets. Then there’s Anna, that’s her real name, who helped me at registration. Anna sits directly behind me. It’s nice knowing Anna’s got my back. Anna I call Dignity, Grace and Beauty because, well, that’s what she is. My nickname for myself is Spilly because I seem to keep spilling and sloshing my drinks out of the cups I’m using. Then there’s Rude Server Girl who broke *Noble Silence for some reason to quiz me about why I was sitting outside the meditation hall. That was really odd.

Rude Server Girl – “Are you okay?”

Me – “Yes.”

Rude Server Girl – “Are you a new student?”

Me – “No.”

Rude Server Girl – “Are you a server?”

Me – “No.”

I thought my one word answers would make it clear I was observing Noble Silence and wasn’t open to conversation, but apparently she took it upon herself to usher me into the hall even though the talk hadn’t started. I wasn’t late. It was weird because the only people who are supposed to talk to us are the teacher or the manager.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m waking up more or if it’s because of the clouds in the sky, but Joshua Tree is GORGEOUS today. Cool and a little overcast because there are so many clouds in the sky, but the air is fresh and crisp and WOW. The vistas are mind-blowing.

I have seen lots of little creatures since I’ve been here. Chipmunks, rabbits, lizards, and birds. The desert exists on her own terms. I like that about her.

P.S. – I can’t be sure, but I suspect my water bottle is cheating on me with the other water bottles while I am meditating.

* Noble Silence – a technique used by a lot of Buddhists, monks, and nuns in which a person refrains from speaking as a way to help quiet the mind and condition the body in the discipline of right speech. By learning to keep from speaking every word that comes up, we can censor or even omit harmful speech, and thus keep from causing harm and suffering to others and ourselves.

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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day Two

2am

3:36am – The bane of the three hour sleep demon strikes again.

Just when I thought my Revelation curse was behind me! I must have fallen asleep around 10:30, but a series of bangs woke me up at 2am and I’ve not been able to fall asleep since.

Looking at the schedule I will probably have a chance to snooze after lunch. I remember in the past I’ve sometimes skipped lunch just to catch up on my sleep, but lunch is the big meal of the day so that’s a double-edged sword. Eat too much at lunch, you get sleepy and it’s hard to meditate. Skip lunch, get rested and then deal with hunger pangs the rest of the day.

I can hear someone snoring through the wall. I’m jealous. The morning bell will be rung soon. I’m having lustful thoughts of breakfast already. (Craving, craving, craving!)

10:36am – My stomach hates me.

Was it the single slice of bread I ate last night with the lentil soup? Or the scant spoonful of yogurt on my oatmeal this morning? I am laying on my rock hard cot fully clothed, wondering which will come first: death? or lunch?

11:43am – Lunch came first, although death may soon follow.

Am thinking I’ll have to remember what we ate because I know Sarah will ask. Today it was Pad Thai with tofu galore. Overcooked and they burned the broccoli. How do you BURN broccoli? The salad was good though. Salad bar style salad. Should have taken a cue from one of the other students who made her lunch a massive plate of salad. If it’s wheat, dairy or soy for lunch tomorrow that’ll be my go-to.

Just got a knock on my door that the teacher wants to see me. Any time anyone says, “The teacher wants to see you.” I feel like I’m in big trouble. Doesn’t matter how old I am, I immediately turn into a first grader in my head.

12:16pm – Turns out the teacher wanted to ask me if I feel I’m a new student or an old student since I haven’t been to a retreat in so long. I told her it doesn’t matter to me.  The only real difference would be that I’d get a piece of fruit at tea time as a new student, and I can pass on that.

I’m having an ongoing love affair with the purple water bottle I bought at Target right before I came on this trip. It’s so pretty and it goes with me everywhere.

My kingdom for a nap.

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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day One

4:35pm – Arrived in one piece.

Google map directions led me to a bar and grill in the middle of nowhere.

joshua-tree-saloon

Photo Credit:  GlobalGallop.com

I walked in and said, “Is this the Retreat Center?”

The dude behind the bar said, “No.”

I looked around at the bleary-eyed patrons hoisting a few in the darkened bar in the middle of the afternoon and said, “I guess it all depends on what you want to retreat from, huh?”

5:25pm – In my room.

So happy my room is a single. This is an entirely new experience. I have my own bathroom with a shower and a potty. Immediately after entering and realizing I had the room to myself, I let the contents of my suitcase explode. “Honey, I’m home!”

Eleven days. I can hang with this.

5:28pm – Already resenting turning over my cell phone in an honest manner. Could have lied and said I left it in my car. Vow next time to bring old Blackberry and smuggle Android into room.

Take solace in vowing to write to compensate for withdrawal symptoms. Grateful for the little notebook I had in the car. Let the word hoarding begin. Must hide notebook. Must break rules.  My inner monk got me here, but my inner rebel is the first one to stage a coup.

7:40pm – Dinner and orientation completed.

Ate like a sow at chow. Remember to be more moderate next time because meditation on a full stomach never works out well.

Bonded with another old student at dinner over the beauty of the North Fork Center and our mutual love of Bengal Spice tea. Confessed to breaking Noble Silence to talk to squirrels in times of hardship at North Fork. She said she did the same.

Glad I quit drinking coffee, but I’m dead tired. One intro meditation to go and we’re done for the day. A-freaking-men!

9:48pm – Intro meditation done.

So happy for bedtime. Don’t know how I’ll sleep though. Bed is hard as a rock and my stomach is upset. Just re-realized as an old student I won’t get to eat after noon. Lemon water and tea only. I don’t mind. It makes it easier to meditate that way.

“I like the way sparkling earrings lay
Against your skin so brown
And I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight
With a million stars all around”

When sunset started happening I was blown away by the beauty of the desert. I get why Glenn Fry wanted to sleep with that girl with the sparkling earrings out here.

Okay, lights out. 4am comes early. No idea how I’ll sleep without “Bob’s Burgers” tonight. My body feels like a lead brick, but I hit over 10,000 steps today without even trying, so that’s something.

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