Posts Tagged ‘SKID ROW’

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


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

New Laptop

// July 4th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // HIV and AIDS, Me Time

HIV outreach 003I know some people might be reading the title of this blog and say “How did he buy a new laptop?” Well I didn’t buy a new laptop, but one of the residents from my Skid Row outreach did and he called me to ask if I would help him. I was excited for him, so of course I said yes.

It’s the 4th of July, so I needed to check to make sure the store he wanted to go to was open, I also wanted to check the train schedule to see how they were running as well. Most importantly I wanted to make certain my cell phone was fully charged and not acting like a crackberry like it has been doing for the past two weeks. You can never be too careful when riding METRO here in Los Angeles. I guess this is true for anyone who rides public transportation all over this country.

Last week I was able to get some informational books on healthy living with HIV from Louis at the Gay and Lesbian Center. I also had a pill container that was passed out while I attended an HIV update through Being Alive. I packed these items into my backpack to take with me to Skid Row and leave them in the TV room for the residents. I am hoping to be able to get some POZ Magazines to take down there as well. I am still waiting to hear back from someone at POZ. As much information on HIV and AIDS that I can make available to the residents means the more tools they have to help them live long and healthy lives with HIV or AIDS.

Things started off pretty smooth. Since the fair machines inside the station do not accept METRO issued coins for theHIV outreach 002 METRO issued TAP card that we must now carry, I had to jump on a bus, instead of walking the four blocks to the METRO Red Line. Seem rather odd that I can get a day pass with the METRO issued coins on a METRO bus, but not at a METRO fair station inside the METRO stations. This is almost as odd as not having agents inside the stations should someone need to ask questions, fair cards stop working or if there is some emergency.

Once off the bus and down into the station I could here the train arriving at the platform. I was able to TAP my card and dash through the gate and make the train right as the doors were starting to close. This was sweet and meant that I would arrive in Downtown Los Angeles at least 30 minutes faster then I thought I would. The train was pretty empty, so I was able to get a seat. With the holiday this didn’t surprise. I was at the Vermont street station in no time and this is where I would make my transfer to the METRO Rapid 720 bus. I have learned to make the transfer at this station instead of riding to Pershing Square station and then have to walk 4 blocks to get the 720 bus. At Vermont the 720 is right up stairs.

Things didn’t go so well on the 720. The bus was packed, the driver seemed to be having a bad day and the bus smelled like a gang of shit filled diapers. There was no air and no matter where you tried to stand things were tight. I made my way toward the back of the of the bus through the extended section and once through the extended area there was plenty of room, even seats so I sat down. I had my shuffle on, so at first I did not notice the loud noise coming the group of drunks behind me, but after about 2 minutes on the bus, things went south. Two guys rushed past where I was sitting, down the set of steps and turned around yelling towards the back of the bus. When I saw one flip the finger toward someone in the back, I pressed pause on my shuffle. Another guy was pulling the one yelling towards the back and speaking to him in Spanish. From what I could understand he was telling him, to let it go and they should just get off the bus. The other guy wasn’t willing to let it go. He kept yelling at the guy a few seat behind me in the back. This is when I heard from behind me “Shut the fuck up before I kill you.”

HIV outreach 004The guy standing near me was no longer as brave as he first was and began to move toward the front of the bus pushing his way through the crowd and the extension area. Since I was in the back area where you must go up two steps my seat had a clear shot of the driver in her mirror. The two guys started talking to her and the look in her face was not very comforting. I saw her read for phone and start talking. This is when I heard the woman seated behind me say in a soft voice to the woman next to her “He has a gun”

While talking on the phone the driver kept driving like normal, but since this is a Rapid there was no stops for her to make. However she was driving very slow and when the time came to make the turn onto 6th street she sat there for a very long time. She finally made her turn but continued to drive very slow. We pulled into the next stop and about 10 minutes later there were police all around the bus. From the time this took place until it ended with us having to get off the bus and board another bus it was 35 minutes. What sticks out most for me is the fact that it took the police over 12 minutes to respond. I never saw a gun, but I do know someone was placed in handcuffs. I have always said that METRO puts profits in front of public safety. This can also be said about the new programs they roll out. Just like TAP card that riders must pay to get and pay to load them as well. However if they don’t work METRO you must mail them back to an outside contractor for METRO.

I was really happy to finally be able to exit the bus and get on the new one. I was even more happy when I got off,HIV outreach 007because just as he pulled up to my stop a fight broke out in the center of the bus. As I walked down the street the bus remained at the stop with it’s emergency lights blinking. Sometimes riding METRO can be a real nightmare. I am glad that even in the midst of all of this mess, no one was hurt and I was able to get to where I was going.

We walked to Office Depot and I showed Donald the computers we had already spoke about on the phone. He asked questions and I was able to answer them for him. After about 15 minutes he decided to go with a Toshiba. He also picked a shoulder bag to carry it. We headed to the check out, grabbed some drinks from Starbucks and I spent the rest of the afternoon helping him get all set up and show him some things on his computer. I even able to help him when he called the cable company to get set up with wireless service.

HIV outreach 005Donald is one of the very first residents I met when I first started my outreach on Skid Row, he is someone I care for a great deal. He is also someone who is in full control of living with HIV, not afraid to ask questions, seeks out advice, support and education on HIV and so many other things. He is someone I am always happy to see and speak to. He is a long term survivor and someone I look up to, admire and respect. He is also someone I consider as my friend. He is always so kind and always so eager to help and provide assistance. He can also make you crack up laughing too.

It’s was a real treat to see how happy he was to purchase a laptop for himself. So cool to see the sparkle in his eye and the joy in his voice when he talked about his independence and how he is eager to learn about using the laptop. It was the perfect way for me to spend this 4th of July, helping someone gain more of their own independence.

I can hardly wait to see him on FACEBOOK and make SKYPE calls with him. I am so very proud of him and how is is working very hard to live a great, happy, healthy and productive life. Just to see the smile on his face was so damn awesome.

The ride home on METRO was very quiet and danger free, which was very nice. Once home I made a scrambled eggHIV outreach 008sandwich, took Dodger for a walk, spoke with a friend and then kicked back. Tomorrow is Monday and I going to the ceramic studio. I’ve got some really cool things I am working on that I am so looking forward to completing. Plus I have at least five pieces that should be ready to be fired.