Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Inspired By My Peers

// August 7th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // HIV and AIDS, Homeless Outreach

Clothes 004There’s this gospel song that I really like to listen to called “Again” and the words are very simple

Again I call you and again you answer,

Again, I need you and again you’re there

Lord

Again, I reach out and again you hold me

You console me once more and again……..

About a week ago I was starting to get a bit discouraged and was really starting to hit a wall. I was approaching August and my drive to raise supplies for the Do Something and Life Kits wasn’t going so well. I had received nearly all the letter that I had mailed out asking for donations of tooth brushes, mouth wash, body wash and other items and all of them came back as “NO” I was also seeing that some people who said they would help were simply placing meaningless comments on my vlogs on my YOUTUBE Channel. It was looking like what I had set out to do was going to fail and I was not feeling happy about this at all.

However I did now my core group of supporters would come through, they always do without fail, but even with this help I would still fall far short of the goal to raise enough supplies to make 600 kits total. I knew my core group of supporter, which also happen to be my friends would do all they could to help me reach my goal and for this effort I am so happy and thankful.

I was watching to news and seeing reports of how homeless people are treated and also saw an article in the Los AnglesClothes 003 Times about homeless people that were very disappointing to me. I’ve always had the mindset that helping people requires care and it always requires you to actually speak to and take into consideration what they person you are trying to help needs. There is simply no way of helping someone, when we refuse to speak directly with the person or persons who are trying to help. If my Nana was still alive, she would say “That’s like going fishing in the middle of street. All that will happen is you getting your silly ass run over. It would serve you right for being so damn dumb”

I started Do Something Saturday over three years ago after a access center in Venice refused to allow me to give my shower time to a woman and her kids. For those of you who dont know what an access center is, it is a place where homeless people are supposed to go to get help. But it was my experience that places like access centers are more trouble and heartache then they are any help. Do Something Saturday was started by trying to address the many problems I was having like clean clothes, new socks, food that wasn’t spoiled, respect and dignity, but I wasn’t trying to get this for myself, I wanted it for other homeless people. I guess what I am saying is that I’ve always spoken with and asked other homeless people what they needed and then did my best to try to get it for them.

Clothes 009Simply taking someone off the streets and placing them into housing does not and will not ever correct the out of control homeless situation here in our nation. There are many reason why a person becomes homeless and until we address each and every issue person by person, case by case and not by the cookie cutter, you must fit the mold way of doing things, then there will always be a massive problem with homelessness in this country. Pretty words on fancy paper or a flashy website wont work and neither will beating people with scripture and thus says the Lord will work either.

It is my opinion that no one really wants to do the hard work…..well I’ll take that back, there a few people and places willing to do the hard work to actually make steps towards ending homelessness for the people of this nation.  Case managers who look down upon people and do not, will not and can not grasp basic human compassion will only fail. Furthermore just because someone was once an addict or once homeless does not give them the green light to being a case manager or in charge of anyone other then themselves.

Many people have called what I do as being a “case manager” or “peer support” you can give it whatever fancy title youClothes 001 want, but all it really is, all it really requires is CARE, COMPASSION and a HEART. This isn’t some new approach to doing things, it is simply CARING or to make it plain like my Nana would if she were alive “It’s called giving damn” Some people will never understand what CARING means because they can’t stop to think about anything other then themselves. We live in a world of “get all you can, can all you get and then sit on the pot and poison the rest” CARE has been replaced with “what will I get out of this?” Many people talk about caring and loving humanity, but they truly have no concept of what caring and love truly means or what they truly require.

In every outreach I plan, no matter how large or how small, I always speak directly to the person or people I am trying to help. I need to know that they need, what they require from me and from them I require nothing. Everything I plan I ask myself “how will this help?”

So I was discouraged and I asked God for some inspiration and encouragement. I was very specific in my request saying “I need this now God, not later….right now.”

The next day after coming in from a walk with Dodger I opened the mail box and there was an envelope inside and when I opened it there was $10 from one of my friends from YOUTUBE, she sent the money to help buy water for my outreaches to homeless people. I smiled and said “Thank you” Two days later I got a paypal donation from another friend to help with the supplies for the Do Something and Life Kits and again I said “Thank you” less then 3 hours later I got another donation through paypal and this one made me fall to my knees and not just say “Thank you” but to really give praise and honor to a God will still answers prayers, who always shows up right on time.

Clothes 005Wednesday I woke up, made some coffee and starting working on a letter for my quilting project that I’ve started for people with HIV and AIDS here in the United States, I got a call from my friend KoKo (Rene) who is now working in the head offices for the company where my Skid Row outreach takes place. I am so happy she is now working there, I am sure she will do an outstanding job. I guess I should back track and say that when she told me she got the job there, she too was part of my answered prayer, but God wans’t done just yet.

While speaking with her there was a knock at my door, when I answered it was the postman with a large box. I knew it was from my friend Jen, another person from YOUTUBE who wanted to help. She sent a box of clothes. “Kengi it isn’t much, but I want to help…..” is what she said in the email to me a week prior, but when I say how big the box was and then opened the box to find that many of the items were brand new, with tags still on them and the used clothes were in such great condition, again I had to say “Thank You.”

