Wednesday, March 01, 2006

This is an actual letter, written to the Superior Court, for an applicant to the Homeless and Caring Court Program:

"To Home in may concern,
I served 6 months in Solowo County Jail, then they let me free on New Years Eve and I got busted and served 6 months in Napa State Mental Hospital. I went to Reno Nevada hopefully return to California and work the day shift at the Atlantis Casino. Then I arrived in Oakland to find work I found out I have $8,000 worth of tickets in Oakland and tickets in Berkeley for smoking near Starbucks. And a open container I found out I have HIV and my life is ruined. During this time I got a voucher for California ID card went to Claremont DMV to get my picture taken and ID to be sent to Daves Open Door Mission. Anyway if you send me to San Quinten or Santa Rita I want Lethal Injection or work furlow. Hopefully I'll get my job for military sealift command I would like my SSI once I get my ID I'm gone I'm going east or S.F. maybe original Joe's #144 Taylor will hire me back.


John Doe"

Shame on us. Shame on all of us for not caring. Shame on us who think it more important to just build a pile of money for ourselves so that when we die there's a big ole fat set of zeros in our electronic bank account. Shame on us who think we will get to heaven just by taking care of our own, that simply by putting our rich white middle class children through the best schools we can sit back and dust off our hands and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Don't tell me that people who are homeless deserve it. Don't tell me that they're all crack addicts, low life scoundrels who got what's coming to them. Don't tell me about no American Dream farce, about the equality of opportunity in this country, about how anybody if they just had the work ethic, if they just stopped being so lazy and stopped feeling bad for themsleves, can save themselves.

As August Wilson in Gem of the Ocean wrote, "sometimes it's all you can do to just stand up." But so often there's someone there to push you back down, to keep you in the river to drown you. Not only that, it's not those of us wo do the pushing back down that have me on this soap box. It's all of us standing on the shore, watching, doing nothing, pretending it doesn't exist. We busy ourselves with money, with wealth, with success, with pleasing the corporate hinch men. We make ourselves so busy, so busy, that the marginalized really do begin to fade from existance.

For when we stand by the shore and watch this is what we are saying: "You, you who are drowning, you do not exist. You are not human. You are certainly not my brother."

For crying out loud, pick a cause. Why wait? Don't wait until your loved one dies of cancer or a friend's child get hits by a drunk driver to get involved. Why does it always have to hit home before anyone gets motivated? The time is now people. The problems are plentiful. Pick a cause. My God, pick a cause.

Don't know where to start?

Well, with just this one John Doe we have a whole host of possibilities before us: mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, incarceration, unfair legal practices that continue to bill people who can't pay, job readiness, emergency care, food shortage, health services, harm reduction, HIV education testing and counseling, slave labor masked as "work furlow," corporate irresponsibility, and finally the culture of violence that not only allows people to be viscerally executed--killed anesthetically--but actually convinces people that this is the best option for them, that their life is, indeed, not worth living, that John Doe does not exist.

Give money, give time, give expertise. If you have any of these, then you have a responsibility to share it because John Doe is part of your community. He is a by product of the system you have helped create, the system you help propogate when you do give your time money and expertise to your favorite political cause. The system we have created, that we propogate, is MALFUNCTIONING.

John Doe still has love, do you?

My God, pick a cause.


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1:30 AM  
Blogger Mister Zen said...

Dear Joe,

Hello! My name is Richard, and I am a freshman at UC Berkeley, and nearly done with my first year of university. I admire your work, and I think that for the longest time I was one of your spectators, standing on the shore. But as you must know from your experience, any Berkeley student after one year becomes well acquainted with the homeless situation on a day-to-day basis. And what should one do about it?

Initially, I thought I could ignore it. I would greet the homeless, try to show them that I sympathized with them, try to show that I still considered them as human beings, as part of our society. I realize that this stance is not entirely correct, because it does nothing to truly improve their conditions in the eyes of the rest of our society.

So then I began contributing when they begged for money. But I think that this is not entirely correct either. It may give them false hope, and is money without a base of capital. It does not provide what the homeless lack: what you mentioned as a place--space--in society. And how do you achieve that space? A livable wage, capital, which will give them the chance at social mobility--our American Dream as you say.

I think you see what I'm getting at then. I understand your frustration, and I have been frustrated all my life. I remember, as a kid, being reduced to tears at the plight of the homeless in San Francisco, and being ashamed of it because my father said that it was their plight for being_______(name the cause). However, I still believe in this "American Dream" concept; I still hold to the principle that the low and middle class have the chance to move upward, because they retain a livable wage which means they are above the poverty line. Though their chance is obviously not high, that chance exists (and in foreign countries, that chance may not exist). Therefore, I propose for the homeless to cling to the American Dream, in the hopes that it is not an illusion.

I recently became Christian, and I realize also your frustration with "us who think it more important to just build a pile of money for ourselves so that when we die there's a big ole fat set of zeros in our electronic bank account. Shame on us who think we will get to heaven just by taking care of our own, that simply by putting our rich white middle class children through the best schools we can sit back and dust off our hands and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done." I agree that this goal of life is not the most worthy, though many in our culture today aspire to it because of what they hear from the media or because of the desire for comfort and pleasure which is natural to everyone.

I'm glad that there are people like you who are working for change, and I hope to join this movement towards helping the homeless. Frankly speaking, my initial motivation was selfish--I had wanted to restore People's Park to the people of Berkeley and transform it from a makeshift homeless shelter into just a park again. But of course my main concern is to help those who are rather helpless.

So ultimately, why am I writing you? I was thinking of entering a contest called "Bears Breaking Boundaries" on the UC Berkeley campus (, and of creating a project to benefit the homeless (there is a money prize for winning submissions, which can be used for the project proposal). Perhaps one way that we can start helping the homeless is by creating a really comprehensive academic course, with a fieldwork component, for the Berkeley students. I think that if this course taught what could be done (concrete actions) about homelessness, we might be able to generate the critical mass (which I believe is currently missing) which could reintegrate the homeless into our society in the course of a decade or so.

If this project gets off the ground, then I could use all the help that I can get in developing this course, which is one reason that your blog interested me. If you are interested, my e-mail is

Thanks for very much for the consideration, I hope that you do get around to reading this, and keep up the good works.


4:33 PM  

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