“When do you think you will be back down on Skid Row, I’d like to see what you do?” KoKo asked me

“Well now that I have this donation I will schedule something for this week. How bout Friday at 1:00pm?”

She told me she needed to check with her boss and would let me know. When we hung up I emailed the case managerClothes 006and asked for the sizes of the women in her building. If they couldn’t wear the clothes, then I would take them to Common Ground in Santa Monica which is the only comprehensive HIV care facility on the west side, which also has clients who happen to be homeless.

I received an email back right away and the clothes would go to my Skid Row outreach. I was very happy about this, because when I get clothes for women they have been smaller sizes and I’ve only been able to help one lady in the building.  Now to be able to help the other women was awesome.

I had a very close encounter at the front door of the building which reminded me of how very important it is to always be aware of my surroundings, not to carry money on me and to take off my ipod when I walk toward the building. It also reminded me not to look like someone who is going to allow BS from someone. The past few times I’ve been to the building there is no one of the office so I have to call for one of the residents to come open the door. This time there was someone in the office, but was very slow to open it which could have been bad for me because the person who had passed me on the street walking toward the building was now walking behind me. When I buzzed I sat the bag down near the door and turned towards him. He asked me for 25 cents to catch the bus, I told him I had no money on me, but he was not about to take this for an answer.

“What’s in the bags then my nigga?”

Clothes 007I looked him dead in the eye and said firmly “None of your business. I said I don’t have 25 cents to give you now I suggest you move on” The entire time I was buzzing the ringer and finally was buzzed in. I didn’t bend down to pick up the bags of clothes until the gentleman had started walking away.

“Thank you” is what I said when I walking up the stairs and I heard “you’re welcome” from the lady in the office. I laughed to myself because I was not saying this to her, but to God for placing a hedge of protection around me. Something I had prayed for prior to leaving my apartment in Hollywood.

While I wasn’t able to give the clothes to the women, I was however able to meet my friend KoKo and I then had the honor of going to the head offices of the corporation and right away I was impressed. I was later blown completely of out the water by the staff I had the chance to speak with, but what clearly stood out for me was the conversation I had with the Executive Director. His passion and great CARE for what he does was very apparent to me. He was interested in the programs I bring and wanted to hear what I have to say.

I had the chance to talk with my friend and hear and read some of the awesome things this corporation is doing for people who are homeless and even people battling HIV and AIDS, How CARE and COMPASSION is at the front of what they do and even as I know there is much work to be done, I was so encouraged to know that the leader of this corporation was nothing like any other leader on Skid Row. I can honestly say without a doubt that this man truly cares about the work he does and wants the people who work with him to have the same care.

When I got home and was relaxing on the sofa. I called my friend Donald from the building on Skid Row to see how hisClothes 010 day was, he had to attend a funeral of a friend of his an I wanted to make sure he made it home ok. After speaking with Donald I got a call from another resident who said “I just want to thank you for all that you do for us. We really appreciate all that you do.”

When I hung up the phone I again said “Thank you” and before I knew it tears were falling down my face and I was crying. I was thinking about what I had asked from God and he supplied that and so much more. I was so encouraged by what I had just saw, read and encountered that I had no choice but to break down and cry.

I know first hand what it is like to have friends and even family walk away, I know what it is like to have people attack my character and say things that are not true, I know what it is like to eat from trash cans and have to fight for my things. I know what it is like to be called “stupid” or be told that my “Thinking is backwards” and later have my housing blocked by someone who is a “director” at at another large homeless agency on Skid Row. I will never forget how he treated me like I was less then the gum he stepped on when he entered his high rise office  with pictures of him shaking hands with fancy people and sitting across from me acting like he was some how better then me because I was homeless and HIV positive. “Your thoughts don’t matter” is what he said to me. People think I cried because he defeated me or that he had broke me and I sure he felt like “I fixed his wagon” but the tears were for people who would walk out and give up on life ultimately becoming the people we see pushing shopping carts, talking to the make believe person that no one else can see but them. He words were hateful and filled with hatred toward people like me, but he sits in the position over people he cant even stand.

Clothes 008I cried because God has just showed me that his angels sit in higher places and do far greater things for humanity. I cried because my day was spent being encouraged to keep doing the work that I have been given to do and I could rest in knowing that the place where my friend now works is filled with people who truly care, not only that it is lead by a man who truly cares for homeless people and people battling HIV and AIDS someone who knows people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect at all times, no matter who they are or where the live.

People often ask where I get my energy, my passion, my drive, my inspiration?. They also ask how can you find the desire to help, when you are still going through so much? The answer is always the same. “It comes from God, he always sends someone or something and he has never failed me and he never will. There are times when I will be down, but not out, shattered, but not broken, wounded, but in time I will heal and there will be times I will have to struggle, but I will find my way through.”

THANK YOU for inspiring me, for encouraging me and for the awesome work you do for broke down people like me.

Again I call you and again you answer

Again I need you and again you’re there

Again I reach out and again you hold me

Yon console me once more and againquilt 011

Stand Tall

// April 15th, 2010 // No Comments » // HIV and AIDS

I use to dread the visits to go see my HIV doctor, I knew I would leave there even more confused and lost then when I walked through the door. I also knew there would be no point in asking questions about my labs or anything else because I would never get answers because my doctor was always far too busy to take time to do things like this.

I remember when I had the Staph Infection and he told me

“You have got to do a better job at cleaning this”

“I do the best I can. Have you forgotten that I am homeless and this Staph Infection is in an area I can not see?”

He just looked at me like I had said something wrong. Later it would be this same doctor who would stand in the way to me getting housing which would end homelessness. When I think of what I had to deal with since I was diagnosed my heart sinks for all the people who are too afraid to speak up for themselves because this would mean the lousy care they are already getting would get worse.

Thankfully all the disrespect, hurt, shame, headache and stress of being HIV positive with less then lousy care is behind me because I now have a great doctor backed by the awesome staff of a great clinic. Thanks to this doctor and clinic homelessness came to an end after 29 long months. HIV is no longer something that I wake up from with nightmares of being at my own funeral and watching my friends cry because I was dead because of access to care. HIV is no longer something that I am stressed about, in fact besides doing the community work that I do with people who are HIV positive or have AIDS, it no longer is something that dogs my mind day in and day out.

A few weeks ago I went in for my HIV labs and I had no concern, Tuesday, April 13, 2010 I went in to get the results of the HIV labs and once again I am in a really awesome place. My t-cells remain very high and my viral load is still very low. I had the chance to ask my doctor a few questions about HIV meds and all the new debate and discussion as to when someone should start meds. It was so reassuring to hear her say that my HIV care is based on my medical history and how my body is doing against HIV. It was so cool to once again hear her say that she isn’t concerned about me starting meds, she just wants to help me remain healthy.

Even with all the stress that was in my life, my body has done an awesome job at defending itself against HIV without the assistant of HIV meds. It’s great to have a doctor who is willing to allow my body to do its job. It is also nice to know that when and if the time comes for me to start HIV meds it will be something she and I will sit down and talk about. I’ve heard many people say how their doctors had already picked out meds they would start, but when I asked my doctor she told me it was something we would discuss and we would come to a decision together.

I’ve heard and even read so many people say, just do what you doctor says and do not question it, I’ve also heard people say that ASO’s are the only place to get sound advice about HIV and AIDS. From experience of being sick since birth with Sickle Cell and my battles with cancer, I know that simply taking advice and not asking questions or even asking if there is another way, is not something that I would consider to be very wise. I certainly don’t put a great deal of trust, nor do I have a great deal of respect for ASO’s and this is also true for my local Gay and Lesbian Center. I feel this way because when I turned to these places for support, answers and even education, they failed more then 95% of the time. Now this isn’t to say that I have not met and have a huge amount of respect for a few people who work at such places, however it has been my experience that these places don’t always do the great jobs they would have us believe they do. Furthermore I know plenty of people who share my feelings about ASO’s and the local Gay and Lesbian Center.

So what do you do when the places you are told to turn to for support are the very places that cause so much hurt and harm. What do you do when you’ve done all you can? What do you do when you don’t trust the doctor or clinic where you “care”, for lack of a better word is administered? Who can you turn to when the system in place is failing you?

First of all you don’t give up and certainly do not settle simply because you are homeless or poor and told that this is your only option. You hold on and work as hold as you can to find another place that will respect you, that will offer you complete care and treat you like a human. You keep believing in yourself and your ability to weather the storm that is before you. You demand care that you are entitled to and you do not rest until you get it. If this upsets people and causes them to say you are a “trouble maker” and say things like you think you’re too good and “who do you think you are” you look them dead in their eyes and tell them exactly who you are. You tell them that you are their patient and you are holding them accountable for your care. You tell that case manager that you don’t care how heavy their case load is……”do your job” Don’t ever allow anyone…..and I mean anyone……including yourself tell you that you don’t deserve the best care regardless of your ability to pay.

You stick you chest out, square your shoulders and dig in your heals. You stand firm in making certain that they live up to their oath “first do no harm” you hold them accountable for for everything thing they told you they would provide regardless of how heavy their case load is. You hold them accountable for every federal dollar, every single private dollar they receive as if it came from your pocket and you don’t give up.

Being sick is stressful enough and you should not have to deal with any added stress, headache, hurt, harm or pain for the very people who are supposed to be helping you.

I am in a place where my doctor is awesome, my clinic is awesome, but there are people who don’t share the same feelings that I now have about my HIV care. There are people struggling through a system that is designed to cause setbacks, hurt, harm, pain and even death and I will not rest until it is fixed. I will not rest until studies are conducted fairly and accurately and I will not rest until places that get federal funding are held accountable for such funding. I will not rest until patient care becomes more important then how much the Executive Officer is paid. I will not rest until budget cuts that affect people who are suffering first include deep cuts for people being paid outrageous amounts of money for no real reason.

HUMANITY most always come before politics and certainly before the narrow minded thinking and stigma of “community”

I refused to give up on me, despite all that was encouraging me to do so and I  refuse to give up on people that this nation has given up on simply because they are homeless and poor battling HIV or AIDS.

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